BY Steve Rudman 10:21AM 08/14/2014

Castoff Chris Young is Mariners mound savior

With 41 games remaining, Chris Young has as many wins as Hisashi Iwakuma (11) and only two fewer than Mariners staff ace Felix Hernandez (13).

Chris Young, who failed to make Washington’s rotation in the spring, has 11 wins for only the third time in his 10-year career.

We have spent so much time dwelling – properly so – on the unprecedented exploits of Felix Hernandez (as well as those of Hisashi Iwakuma) that Chris Young largely has gone ignored. That’s mainly a status issue: Young isn’t an ace, never has been, and never will be. But he’s a big reason why the Mariners, irrelevant for so many years, are in the thick of contention for the American League’s second wild card spot.

With his victory over Toronto Tuesday, part of an 8-1 home stand, Young improved to 11-6, only the third time in his 10-year career that he has won 11 or more games (12 in 2005 and 11 in 2006 with San Diego). Young is 8-3 with a 2.35 ERA in 13 Safeco Field starts and 6-2, 2.67 over his last 11 since June 16. The Mariners won eight of the 11, including the last four.

Young has already made more starts this season (23) than in any year in the past five. But if not for an unlikely confluence of events, Young probably wouldn’t be employed by the Mariners.

At the start of spring training, Young was in the mix with the Washington Nationals, with whom he was trying to hook on as a free agent following two injury-plagued seasons with the Mets. Although Young delivered a decent spring with a 3.48 ERA in four outings, he asked for his release when it became clear he would not make Washington’s rotation.

At about the same time, the Mariners had their own rotation issues. Iwakuma (strained finger tendon) missed all of spring and wouldn’t be ready until May. Taijuan Walker (shoulder) went on the disabled list. Two veterans departed, Scott Baker signing with Texas after the Mariners released him, Randy Wolf opting for free agency rather than sign a waiver that would have allowed his release in the first 45 days of the regular season without having to pay his full salary.

As Opening Day approached, Seattle’s rotation included Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton in the first three slots with Young slotted among Blake Beavan and Roenis Elias for back-of-rotation jobs.

Who would have guessed that Young, with 41 games remaining, would have as many wins as Iwakuma (11), third in last year’s AL Cy Young vote, and only two fewer than King Felix (13), the favorite to win the Cy Young Award this year?

Opponents are batting .191/.231/.274 against Hernandez, who leads the AL in wins, ERA, WHIP, hit rate (hits per nine innings) and starts. Hernandez also leads in several advanced metrics, including WAR (6.0), and has a streak of 16 consecutive starts with at least seven innings pitched and two or fewer runs allowed, an on-going major league record.

Yet the Mariners find themselves in playoff contention because Young, above all other starters, has kept the Hernandez-Iwakuma momentum going. Young has also done something that neither Hernandez nor Iwakuma has: Allowwd no more than three hits in a start nine times.

Only two pitchers in franchise history, neither King Felix, put together a season in which they allowed no more than three hits in a start 10 or more times (Hernandez’s top mark is six this season):

Year Pitcher Starts Skinny
1991 R. Johnson 12 76 innings; 5-3 record, 3.08 ERA, 92 K’s
2001 Jamie Moyer 10 Went 7-1, 0.94 ERA and 0.55 WHIP in 67 innings
2014 Chris Young 9 8-0 with 1.68 ERA in these games with 0.68 WHIP
1993 R. Johnson 8 Went 5-1, 1.41 ERA with 74 strikeouts, 0.77 WHIP
1995 R. Johnson 8 7-0, 0.30 ERA en route to first of five Cy Youngs
1997 R. Johnson 8 6-0, 1.26 ERA en route to first 20-win (20-4) season
2001 Freddy Garcia 8 6-0, 1.30 ERA, 0.58 WHIP for 116-win Mariners
2011 Michael Pineda 8 6-1, 1.64 ERA in only season in Seattle

The nine, three-or-fewer-hit starts by Young are the most in the majors this season, the most in club history by a mid-to-end-of-rotation starter, and help underscore why the Mariners have not allowed more than three runs in any game this month, stretching the club-record streak to 12 consecutive games.

Cy vs. Cy

Hernandez starts Saturday in the middle of a three-game series at Comerica Park in Detroit. Felix will face David Price in a matchup of the AL’s 2010 and 2012 Cy Young winners. Price, who defeated the Mariners 2-1 May 13 2-1 when Fernando Rodney blew a save, is 1-1, 3.00 in three career starts against the Mariners.

