Matt Kemp is one of the very best players in baseball. He probably deserved to win the National League MVP last year and begins his 2012 campaign like a house a’fire. Kemp leads baseball with six home runs and a .616 wOBA through 44 measly at bats.
But the too-early-to-mean-anything leader in Wins Above Replacement on Fangraphs? Why that is Kemp’s division-mate Chris Young, centerfielder for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Young is nearly as hot but not getting near the attention of the Dodgers centerpiece.
You might remember Chris Young from ruining your fantasy team for about three years running. Always a tantalizing package of tools, Young displayed great power and speed with minimal patience and plenty of contact issues. Young piled up the homers and steals but made far too many outs to take the step forward many expected.
In 2010, Chris Young really started to put it all together. His patience increased while his strikeouts went down. He posted a .257/.341/.452 with 27 homers and 28 steals, accounting for more than 4 Wins across all flavours. 2011 was more of the same: power, patience, speed with terrific defense thrown in. Another 4 WAR season according to Fangraphs and BR – both systems absolutely loving his defense in center.
Young starts 2012 on fire, posted five home runs in 44 plate appearances. Six walks and two steals with strong defense in centerfield make Young already worth 1.4 fWAR. He leads all hitters in WPA at this early stage, providing some high-leverage thrills in the early going.
The Diamondbacks signed Young to a five-year, $28 million dollar contract extension in 2009 that looks positively brilliant with the benefit of hindsight. The first season was disappointing (as it can be for many players) but the ~8WAR Young provided over the last two years pretty much eliminates all risk remaining in that contract.
Young is due to receive a mere pittance compared to Matt Kemp over the next few seasons, considering the life of Young’s deal is worth a little more than one year of Matt Kemp’s services. But with Young in center and Justin Upton in right and a great young pitching rotation to support them, the future in Arizona looks great on the field.