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Mets need to move on from Chris Young

The Mets gambled and lost on Chris Young, and now it's time to part ways.

Jim McIsaac

Chris Young’s one-year, $7.25 million contract was a justifiable move for the Mets prior to the 2014 season. However, Young has had perhaps his worst year as a big leaguer, driving the ball with much less authority and generally failing to get on base. In short, he has essentially been a replacement-level player.

Though Young was hardly spectacular in 2013, his line-drive percentage of 21.6% was the second highest of his career. The increase in line-drive frequency suggested that his BABIP of .237 was a bit unlucky, which offered some hope that his luck might even out in 2014. Young is hitting a lot of fly balls this year (52.6%) and making more contact (82.1%) than he ever has before, but his fly balls are simply not traveling very far. It’s difficult to expect more of Young’s batted balls to fall in for hits when he is hitting so many weak fly balls.

An impressive infield-hit percentage of 18.6% shows that the 30-year-old Young can still leg out a single, but his 30.7% ground ball rate means he doesn’t get many opportunities to display his speed. Young has always contributed value on the basepaths over the course of his career, and despite his struggles at the plate, his performance on the bases remains solid.

Dave Cameron first identified Chris Young as a potential 2014 free-agent value in his November 5 article, “The Bargains of the 2014 Free Agent Class.” He noted that Young has historically hit lefties well (.820 career OPS) and has been quite valuable in center field over his career.

“For $7 million per year, you’re not expecting a superstar, and are just looking for a guy to avoid putting up a zero, and Young looks like a guy who could give you, at minimum, good defense and some thump against lefties.”

Clearly, the bar was not set high for Young heading into this season. Cameron’s analysis was certainly understandable, as Young has hit .256/.359/.426 against lefties in his career. However, Young’s production against lefties has fallen dramatically this year, and his defense in center field is nowhere near his former levels.

Against lefties this season, Young is hitting .153/.293/.254. That doesn’t even begin to replace Marlon Byrd’s production against lefties in 2013. Byrd hit .344/.376/.583 against lefties last year; he provided the type of right-handed power that the 2014 Mets lack.

Cameron’s projection for a two-year, $14 million contract proved pretty accurate for Young, at least on a per-year basis. Though Byrd signed a two-year, $16 million contract with a vesting $8 million option for 2016, Young’s $7.25 million deal with the Mets is pretty close to what Byrd is going to make in 2014. The gap in production between Byrd and Young in 2014, on the other hand, is quite large.

With a slugging percentage of .481 and a wRC+ of 122, Marlon Byrd has been worth 2.1 fWAR in 2014 despite defensive limitations. ZiPS sees Byrd as a 2.9 win player in 2014, while Steamer projects Byrd to add 0.4 fWAR over the rest of the season for a total of 2.5 wins. After taking age-related decline into account, Byrd can be projected for around 2.3 wins in 2015. He may end up being worth $8 million in 2016 if his option vests, so this isn’t a contract that’s likely to cripple the Phillies in the future, which is more than you can say for many of their other contracts.

In his May 21 article, Brian Mangan pointed to a strong 286-foot average fly ball distance as one of many reasons that Young would salvage his season.

“Today, Chris Young is up to 81st in baseball with an average of 286 feet per fly ball.This number, aside from being pretty good just in a vacuum, means that he’s been hitting fly balls really hard...”

At this point in the season, Young’s 271.45-foot average fly ball and home run distance places him at 201st overall in baseball. His average fly ball distance has actually dropped since 2013, when it stood at 272.27 feet. Young’s 2013 fly ball distance isn’t exactly impressive, either, as Eric Young put up an average of 279.67 feet in 598 plate appearances in 2013. With 62 fly balls, Young’s HR/FB rate has stabilized, and it’s the worst of his career at 7.9. It doesn’t seem likely that his power is going to return this season.

Although Young has struggled this year, Bobby Abreu was designated for assignment yesterday to make room for Kirk Nieuwenhuis, which probably buys Young a bit more time.

ZiPS predicts 0.4 fWAR for Chris Young over the rest of the season, thanks largely to an increase in defensive value, which means he’d be exactly replacement level this year. His one-year contract isn’t going to restrict the Mets’ 2015 free-agent spending, but the Mets gambled and lost. If Young had re-established his value in 2014, the Mets could have traded him in the same manner as Marlon Byrd and John Buck in 2013. The Mets received useful players in Vic Black and Dilson Herrera from the Pirates in the Byrd-Buck trade, and the organization may have envisioned trading Young in an optimistic scenario.

That’s not likely to happen, and it’s time for the Mets to start discussing their left field options for 2015.