Hernandez is 9-2, 2.51 vs. Detroit in career 13 starts, including 5-1, 3.00 at Comerica Park.

He’ll enter the game with an AL-best 1.95 ERA, the lowest (so far) by any pitcher in franchise history. Since the advent of the designated hitter in 1973, only three other AL pitchers pitchers have had an ERA under 2.00 at least 25 starts into a season: Ron Guidry in 1978, Roger Clemens in 1990 and Pedro Martinez in 2000.

Looked at another way – opponent OPS – only Martinez in 2000 put together a more impressive season than the one Hernandez is having – and this goes back to the start of baseball’s expansion era (1961):

Year Pitcher Team ERA OPS Skinny
2000 Pedro Martinez Bos 1.74 .473 AL Cy Young winner, 284 K’s
2014 Felix Hernandez Sea 1.95 .505 Faces ex-Cy winner Price Saturday
1971 Vida Blue Oak 1.82 .523 AL Cy Young winner, 301 K’s
1978 Ron Guidry NYY 1.74 .528 Won AL Cy Young award (25-3)
1968 Dave McNally Bal 1.95 .535 Won 22, first of 3 20-win years
1968 Denny McLain Det 1.96 .559 Last 30-game winner at 31-6
1968 Tommy John CWS 1.98 .568 Had 10-5 record in 25 starts
1990 Roger Clemens Bos 1.93 .584 2nd Cy Young vote to Bob Welch

Favorable slate

After going 8-1 on the home stand (second-best stand of seven or more games in club history), the Mariners play the next nine on the road at Detroit, Philadelphia and Boston. Although the Mariners will face 2012 Cy Young winner David Price Saturday, they won’t have to face either of Detroit’s two other Cy Young winners, Justin Verlander (2011) or Max Scherzer (2013).

In Philadelphia and Boston, the Mariners will face the last-place teams in the NL East (53-68) and AL East (54-65), respectively. When the Mariners return to Safeco Field (Aug. 25, they draw the AL West’s last-place club, Texas (47-73). Seattle won’t face a team with a record above .500 until Aug. 29 when the Washington Nationals visit.


  • jafabian

    Young comes across like a poor man’s Jamie Moyer to me, with a better fastball. If he can continue on the pace he’s set on he could be a plus for the M’s in the next few years.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    If you look at the uncertainty of that pitching staff rotation when it was muscle up time to fill that #5 spot?The Mariners make National news in unwanted drama(contract language leaves Ms high and Dry as Wolf balks~Bales ship:Whats next?)The Randy Wolf fit turned out to be a blessing but we didnt know that at the time. Who is this guy of Randy Johnson height coming from the Nationals?Can he stay healthy given his history? Will Young be worth the risk?
    We had no choice at the moment really…the alternative was to put Hector Noesi in that 5th slot and that wasnt going to happen. He does have that quiet smoldering confidence that Jamie Moyer displayed once upon a time in Seattle. Skipper has called him a godsend a few times this season and as Steve has written? An 11 win season for an end of the rotation guy? Better than most would hope and there’s still about 8 or so starts left (2014)in the guy we would assume in addition to possible play offs.
    We def appreciate his blue collar attitude and great effort for our play off starved team.
    Thank you Chris for being in the right place at the right time in order to don a MARINER UNIFORM. The Nationals missed the boat on you big fella!

  • RadioGuy

    When it really gets down to it, pitching is about two things: 1) Throwing strikes and 2) Throwing off the batter’s timing. It’s nice to have a 95-100mph heater, too, but if you can do those two things, you’ll win. We’ve seen plenty of guys come through who could throw a ball 95-100mph, but how many of them knew how to pitch?

    Well, Chris Young knows how to pitch. Like Jamie Moyer (good comparison, David), Young doesn’t throw MLB-level hard but he understands mixing speeds and pitches while throwing strikes. It’s meant quite a few gopher balls, as happens with control pitchers, but it’s also meant a lot of pop-ups, weak grounders, eleven wins, a 3.26 ERA and a WHIP of 1.13. It’s true that he’s at best a number 3 starter here, but Chris has delivered far more than expected and has been a real anchor out there.

    I think that when Paxton, Walker and Elias are all healthy and in Seattle, he’s probably expendable, but Chris Young has been a real bargain and Jack Z deserves credit for bringing him to the Mariners.