Warm weather, palm trees, and scores of minor leaguers means that spring training has begun. It is the time of year that brings a hint of hope to a fan base that has suffered in the depths of Major League Baseball for so many years.
If the Mets are to come anywhere close to approaching general manager Sandy Alderson’s 90-win prediction, or even improve on last season’s sub-par 74 win total, they will need a strong performance from outfielder Chris Young at the plate and in the field.
When the Mets signed Young in November to a one-year, $7.25 million contract, the team acquired a unique and valuable skillset. He combines speed—which makes him a superb base runner and a top-notch defensive outfielder—with a powerful approach at the plate.
Young’s power potential is especially important for the Mets, who were in the bottom five of the league in home runs, slugging percentage (SLG), and isolated power (ISO) last season, all of which indicate a player’s ability to hit for power.
The 30-year-old Young has hit at least 20 home runs in every season in which he had at least 500 at-bats. This includes his 2007 season, in which he hit 32 home runs, and his 2010 season, in which he hit 27 home runs.
In addition to his home run totals, Young has shown an ability to drive the ball with power. He holds a career .431 SLG and a career .196 ISO, both of these are higher than the league averages; in 2013, MLB hitters’ SLG and ISO were .396 and .143, respectively. Young’s statistics stand out even more when compared to the Mets last season. As a team, their hitters had a combined .388 SLG and .129 ISO, according to Fan Graphs.
While Young’s power production compares favorably to the rest of the Mets’ roster, he certainly has flaws at the plate. Throughout his career he has posted high strikeout rates and low batting averages, has consistently struck out in over 20 percent of his plate appearances, and this—combined with one of the highest fly ball percentage on batted balls in all of MLB—has resulted in a low .200 batting average throughout his career.
Fortunately for the Mets, Young balances out his strikeout and low average with a career 10 percent walk rate, which keeps his on-base percentage respectable.
Dave Cameron of Fan Graphs wrote about Young’s signing as one of the best of the off-season, acknowledging Young’s flaws, but emphasizing the things he does well.
"[I] believe that this will likely go down as one of the best free agent signings of the off-season," Cameron said in an article last November. "Young isn’t a sexy addition, but this is the kind of solid, low-cost move that smart teams are making these days. If you just focus on what Young can’t do, you’ll ignore the fact that what he can do has value."
Some of Young’s value comes from his speed, which can be an important asset for a team, especially one that lacks power and needs to generate runs. The Mets were a solid team on the base paths last season thanks in large part to Eric Young Jr.’s league-leading stolen base total and second baseman Daniel Murphy’s craftiness. Young should add to the team’s success, as he has averaged 15 steals a season throughout his career.
Young’s speed helps him on offense, but it also aids his defense.
Young has spent most of his career in centerfield, which is considered the toughest outfield position, and he has exceled in that role.
It’s still unclear where Young will play in the outfield, as Juan Lagares, who played the bulk of centerfield last season for the Mets, was one of the best defensive players in all of MLB last season. However, Young has the versatility to play all three outfield defensive positions, which boosts his value; it’s likely that he will be an even better defender in either corner outfield spot thanks to his excellent range and above-average arm, according to Beyond the Box Score.
Young, along with Lagares and the recently acquired Curtis Granderson, could form one of the best defensive outfields in the league. This is important for the Mets, as three of their projected starting pitchers are predominantly fly-ball pitchers.
Overall, Young isn’t a perfect player. Last season was his worst statistical season of his career while playing for the Oakland Athletics, who had acquired him from the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the season.
The Mets hope Young can bounce back from his poor season and provide the power, speed, and defense he has had throughout his career.