Don't Kill The Mellinger

Chris Young has been a revelation, but here’s why the Royals are best with him in the bullpen

Royals pitcher Chris Young
Royals pitcher Chris Young JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

The best thing the Royals did this offseason was insulate themselves with pitching rotation depth, and there is no better sign of this than Chris Young. He is a fascinating case, a 6-foot-10 righty who pitches more like the classic crafty left-hander, and is with the Royals on the equivalent of a sale at Dollar General —one year, $675,000 guaranteed.

Young was only available to the Royals after his asking price was deemed too high by many clubs, but now that he’s here, he has been a revelation. He has pitched in nine games, including three starts, giving up just three earned runs and 18 base runners in 28 2/3 innings.

Young’s next start is Friday, a day before Duffy’s next start, which has now been defined by an effective ultimatum from manager Ned Yost — pitch better, or move out of the rotation.

Jason Vargas’ return is close, and even with the rotation apparently out of its slump, if Duffy doesn’t regain his form he makes for an easy decision for Yost.

Young has been so good in his starts — one earned run in 16 2/3 innings over three starts against the Tigers, Tigers again, and Yankees — that it’s easy to think of his spot in the rotation as locked.

But there is a compelling case to move him back to the bullpen if the Royals think they can. Young is something like a lifeline, like the phone-a-friend from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He is there as a safety blanket, and able to get the Royals out of tough spots for which they have no answers, but he can only be used so many times.

He has a well-documented injury history, and even as he feels stronger than he has in years, last season’s 165 innings were his most since 2007.

He was terrific for the Mariners last year, earning the American League’s comeback player of the year award, but in the Royals’ current context it’s worth looking at the trend of his 2014.

Before the All-Star break, he averaged more than 6 1/3 innings per start with a 3.15 ERA. The league hit just .208 against him, with a .277 on-base and .382 slugging percentage.

After the All-Star break, he averaged fewer than five innings per start with a 4.70 ERA. The league hit .282 against him, with a .347 on-base and .526 slugging percentage.

One of Royals manager Ned Yost’s most subtle but important successes this year has been pulling Young from his starts at precisely the right time, and there is a feeling inside the organization that they need to continue to be choosy with what everyone understands is a limited number of innings from Young.

Nobody can be sure exactly how many effective innings Young has this year. Maybe it’s 165. Maybe it’s just 100. It’s probably somewhere in between, but this isn’t likely to be the last time this season the Royals will need some cover for the rotation.

Young can be their lifeline if Duffy struggles again, but the Royals are right in wanting to preserve as much of that as they can.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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