Chris Young is a very exciting player. He has made some outstanding catches, hit some game-winning home runs, and stolen some clutch bases. But I ask you, fellow Diamondbacks fans, would you really rather have Chris Young than Javier Vazquez on your team right now?
Never mind Orlando Hernandez and Luis Vizcaino, the other players that the Diamondbacks acquired in the trade. Never mind the $5 million that Arizona stuffed in Vazquez' briefcase when they shipped him northeast. Never mind that Vazquez had demanded a trade, allegedly to be nominally closer to his Puerto Rican family.
Right now, on August 28th, 2007, the popular sentiment is that the Arizona Diamondbacks hosed the Chicago White Sox in that Javier Vazquez for Chris Young deal based on just the performances of those two players. Where the heck that is coming from?
Yes, Chris Young has 28 home runs, including nine in the past 13 games. But eight of those nine homers were solo shots. His ratio of 28 homers to 51 RBI is terrible, even for a leadoff batter. We can verify this by looking at his batting average with runners on (.193), with runners in scoring position (.145), and with two outs (.167).
Young's .288 on-base percentage is unacceptable, particularly for a leadoff batter. But it's not Young's fault that the Diamondbacks lack a prototypical leadoff hitter, is it? He's being forced into a situation in which he is uncomfortable, isn't he? Well, no, not really. The White Sox import is batting .261 with 19 homers out of the leadoff spot, but just .222 with 9 homers elsewhere. When you can only succeed in one lineup spot and aren't particularly well-suited for that spot, you're kind of handcuffing your manager.
Chris Young's strikeout-to-walk ratio gives the greatest cause for alarm. He strikes out nearly once per game, and neither his strikeout nor his walk totals are that out of line with his minor league numbers. That isn't to say that the 23-year old can't ever improve his plate discipline, just that we shouldn't necessarily expect it.
But let's not take away from Young's positives. He may not reach base often, but when he does, he scores about 37% of the time. That's pretty good production considering that the Diamondbacks are third to last in the majors in runs scored. Young's quick as a panther, and a smart base runner too, as evidenced by his 21 stolen bases at an 87% success rate.
He has also played above-average defense in center that is sometimes spectacular. Above-average may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but for a franchise that has endured the likes of Eric Byrnes, Shawn Green, and Jose Cruz Jr. in center field the past few years, Young's play is most welcome.
All that said, Chris Young is a decent player right now with a chance to be great. Javier Vazquez, on the other hand, is already an elite pitcher.
Javy haters will point to Vazquez' sub-.500 career ERA, or perhaps his inevitable decline since the Yankees messed up his mechanics the way that the Yankees tend to do with promising young pitchers. But objective analysis shows that at his worst, Vazquez is one of the best innings-eaters in baseball, and at best, one of the elite power/control combinations around.
The Puerto Rican sensation has indeed been at his best for over a year now. He is currently 11-7 with a 3.89 ERA for the White Sox, but has a 3.88 ERA dating back to his last 38 trips to the mound. Most impressively, he has a .611 winning percentage for a team currently playing .435 ball.
This 31-year old ranks third among all pitchers in strikeouts this decade and 15th total among active pitchers. He has also struck out more than three times as many batters as he has walked in his career. But even if you don't buy that these attributes make Javier Vazquez an elite pitcher, you still have to concede that the Diamondbacks could certainly use him.
Yusmeiro Petit, Edgar Gonzalez, and Byung-Hyun Kim have combined for 19 starts with the Diamondbacks this year for an aggregate 5.52 ERA. Vazquez could probably have done better. He might have also actually saved them money, as Javier Vazquez will make less from 2007-2008 than Randy Johnson will, and Vazquez' $11.5 million salary for the 2009 and 2010 seasons might look like considerable bargains if the pitching market continues to escalate.
While pitching is in high demand for the Diamondbacks, outfielders are not. Young's presence essentailly blocks Justin Upton from playing the position that he is most comfortable with, and Upton in turn blocks Carlos Quentin and Carlos Gonzalez, two of the best young defensive players in baseball. Add in other high-level prospects such as Chris Rahl, Cyle Hankerd, Aaron Cunningham, and Gerardo Parra, and you have to think that the Diamondbacks will be shopping Young sooner rather than later, regardless of how well he actually turns out.
Now don't get me wrong. Chris Young still has time to develop into a more complete hitter in the next few seasons, and may outperform all of the outfield prospects who are hot on his tail. And even if he doesn't, Josh Byrnes' hands were tied by Vazquez' demand for a trade, and he did well to get as much as he did under those circumstances.
But in a parallel universe where Javier Vazquez was happy in Arizona and the trade never occurred, I bet you the Diamondbacks are in a little bit better shape from 2006-2010 than they are in this universe.
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