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Dirty little secret: Michael Young simply isn’t all that great

Feb 8, 2011, 11:17 AM EDT

Michael Young

All the drama between the Rangers and Michael Young is receiving an incredible amount of attention, but lost in the never-ending speculation about where he’ll wind up is that … well, Young just isn’t that great.

Texas made the mistake of giving Young a five-year contract that pays him like a superstar and six straight All-Star appearances–including the game-winning hit off Trevor Hoffman in 2006–makes him a household name for the average fan. Beyond that, Young’s skill set and home ballpark both lend themselves to a hitter being overrated.

Last night on Twitter fans from just about every team were thinking up ways to acquire Young and most of them didn’t seem to realize that the Rangers are essentially just trying to dump as much of the $48 million he’s owed during the next three seasons as possible. There’s no need for any team to actually send the Rangers anything of significant value in return and there’s no reason for any team to take on more than, say, half of that contract.

Batting averages, Gold Gloves, and leadership come up over and over again whenever someone makes the case for acquiring Young, but those things are all problematic in terms of evaluating his current status. For instance, Young has a .300 career batting average with five 200-hit seasons, which is obviously impressive. However, it’s a pretty empty .300, as Young has never hit 25 homers or drawn 60 walks in a season. Among all the hitters with at least 2,000 plate appearances since 2000 his .795 OPS ranks 97th. And even that overstates his production, because Young has benefited tremendously from Texas’ hitter-friendly ballpark.

He’s hit .279 with a .322 on-base percentage and .411 slugging percentage on the road during his career for a measly .733 OPS, including a .679 OPS away from home in 2010. Adjusted OPS+ takes ballparks into account and Young’s career mark is 105, which is just slightly better than the average of 100 and ranks second-lowest among all hitters with a .300 batting average and 5,000 plate appearances since the mound was lowered in 1969. His batting averages and hit totals look great, but his overall production is mediocre and has been boosted significantly by a hitter-friendly ballpark.

As for the Gold Glove, those should have stopped meaning anything to anyone sometime between Rafael Palmeiro winning in 1999 despite playing 135 games at designated hitter and Derek Jeter having more than all but four shortstops in baseball history. Texas was thrilled to make room for Elvis Andrus in 2009 by moving Young to third base and signed Adrian Beltre this offseason in large part because Young’s defense at third base was sub par. Ultimate Zone Rating pegged Young as 10.2 runs below average per 150 games at shortstop and 7.5 runs below average per 150 games at third base. The notion that he’s above average, let alone an elite defender, is driven entirely by an incredibly flawed award that he didn’t deserve to begin with.

Young’s “leadership” is obviously impossible to quantify like his hitting and defense, but it’s worth noting that prior to the Rangers’ run to the World Series last season Young had the third-most games of any active player without reaching the playoffs. That’s not his fault, of course, but it does speak to the idea that his “leadership” can somehow cause a team to out-perform their talent. Maybe it did last season, but a) the Rangers clearly aren’t too worried about losing it, and b) even with his leadership Texas has had just three winning seasons in his 11 years with the team.

Don’t let the shiny batting averages, undeserved Gold Glove award, and oft-touted leadership abilities fool you: Young is a 34-year-old mediocre hitter and poor defender being paid like a superstar through 2013. There’s a reason the Rangers signed Beltre to replace him at third base, there’s a reason they’ve been trying to unload him all offseason, and there’s a reason other teams aren’t exactly lining up to take on his contract.

  1. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Feb 8, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE!

  2. Jeremiah Graves - Feb 8, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    THANK YOU!!!

  3. Jason @ IIATMS - Feb 8, 2011 at 11:37 AM

    Funny, you can almost do the EDIT/REPLACE function with Jeter’s name and the article won’t change that much, especially for the anti-Jeter crowd.

    Intangibles… undeserved Gold Glove… captain… clutchitude… overrated… intangibles… leadership

    • genericcommenter - Feb 8, 2011 at 11:57 AM

      Derek Jeter actually gets on base and has been a lot more productive at the plate than Young. OK, maybe that is the past tense..but over his career Jeter has been a lot better than Young. His .300 seasons haven’t been as empty. He gets on base and scores a ton of runs and his OPS is higher.

      No doubt both are overrated defensively and have undeserved Gold Gloves.

      At the plate, Jeter’s 11th best season is better than Young’s 3rd best, and Young really only has 2 seasons significantly above average.

      • Jason @ IIATMS - Feb 8, 2011 at 12:02 PM

        there was a lot of tongue-in-cheekiness in my comment above. Yes, Jeter has been much better than Young over the course of the year.

        Next time, I’ll make it more obvious.

