Chris Young and Jarrod Parker: Two A's, Opposite Directions
Having kicked off their home stand with a two game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, the Oakland A's now turn their attention to a team tied for baseball's best record, the St. Louis Cardinals. St. Louis, which ranks in the top three in the NL in runs scored and fewest runs allowed, will pose a stiff challenge for the A's. If Oakland wants a shot at closing out the first half of the year atop the AL West, pitchers and hitters alike will need to step up this weekend.
One hitter who has yet to step up this year for the A's is Chris Young. After being swapped for Cliff Pennington in a trade with Arizona, Young to this point has turned in what is arguably the worst season of his career.
The center fielder has never been one to hit for average (his career high for any season is .257), but he's always had two things going for him at the plate - the ability to draw walks at a decent rate and an aptitude for hitting baseballs a very long way. In three different seasons Young has walked in at least 11 percent of his plate appearances. He has slugged above .400 six times, and hasn't finished a season slugging below that average since his first brief stint in the majors in 2006.
But Young is now struggling to make contact and crush pitches the way he is accustomed to, the way that made him an All Star in 2010. He's hitting .188/.271/.365, the worst numbers of his career across the board. His latest game, an 0-4, four strikeout performance from the leadoff spot, dropped his WAR to -0.5 on the season.
Adding insult to injury, Young has the highest contract on the A's roster at $8.7 million. The Diamondbacks are picking up a small chunk of that, but Oakland is still shelling out more than 10 percent of its payroll for a guy with the worst WAR on the 25 man roster. Young might find his swing and wind up hitting .240 and slugging .440, numbers with which the A's would have to be enthralled. However, to this point he hasn't done much to suggest he's a viable option to remain a regular in the lineup.
If Young is seeking inspiration in recovering from an abysmal start, he need look no further than teammate Jarrod Parker. Parker started six games in April with an ERA of 7.36 and a WHIP of 2.011. In five starts in May, he brought the ERA down to 3.62 and the WHIP down to 0.821. He's made five starts in June with an ERA of 2.29 and a WHIP of 0.821.
That improvement has been dramatic, as the second year starter has turned in the sort of performances he led A's fans to expect in rookie year. If he wants to keep posting better stats he'll have his work cut out for him in a duel with Adam Wainwright on Saturday.
Parker's resurgence has been one of the reasons the A's have played well during June, but there are some other players on the roster from whom the team could use better production. Derek Norris is one, but his struggles haven't been surprising. On the other hand, the level of Chris Young's ineptitude has been a little startling. The A's might not need him to turn things around, but it certainly won't hurt their fight for the West if he starts slugging the way he has in the past.
Matt Keith covers the Oakland A's weekly for numberFire. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mattlkeith.