Back before the season started we were trying to get a handle on some of the unknown new Padres, among them right-hander Chris Young. Spurred by a Bruce Bochy quote, I asked whether tall pitchers take longer to develop. What I found at the time is that “there isnâ€™t real solid evidence that taller pitchers take a long time to develop,” and I’ve seen nothing in the interim to change my mind.
While researching the topic in February, I stumbled across a couple of relatively tall pitchers who were good statistical comps for Young: ex-Padre Andy Benes and 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter. I thought now might be a good time to revisit those comps and see how Young’s development compared with that of the other two right-handers:
|Stats courtesy Baseball-Reference.com.|
Wow. You forget just how good Benes was when he first arrived on the scene. He finished sixth in the NL Cy Young voting at age 23 and appeared to be well on his way to the top. As fate would have it, that was Benes’ best full season in the big leagues (he won more games with the Cardinals in 1996 and had a better ERA+ in parts of 1997 and 2002).
At the other end of the spectrum, Carpenter, a scouts’ darling, was treading water at the big-league level. Sure, his ERA improved a little, but he became much more hittable. More importantly, Carpenter made just 24 starts — a sign of things to come. He would miss most of 2002 and all of 2003 before re-emerging as one of the dominant pitchers in baseball. When I take a good, hard look at Carpenter’s statistical record and what he’s been through to achieve it, I cannot help but think that his is one of the more remarkable stories of the past 20 years or so.
Young’s improvement is similar to that of Benes, at least in terms of ERA+. The way in which Young made his gains is fascinating. Hits went way down, while walks, strikeouts, and homers all increased. I’m not quite sure what to make of this. If it weren’t for the bases on balls, I’d say he was being more aggressive. And even then, it’s possible that he was, but that he was going for the kill late in counts. Young was one of the least efficient pitchers in baseball in 2006, so that would make sense.
What does any of this have to do with Young’s future? I’m not sure. Aside from the obvious disclaimer that each individual’s development as a player is different, there is the complicating factor that Young is older than Benes and Carpenter were at the time. My suspicion is that this actually works in Young’s favor because he is well past the “injury nexus” that derailed Carpenter’s career in his late twenties and that may have played a role in Benes’ early demise (in the case of Benes, it’s not so much an injury as heavy workloads at a young age that made him primarily an innings eater too soon — see, e.g., Kevin Millwood).
The best I can say is that it’s interesting to see three pitchers chosen on the basis of their physical builds and statistical similarities show at least some improvement in their second full season in the big leagues. Beyond that, I’m reluctant to offer any conclusions about Young’s future, the development of tall pitchers, or pretty much anything else.
Sometimes you go looking for a particular thing and end up just enjoying the view. This is one of those times.