  4. jamie54 - Feb 8, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    Thank you for a great analysis. Gold gloves are virtually meaningless, no value whatsoever. I’ve been to that ballpark and balls fly off the bat for whatever reason so it definitely inflates offensive numbers. Hitters go there to pump up there numbers similar to pitchers going to Petco to do the same. Moving Young to Denver would be a good move for him to keep his numbers up but you still can’t hide the ineptitude in the field.

  5. kinggeorge96 - Feb 8, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    Ouch!

    I think Craig better dig up one of those, “He’s in the best shape of his life” stories right quick… At the rate the media’s going, all the Rangers are going to get for him is an open box of cracker jacks (less the prize) and their parking pass validated when they drop him off on the door step of some unsuspecting teams staduim…

    Welcome to your new home Michael…

  6. trevorb06 - Feb 8, 2011 at 11:44 AM

    I’m amazed the Angels aren’t all over this just like they were Wells.

  7. Jonny 5 - Feb 8, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    Yeah, this guy has wayyy too many GG, mvp, and all star appearances…. GG is the most comical, like Jetes was.

  8. scatterbrian - Feb 8, 2011 at 12:14 PM

    Great analysis Aaron. It’s fascinating how perception rather than substance has fueled Young’s image.

    You lose me at the leadership argument though. I don’t believe leadership alone can cause a team to out-perform their talent. In Young’s case specifically, the Rangers throughout his career have typically had dreadful pitching, and no amount of clubhouse or on-field leadership was going to change that.

    His leadership should really be questioned due to the fact that this is the second time he’s demanded a trade, the first coming after the Rangers called up Andrus and shifted Young to 3B. He’s not looking out for what’s best for the team, it’s ego-driven based on him not wanting to be pegged as a DH going forward. Further, as you mentioned, Young had the third-most games of any active player without reaching the playoffs. Now he’s on a team that’s had a taste and is in pretty good shape to return to the playoffs, and he wants out.

  9. spudchukar - Feb 8, 2011 at 12:17 PM

    D.J., I think you are selling Michael Young a little short. The numbers you pose to justify your claims can be read in more ways then one. The better question should be “what” is Michael Young. I have no argument whatsoever if he is branded a 3B or 1B/DH. It is also clear that he no longer possesses the range to be considered a SS, except on rare emergency basis. However, as a 2B, his skills and numbers are pretty impressive. From what I gather, the teams that are interested in him want him as at 2B. Granted he has no real position with the Rangers, and the best thing for all parties is for him to be shipped elsewhere. A great deal of import is placed on an undeserving Gold Glove. Ok, I agree, but no one should argue that he still was in the upper echelon of SS, that year, which I translate to mean that he still has the chops to be a better than average 2B. I mean look at the guy, he has 2B written all over the guy. To denigrate the guy because he was willing to leave his natural position for one where he is harshly criticized seems a little unfair. I bet some contending team is going to be very happy to have him as their starting 2B, putting up the numbers you indicated and bringing the intangibles we all know he possesses.

    • Jonny 5 - Feb 8, 2011 at 12:32 PM

      His dWar is in the negative more than it’s not, so I tend to agree more with Aaron on this.

      And the season he recieved a GG was the only season his dWar was a “1.0” His highest ever.

    • spudchukar - Feb 8, 2011 at 12:33 PM

      Sorry D.J., should have read Aaron.

      • spudchukar - Feb 8, 2011 at 12:46 PM

        First off, the accuracy of defensive sabermetric stats suck, compared to hitting and pitching. There are so many holes in the results they are hardly worth quoting. The primary problem being the subjective nature of scorekeeping, the inexact process of perceived range, and positioning, not to mention other variables like field condition and other player defensive acumens. While sabermetrics has taught us many wonderful things, it lags significantly when addressing defense, and the small tweeks that have been administered to correct the aforementioned flaws have helped little.
        The only thing that keeps teams from jumping at the chance to have him on their team is his salary, something the Rangers were all to happy to afford at the time and should in no way reflect on his talents, just his acquirability.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 8, 2011 at 1:00 PM

        Your point is noted, and while I agree it’s only to a point. See it would also be applied to all other players who are posting great + dWar #’s on a regular basis. As well as replacement level players. It’s all scaled the same way. I realize it’s flawed, but it still is probably the best comparison tool since the players are are on the same scale. I like Young, I think he’s a good ball player, and yes it’s his salary that keep teams away because he’s overpaid. I don’t think his defense is all that great, and his overall play is above average but not up to par with salary. I’m just saying he’s not really “good” on defense, and I’m sure I’m not just blowing smoke here.

      • Ari Collins - Feb 8, 2011 at 1:17 PM

        Defensive metrics don’t suck, it’s just that defensive numbers vary due to the small number of chances a player has during one year. That’s why it’s wise to take several different defensive metrics into account, and weigh them with scouting reports. Sometimes you have to figure out how much to weigh different pieces of the puzzle. But in this case, you don’t, becasue they all agree that Michael Young has been consistently below average throughout his career, having to be moved to easier defensive positions as he’s gotten older and slower.

