If you watched the Royals’ Chris Young give up five home runs to the Yankees in a 6-3 loss Monday night — and I did — you might have noticed a pattern.
Every home run was hit by a batter hitting from the left side of the plate and every home run was hit to right or right-center field.
And every home run was hit on a pitch that was supposed to be down and away but drifted up and out over the plate.
Throwing a pitch up and out over the plate to left-handed hitters in Yankee Stadium with its short right-field porch is a recipe for disaster and Monday night that’s pretty much what the Royals had on their hands. When your fastball tops out in the high 80s, you can’t afford to miss spots.
Location was a problem for Young, but so was “late life.”
Late life is not a social mixer at a retirement home or what happens when you decide to stick around until closing time; but it’s a lot easier to describe what late life isn’t than what it is.
One day Ned Yost was going out to watch a rehabbing pitcher throw a side session and I asked him what he would look for and Yost said: “Life on his fastball.” I asked what that meant and Yost had a hard time explaining, but then said he knows it when he sees it.
After Monday night’s game Young said his pitches lacked life, and when he was asked what that meant Young said velocity is irrelevant, it’s how a pitch finishes. So as near as I can tell, late life means movement and explosiveness as the ball crosses the plate … and even that explanation may be inadequate.
After Young got roughed up in Houston and Oakland, then came home and pitched well against Baltimore — six innings, two earned runs — I asked him what the difference was and he said he had good life on his pitches. I then asked if there was anything a pitcher could do to control that and Young laughed and said if there was, he’d have good life every time he pitched.
There’s always been something a bit mysterious about Young; hitters try to describe why a guy who throws an 88 mph fastball is so hard to hit and say it’s like the ball gets on you before you’re ready.
But right now Young is not a mystery to hitters; the real mystery is how Young will get life back on his fastball and how soon he can do that — and hitting his spots probably wouldn’t hurt either.
Breaking down Young’s numbers
As you’ve probably already heard, Young is known as a fly-ball pitcher; he gets a lot of pop-ups and routine fly balls and during his career when the ball is hit in the air, opponents have hit .157 off him, which sounds pretty damn good.
But when the ball is hit in the air, opponents have slugged .455.
So if Young misses his spot by just a little bit — and Monday he was missing his spot by a lot — those fly balls have a decent chance of becoming home runs; especially in fly-ball friendly parks like Yankee Stadium or Minute Maid Park in Houston, the sites of two of Young’s worst outings this season.
In 2016, when pitching at home in the spacious confines of Kauffman Stadium (and that’s the first time I’ve ever used the term “spacious confines” so enjoy it) batters have hit .203 off Young and slugged .424. On the road those numbers are .347 and .760. At home Young is 1-1 with an ERA of 3.45, on the road he’s 0-4 with an ERA of 9.72.
So a fly-ball pitcher in a fly-ball friendly park — especially a fly-ball pitcher who’s scuffling — is not a good matchup.
Should Young come out of the rotation?
After covering major-league baseball for six — going on seven — years, I’ve developed enough expertise to say with complete certainty that I don’t know.
When people start trusting you enough to tell you things off the record you quickly realize how much information you don’t have and that makes you a little less likely to jump to conclusions.
Last season Young was 11-6 with an ERA of 3.06 and he was even better in the postseason; 1-0 with an ERA of 2.87. So Young has had some recent success and it seems way too soon to give up on him.
But Young admits he’s scuffling and maybe those problems are better addressed outside the confines of the starting rotation. And maybe Dillon Gee has earned a start. I’d leave those decisions up to Young, pitching coach Dave Eiland, Ned Yost and Dayton Moore. After the past two years, those guys ought to have earned some of our trust.
But lack of information has never stopped anyone from having an opinion (or becoming the GOP candidate for president) so go ahead and have one.
And if you solve the mystery of life, shoot me an email.