Rarely does a player come along that is the complete package. Usually they arrive with positives and negatives and the manager does the best to accentuate the player’s strengths while mitigating or hiding the weaknesses. That is the sign of a good manager to make the best of the talent that he is given. This is not a new or foreign concept, every manager at every level of baseball has to go through this. Whether that player is a child that can’t figure out which hand his mitt goes on or if he is Manny Ramirez. Wait, that example is redundant. New Diamondbacks manager AJ Hinch faces a similar problem with this team. Not specifically the confusion as to which hand to wear your mitt on but rather how to manage a player’s strengths and weaknesses.
When center fielder Chris Young burst upon the scene during his rookie season in 2007 he looked like that rare player who had all the tools necessary to have a long and storied career as a Major League baseball player. After a few miscues in the outfield he became a defensive gem getting to balls that other outfielders only dreamt about. The success he had defensively was equaled at the plate as well when he hit 30 home runs and stole 25 bases a feat that had never been done before in the history of Major League Baseball.
The Diamondbacks rewarded Chris for his accomplishments signing him to a long-term contract. I remember at the time thinking how smart that move was. It gave Young financial security while providing the team a level of salary stability through the arbitration years. It looked as though the Diamondbacks had at last found their centerfielder of the future and the fans could look forward to play not seen at that position since Steve Finley roamed the outfield during his prime.
The 2008 season saw Young take a step backwards at the plate. While his batting average increased slightly going from .237 to .248 his power numbers dropped 10 home runs. Even more alarming was his strikeout total that went from an already high 141 to an astounding 165. Fortunately Young plays with strikeout king Mark Reynolds so 165 didn’t seem so bad when compared to Reynolds 204 punch outs.
During the off-season Chris worked very hard on his plate discipline promising himself that in 2009 he would cut down on the strikeout totals and hopefully return back to the power levels we saw in 2007. This season though has been anything but a success for Chris Young. Through 45 games he has struggled posting only a .172 batting average and already striking out 44 times. At this rate he is on pace to meet or exceed his 2008 totals. What is even more concerning is how lost Chris looks at the plate. From pitch to pitch Young doesn’t make the necessary adjustments to pitches he is seeing. His bat angle seems to be less linear than in times past and he appears to be chopping down at the ball. When he does make contact he is getting the bottom of the ball rather than squaring it up on the bat which leads to a lot of fly ball outs. In fact Chris Young is double the league average in fly ball outs. Many have suggested that perhaps it would be best for the Diamondbacks to send Young to Reno to work on his swing and more importantly his confidence. From a long term perspective; that argument has a lot of validity. Unfortunately no answer is that simple.
While Young has struggled with the bat, his defense has been stellar. He is continuing to develop and should be considered in the upper echelon among outfielders. The recently ended series with the San Diego Padres was a prime example. In game 1 the Diamondbacks removed Young from the game as part of a double switch moving Gerardo Parra from left field to center. Shortly thereafter the Padres hit a ball that most likely would have been caught by Young. Parra was not able to get to it and the ball rolled to the wall allowing the Padres to score multiple runs leading to an extra innings win. In game 2 of the series Young was left in the game late. With the tying run on third base a ball was hit to deep right-center field. It looked as though the Padres would not only score the run on third but very possibly take the lead. Instead Young ran down the ball catching it at the base of the pool to preserve the win for the Diamondbacks; the only win they had in that series.
So the question becomes, at what point do you trade off lack of offense for stellar defense? Is a struggling Chris Young costing you more runs offensively than he is saving defensively? If the answer to that is yes then the course of action is probably to send him to Reno to reinvent his swing and his confidence. If the answer is no then I guess we continue the course we are on with the strikeouts mounting as are the defensive highlights. The decision is made even harder by the fact that outfielder Conor Jackson is on the disabled list with Valley Fever and outfielder Eric Byrnes looking just as sickly at the plate. If either of those two come back and posts anything close to career average numbers then it makes a trip to the minors for Young a reality. It’s a situation that bears watching to see how it plays out for the rest of the season.