When Mike Trout went down with torn ligaments in his thumb, the Los Angeles Angels had few options to replace him, so they turned to veteran outfielder Eric Young Jr. Though Young was excelling in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, expectations were minimal.
Young is 32 and is five years removed from the only season in which he hit better than .250. In the previous three seasons, Young played in 159 major-league games and posted a .210/.280/.295 slashline, though he did steal 37 bases.
But an amazing thing happened in the early part of Young’s time with the team. Young carried his Triple-A success into the major leagues. He’s overcome a personal tragedy – his newborn son died in January -- and made the most of a fresh start.
In Tuesday’s game against the Yankees, Young hit a game-tying home run in the eighth inning and a walk-off single in the 11th inning. Young has three home runs in 15 games after never hitting more than four in a season. He also has five stolen bases, in line with his history. He's hitting .314, with a .407 on-base percentage and .549 slugging percentage. That's not quite Trout. But it's pretty good.
It was thought that the Angels would crater in Trout’s absence, but Young’s play has helped keep them in the AL Wild Card race in a league that is heavy in talent at the top, but with a lot of parity in the middle. The Angels are 34-34, 1 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card spot. They're 8-7 in Trout's absence and averaging 4.9 runs per game. When Trout missed time earlier this year with a hamstring injury, the Angels averaged three runs per game in his absence. Young was not on that team.
Young was worth 1.0 Wins Above Replacement through his first 15 games. That’s a 10.8-WAR pace over a full season, not far behind Trout, who was on an 11-WAR pace until his injury.
We’re not saying that Young is anything close to Trout. The numbers just show that for 15 games, he’s been a highly-capable fill-in. What makes Trout, Trout is that he can take 15 great games and replicate them 10 times over.
In contrast, Young has had only one season in which he posted a WAR of 1.0 or better (2012, when he finished at 1.9 WAR).
But at least for a couple of weeks, it’s been good for the Angels and their newest outfielder to be Young again.