Coming in to the year, the Mariners rotation was a bit of a question mark. Outside of Felix, it was a bit of a crapshoot due to injuries and age — both young and old.
In their stead, the M’s went with another highly rated prospect in James Paxton, followed by a no-namer making the jump from AA (Roenis Elias), a guy who looked like he had some upside but was still unproven in Erasmo Ramirez, and a 36 year old soft-tossing giant in Chris Young, who hadn’t pitched a whole season since 2007 due to a chronic shoulder injury, and is the subject of our discussion today.
While Paxton went on to get hurt and miss three months, Ramirez got shelled, and Elias was a pleasant surprise, if not slightly inconsistent at times, Young became Steady Eddy.
Though he had a couple less-than-stellar outings early on, he has been extremely dependable since then, and really came out of nowhere after being cut by Washington in Spring Training.
To this point, Young owns a 3.19 ERA and 4.89 FIP (5.48 K/9, 2.98 BB/9, 1.32 HR/9) in 129.2 innings. The ERA is great, and should give a decent idea of what he has done so far (though there are obviously some problems with ERA and how much control a pitcher actually has over it).
But the peripherals are far from great, particularly the 1.32 HR rate, and create a large separation between the results and the underlying numbers.
In fact, due to the fact that his HR/FB rate is lower than the average, his xFIP is even higher at 5.23, suggesting he should actually be giving up a few more home runs than he has so far.
But, his career rate is right in line with this year’s mark, so he is likely a guy who can sustain a lower HR/FB rate due to being a fly ball guy. He will give up more HR overall than a ground ball or strikeout guy, but each individual fly ball is less likely to leave the yard.
So what does all this mean? Well, on the surface, from a pure analytical standpoint, it means Young is due for some regression.
FIP is a better predictor of future ERA than current ERA is, suggesting the runs will start to pile up some. And with no other context, Young would look like he has been the luckiest man on the planet, and sometime soon, he is going to get lit up for 6 runs in 4 innings.
But fortunately for Chris, he has always been able to outperform his peripherals. His career ERA is 3.71, while his FIP is at 4.34. Pitchers who induce weak contact like he does often defy the general “rules” that apply to most pitchers.
Knowing that, it makes sense that Young has continued the trend. The problem is, he is doing so to a much larger degree this year than he has in the past.
He has the largest negative ERA-minus-FIP in the league at -1.70. His career mark is -0.63. Over a run more. What’s more, is that his -0.63 mark is the largest in the league since 2004.
So can Chris Young out pitch his peripherals more than anyone else? Yes. Should we expect him to continue to do so at the rate he has done so this season? Probably not, no.
And as I said before, FIP is a better predictor of future performance, so it is much more likely that his ERA trends upward than it is that his FIP would trend downward.
Now, we don’t know how much regression will take place. I personally don’t think he will suddenly fall off a cliff and pitch to a 5 ERA.
But an ERA around 4.00 would be closer to his career E-F, while still allowing for the possibility that he has indeed improved, and will out pitch his FIP even more than before.