Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each major league team.
Is Chris Young a bust candidate?
Look at the list of the top 20 starting pitchers being selected in ESPN Live Drafts and you'll see a lot of familiar and expected names: Johan Santana, Jake Peavy, Erik Bedard, C.C. Sabathia Naturally, these aces are going to be among the first pitchers on the draft board. But as you head down that list and 15-game winners jump out at you left and right, something catches you. What is a pitcher who was only 9-8 last season doing at No. 18 on this list? Why in the world is everyone so high on Chris Young?
Well, certainly there's a lot to like in Young. He finished fifth in the National League with a 3.12 ERA last season and posted career-best numbers in WHIP and K/9. That's the good news. The bad news? Young walked more hitters than ever before, and perhaps because of it, he found himself well over 100 pitches by the sixth inning of most of his starts, if he was able to make it that far in the first place. Of Young's 30 starts last season, he was able to complete the seventh inning in only one-third of them.
All of those extra tosses seemed to wear Young down as the season went on. On July 19, Young was 9-3 with a spectacular 1.85 ERA. Then in his next start, he was unable to get through the third inning because of a strained oblique muscle in his rib cage. After a minimal stint on the DL, the Chris Young who returned was not the same, going 0-5 the rest of the way. We're not suggesting Young is an injury waiting to happen, but his odds of getting hurt certainly increase along with his pitch count.
In addition, Young is a fly-ball pitcher. When he pitches at Petco Park, he certainly does appear to be every bit the Cy Young candidate his percentages make him look, and we can see why many people have raised his stock so high. But his San Diego home allowed fewer home runs last season than any other stadium still currently in use, and Young does not pitch there exclusively. When Young left the nest, the story was quite a different one. The 1.69 home ERA skyrocketed to 4.52, and while he allowed only one home run at Petco in 2007, he allowed nine long balls on the road. Compare those splits to Young's teammate and legitimate staff ace, Jake Peavy, who had a home ERA of 2.51 but, more importantly, an equally impressive 2.57 mark on the road.
The argument could be made that Young's record would have been far better if he had more run support. The stats do bear that out somewhat. When Peavy started, the Padres gave him an average of 5.28 runs per game, while Young received only 3.76 runs each time he took the mound. Although you might conclude from those numbers that Young could well have won a few more games, it's not nearly enough to make up the 10-win gap between the two. As long as Young continues to struggle on the road and leave games earlier than most top pitchers (thus leaving many outcomes of his starts in the hands of his relievers), he simply is not going to take that next step to being an anchor for a fantasy staff.
Now, am I telling you not to draft Chris Young? Absolutely not. Clearly, Young's first-half numbers last season show he has the potential to be a great pitcher. But we're still talking about drafting only potential here, not about drafting someone who has consistently put up the numbers year after year. Look at the numbers of another mixed-league No. 2 pitcher, Dan Haren. We could argue about which pitcher had the worse second half of 2007, but the difference is Haren still did enough to win 15 games, after winning 14 each of the two prior seasons. I expect him to do at least that well this season, especially given the expected boost in run support he'll get with his new team, the Diamondbacks.
Young? He's still not going to get a lot of run support at home, given the stadium he plays in. Could he turn it around on the road and win 15 games or even more? Yes, he could. But when I draft a pitcher as high as Young is being selected, I need more than merely "could" from him. I expect 200 innings pitched. I expect a double-digit win total. In short, I need more than Chris Young can currently promise me.
Certainly any player who fails to live up to the expectations that are set up for him could be a bust. If Johan Santana goes 8-14, he'll be a bust. But asking Santana to win 20 games for you is a lot more reasonable than asking Young to surpass all past performance levels to end up 17-6 with a 2.50 ERA. Young will probably get you 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA. Is that a bust? Draft him with those numbers in mind, and the answer is no. But if you insist on grabbing the "flavor of the month" too early, then I am afraid the answer to that question will be a resounding yes.
AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.