While baseball fans salivate at the prospect of the team for whom they root signing the Yasmany Tomases, Yoan Moncadas and Jon Lesters of the world--or perhaps more appropriately fear that the very same team would make the likely mistake of committing too many years/dollars to the Torii Hunters of the world--there are plenty of players of a significantly lower profile who can make sense for the more cost-conscious shoppers on the free agent market.
Despite the presumption that the reigning American League Champion Kansas City Royals will increase payroll to yet another club record, the new mark will still probably only be somewhere around $100-105MM. With current estimates placing the Royals' 2015 payroll somewhere right around $85MM, there is not much of room to improve the roster by throwing money at it via free agency.
It stands to reason then that the Royals should probably looking at free agents who best fit the team as it is constructed.
Chris Young (the pitcher) is one of those logical candidates. Coming off a 2014 campaign that resurrected a career beset upon by injury upon injury upon injury, Chris Young returns to the open market after posting a 3.65 ERA over 165 IP in 30 games (29 starts) with 108 Ks and 60 BB. Granted, those numbers came with the benefit of Safeco Field being his home stadium, and his 5.04 FIP undermines those figures, but his FIP hardly tells the whole story.
Simply put, Chris Young is not your average pitcher with a standard batted-ball profile.
Since he broke into the league in 2004, there have been two pitchers who have thrown at least 200 innings with a higher FB% than Chris Young, relievers Tyler Clippard and Ernesto Frieri. Young's FB% since 2004 is 54.8%, with his two lowest marks coming in his first two seasons in Texas, an environment that would treat a flyball pitcher especially harshly. When ignoring the first two seasons in which he could understandably have needed adapt his style according to park conditions, the 6'10" Princeton alum owns a 56.2% flyball rate, a mark besting the two aforementioned relievers.
His in-field flyball rate of 15.4% since 2006 is good for the seventh-best mark amongst hurlers with that same 200 inning threshold. Of course, IFFB% is calculated by taking the amount of in-field flyballs against the fly-balls induced, so Young being the most flyball prone of any pitcher in that time means that he's actually inducing more infield flies in total than many of the six guys in front of him. Of the top ten in IFFB% since 2006, Young is the only starting pitcher.
So when looking back at Young's 2014 campaign, his initially underwhelming 108:60 K:BB set against the 165 innings thrown looks significantly less underwhelming when taking into consideration the fact that he also led the league in infield flies with a total of 42
36 of which were good for outs. While six of his infield flyballs fell for hits, he still led the league with infield flyball outs by a wide margin. [Edit: Misread the player page. 42 IFFBs. I was reading IFH as hits on IFFB because apparently I can't think/read.] This led the league by nine over Jered Weaver and R.A. Dickey.
The other potential cause for concern with an extreme fly-ball pitcher would be his HR-rates, but his 8.8 HR/FB% was 36th-best of the 102 pitchers who threw more than 150 IP last season. His career mark of 8.1% is also very average. Given Kauffman's suppression of home runs, it would seem that such rates could be expected to continue.
In looking at Young's very unique skillset, one could logically deduce that his extreme flyball tendencies might enable him to outperform his peripherals, and his career .251 BABIP certainly supports that contention. His 3.77 career ERA lies 0.61 points lower than his career FIP of 4.38. With Young being the most extreme flyball pitcher in baseball, it stands to reason that this should be able to continue, meaning that fWAR is probably not the best measure by which to judge Young's worth. In his 1055.2 IP on his career, fWAR has him as being just an 11.8 win pitcher, but RA9-WAR has him at 17.4 and rWAR has him at 15.9. When dealing with the most extreme flyball pitcher in baseball (at least when looking at his rate stats), these metrics based on runs-allowed are more germane to the discussion than trying to adjust for balls in play being more closely aligned with league averages.
The big problem with Young is obviously his health. Despite Bob Dutton's postulation that he may sign for two years with a club, it is hard to see how any club would agree to terms on such a deal without it being heavily reliant upon Young's continued health, and it appears as though the Mariners are finally ready to hand the fifth spot in the rotation over to phenom Taijuan Walker, leaving the free agent Young without a likely home. He triggered performance bonuses last season with his 29 starts that he made, but last season was the first year since 2007 that Young surpassed the 160 IP mark. In fact, his high-water mark from 2008 to 2013 was a mere 115.0 IP in 2012. In 2013, he didn't even crack the Majors and only threw 37 innings in the minors for Washington.
So while Young reestablished himself as a potentially viable major-league starter, it is hard to envision him getting a multi-year deal without it being heavily incentive-laden akin to his 2014 deal which had--and I'm not joking here--20 performance and roster bonuses.
Assuming the Royals do not sign Torii Hunter and promise him 140 starts in right field, the Royals outfield defense should continue to be a source of strength for the team. Chris Young on an incentive-heavy contract for at least 2015 would make a ton of sense if the outfield defense is even remotely similar to what it was in 2014. Putting Young in front of Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson, and Lorenzo Cain could be rather valuable, at least when compared to the dollars spent.