        I’ll take the professional opinions of scouts, the opinions of the fans who watch him every day, and defensive numbers from several sources, over “he has 2B written all over the guy” and the fact that 2B was his “natural position”… 10 years ago.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 8, 2011 at 1:57 PM

        Ari, you should add “if you care that much” if not dWar is a pretty good measuring tool. I mean damn, who’s got time to do actual research on individual players? Right?

      • spudchukar - Feb 8, 2011 at 2:11 PM

        Ari, that would be fine if all the scouts and viewers agreed with you which they do not. It has been a long time since Young has played 2B, a position that undeniably suits him over SS, 3B, 1B or DH. While I would be the first to agree that at 34 he won’t be a wizard or even “good”, I still contend he will at least be adequate, and a real boon to any team that places him at 2B.
        Defensive stats will continue to be flawed as long as subjective representations are used by statisticians to make objective metrics. The volatility screams inaccuracy. The only way they can be improved, is if an impartial (as possible) group replay every at bat in every game in every season, and collectively determine the statistical outcome. Plus special cameras must be used to carefully plot the positioning, response, and trajectory of both the ball and player movement. Only then will an accurate portrayal of a defensive player’s abilities be properly registered. It isn’t the metrics that are at fault it is the statistical collection that is flawed and all the historical comparisons are meaningless if statistical gatherings are not standardized to the best possible degree.

      • Ari Collins - Feb 8, 2011 at 3:59 PM

        You’ve just described many defensive metrics, Spud. They are not subjective. They are based on precise tracking of batted balls.

        What scouts are you reading that say that Young is an even adequate defender? Most reports I’ve read indicate his range is terrible, his hands decent, and the only above-average tool he has is his arm. Which can lead a TV viewer to conclude that he’s a good fielder, since the few balls he gets to and gets a handle on get thrown to first reasonably well, and the TV rarely get to an infielder in time to show anything before the scoop.

    • scatterbrian - Feb 8, 2011 at 12:45 PM

      Young hasn’t played 2B in seven years.

      • spudchukar - Feb 8, 2011 at 12:57 PM

        That would be much more meaningful if he wasn’t a SS, during much of those 7 years.

      • scatterbrian - Feb 8, 2011 at 1:16 PM

        Players don’t typically move up the defensive spectrum as they get older, especially when they weren’t that great at their previous position. I really hope my team understands this and doesn’t make a $48M gamble that he’s an exception to that rule.

      • spudchukar - Feb 8, 2011 at 1:44 PM

        Players Never move up the defensive spectrum as they get older, which makes reliance on today’s defensive sabermetrics even more ghastly, as they fluctuate grossly between the above and below average range yearly. (Ex. Derek Jeter)
        If you project Michael Young as a 2B, then his offensive numbers are very impressive, especially in the power categories, and he should grade out about average at 2B. I happen to believe he is a slightly above average 2B, but even his harshest critics must admit he won’t be a liability at second, especially when his offensive stats are factored in. I don’t know which team is yours Scatterbrian, but he is built perfect for Coors Field, and might just lead the league in doubles. I sure wish he were my Cardinals’ second sacker.

  10. xmatt0926x - Feb 8, 2011 at 12:35 PM

    Aaron is my Hardballtalk God today. I watched Hotstove on MLB network and Brian Jordan was a panelist and he was talking as if Michael Young was being “slapped in the face” and of course “disrespected” because Texas dared to move him to different positions. Yes, god forbid they try to make the team better and ask a player raking in mega-millions to do whatever his team needs to be better. Aaron is correct with his critique of Young and at 34 it won’t be getting any better. Shut up and play!! He might just find out that no team is willing to pick up that salary for the next 2 or 3 years. I don’t see Texas as a team that wants to eat his salary either. Not to mention that he limited the amount of teams he’s willing to go to. If he ends up being stuck in Texas you’ll see how quick he decides “I will do anything that makes us a better team”. Dont get me wrong. If he wants to excercise his rights as a 5/10 man and demand to be traded because he does’t want to be a DH then thats one thing. But the whole “they disrespected me by asking me to switch positions” thing just irks me.

    • kirkmack - Feb 8, 2011 at 1:09 PM

      I was just going to mention that I thought it was a joke him being considered this great leader- each time he’s changed positions, he’s complained about it and asked to be traded. A real leader doesn’t do that, let alone to the media. Yes, he eventually played those new positions, but you could sense he wasn’t thrilled with it. This is just the last straw.

