No. 5 Diamondbacks: 26th in a series countdown to spring training. Next: Rays.
Good players carry themselves a certain way. They're respected by teammates, which gives them a sense of security that fosters confidence. They know who they are, even if it takes the public a while to catch on.
Chris Young, the Arizona Diamondbacks' center fielder, is one of those guys. He, and not the super-talented Justin Upton, was a go-to guy for reporters after playoff games last fall. He has been an easy guy to overlook throughout his five full big-league seasons — yes, he was an All-Star for a 65-win team in 2010, but Robert Fick once represented the Detroit Tigers — but as a true two-way contributor in a key position is the mortar holding his teams together.
There are more glittering outfield combinations than Young and Upton. The Dodgers' Matt Kemp/Andre Ethier billing is probably at the top of the current game, but there's a lot to like about the Red Sox's Jacoby Ellsbury/Carl Crawford, Yankees' Curtis Granderson/Nick Swisher, Blue Jays' Colby Rasmus/Jose Bautista and Rangers' Josh Hamilton/Nelson Cruz.
Young annually leads the league in, well, nothing (he did have the most outfield putouts in 2010, but Topps did not issue a card commemorating the feat). But he's a strong defensive outfielder — sixth best among major-league regulars, according to Runs Saved rankings last year — who hits home runs, steals bases and has developed enough patience to take walks (80 in 2011, which was sixth in the NL).
Pretty good player, in other words.
The Wins Above Replacement formula used by baseball-reference.com had Young with a 4.8 WAR last season. The only teammate who did more to contribute to the Diamondbacks' unexpected NL West title was ace Ian Kennedy, who had a 5.5 WAR. Catcher Miguel Montero was at 4.5, and Upton came in at 4.1.
There were only two teams which got a higher WAR from their center fielder and one of the outfielders who flank him. The Dodgers were at a combined 11.3 for Kemp/Ethier thanks to Kemp's MVP-caliber production, and the Yankees got 9.6 from Granderson and the underrated Brett Gardner.
There was nothing really surprising about the Young/Upton numbers. Young had played at a 4.1 WAR level during his All-Star season in 2010. He and the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen are the only center fielders who enter 2012 with a chance to have a third straight season with a WAR of 4.0 or better.
Young epitomizes an Arizona contender that has been built on a budget by a resourceful front office. Josh Byrnes, who was fired in 2010 and has become the Padres' general manager, and Kevin Towers acquired Young, Kennedy and Daniel Hudson via trades. Both Young (for Javier Vazquez) and Hudson (for Edwin Jackson) came in short-sighted gambles by the White Sox.
Towers, who overhauled the Arizona bullpen a year ago by bringing in J.J Putz, David Hernandez and Joe Paterson, has made the Diamondbacks a favorite to reach the 2012 World Series with his moves this winter.
After non-tendering lefty Joe Saunders, he added starter Trevor Cahill and lefty reliever Craig Breslow in a trade, and signed power-hitting left fielder Jason Kubel and reliever Takashi Saito as free agents. Oh, and then he re-signed Saunders, giving the Diamondbacks four 200-inning starters, in addition to second-year starter Josh Collmenter and highly rated prospects Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer.
This is a very strong team. And the talented guy in center field is as big a part of it as anyone.
- The Diamondbacks were awful two years ago but have reached the playoffs five times in their 14-year history. Among NL teams, only the Braves (9) and Cardinals (8) have had more playoff appearances since 1998 (the Phillies and Astros also have five).
- The Diamondbacks cut their bullpen ERA to 3.71 last year from a majors-worst 5.74 in 2010.
- First baseman Paul Goldschmidt, in his first full season, joins Bryce Harper and Eric Hosmer among the game's most dynamic hitters. Bill James projects him to deliver a slash line of .266/.367/.516 with team-high totals in homers (32) and RBIs (99) this season.
- When Young struck out 165 times in 2008 and then hit .212 the following season, White Sox types downplayed the negative consequences of Ken Williams including Young in a deal in which Byrnes initially sought outfielder Brian Anderson, a first-round draft pick who has since converted to pitcher. They pointed to Arizona giving Young a five-year, $28 million contract. But then Williams claimed Alex Rios on waivers, and Young reached the point where his experience allowed his talent to come out. Since the start of 2007, Young has produced a 10.1 WAR; the White Sox have used four different primary center fielders, who have totaled 1.0 WAR in five seasons. The White Sox paid those five $27.13 million while Young earned about $11.4 million.
- Hudson, 23 at the time Williams traded him, wasn't the only young pitcher the White Sox gave up for Edwin Jackson. Lefty David Holmberg, who Baseball America rates as the Diamondbacks' sixth-best prospect, has a chance to reach Double A before his 21st birthday. He could be on a fast track to Chicago if he hadn't been traded.