    • spudchukar - Feb 8, 2011 at 1:30 PM

      Irk Away! If the scenario was as you have fantasized then you would be justified in your irritation but unfortunately it is considerably more complex than you contend. Michael Young has been the consummate pro for an organization that floundered for years. Personally, I believe the Beltre acquisition will prove to be fool-hardy for a team that needs starting pitching badly. Maybe they will join the $150 mil a year group of the elite, and be able to afford both Beltre and pitching, but if so they should eat the majority of Young’s contract and move him on. He still wants to play, and a platoon DH/1B spot won’t cut it. By asking for a trade, and at his age preferring contending teams seems reasonable seeing how he stuck it out for a dozen years or so with a team that never made it to post-season, he is helping the Rangers. Maybe they can land a starter to compliment the best line-up in baseball and send Young off to a NL team, where his abilities would be more appreciated.

      • scatterbrian - Feb 8, 2011 at 6:48 PM

        Please spud, consummate professionals don’t use the media to air out dirty laundry. They don’t say things like “I want to be traded because I’ve been misled and manipulated and I’m sick of it” to the media, even if they are absolutely true statements. And they don’t demand trades.

        It’s not like he’s been held hostage in Texas either. He could have moved on from the floundering Rangers after 2008, but he chose to stay, signing an $80M extension with the club. He’s been more than adequately compensated for whatever hurt feelings he might have.

  11. roycethebaseballhack - Feb 8, 2011 at 1:16 PM

    OK – while I’ll admit MY does not have, and has not had, the strength and talent to be a league-leading third baseman, he is actually a much smarter and better batter than he’s getting credit for, here. Yes – I acknowledge that accepted batting stats suggest otherwise, but one thing I don’t see captured in any of them is what I’ve seen watching him at-bat for his entire tenure here; pitch counts. i’m pretty sure the numbers are available, but I don’t have the time to mine them. Young has to have the one of the highest pitch counts of any hitter in the AL. Meaning, he usually takes at least four or five pitches per At Bat, and routinely takes six or more. This guy is one of the most impressive hitters I’ve ever watched. I understand that what would be most impressive to the pedestrian is Hits and RBI’s, but his talent is pretty obvious if you watch him bat a few hundred times every season.
    As an ardent Rangers fan, I’ll be sad to see him leave for a number of reasons. The entire 2010 Rangers team was really a group of guys who’s Whole was far greater than The Sum of Their Parts, even when you include having the League MVP and Rookie of The Year, on the roster. Having watched them all year, it was obvious who their leader was- Young was the first guy at the top of the steps to welcome every batter back to the dugout, regardless of what they did. When he scored, he streaked across the plate with the spirit of a little kid. That, and he has has my undying admiration for beating the shit out of Sidney Ponson.

    • dluxxx - Feb 8, 2011 at 1:38 PM

      38th in the A.L. with 3.8 per PA (and Elvis Andrus, his replacement was 19th with 4.3). He’s 86th in baseball. THis is with a minimum of 500 PA. Not exactly the best stat to judge someone by, though. I mean Brett Gardner heads that distinct list for A.L. players and the great Carlos Pena (he of the .196 BA) is #24.

    • dluxxx - Feb 8, 2011 at 1:43 PM

      Also, I do like the Ponson thing, but it doesn’t really lend itself to any kind of “leadership” argument. Leaders don’t get into fist fights with their teamates.

    • Joe - Feb 8, 2011 at 1:49 PM

      Baseball-reference.com has those stats. It’s under “More Batting” and then scroll down to “Team Pitches Batting”

      http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/TEX/2010-batting.shtml

      In 2010, Young was 5th among the Rangers qualifiers with 3.78 P/PA. (10th among Rangers with 100+ PA.) Team average was 3.72. League average was 3.82. 2010 was the 4th-best among Young’s 10 seasons in the majors. His career rate is 3.76 P/PA.

      So no, he’s not among the tops in the AL in working the count.

      • roycethebaseballhack - Feb 8, 2011 at 1:55 PM

        Oh- damn. did I say, ‘Working The Count”…? I meant to say, ‘Working the Count Chocula’, meaning – he eats the most cereal.

  12. chisoxpurdue - Feb 8, 2011 at 1:56 PM

    As a White Sox fan, I would love to see a Young for Teahen trade.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Feb 8, 2011 at 2:25 PM

      Sox can’t afford his salary and the Rangers are trying to dump it sooo, no dice.

  13. gvgv - Feb 8, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    I live in Dallas and am a lifelong Ranger fan, but the facts are the facts and the truth is that MY is not the player he once was as the article points out wonderfully. GM Jon Daniels should be applauded for trying to make his team better without being sentimental about an aging star. Hanging on to long is the classic blunder that most teams make. Is it tough to part ways – absolutely, but bottom line – this is a business.

    • paperlions - Feb 8, 2011 at 3:00 PM

      The numbers strongly suggest that Young has never been the player he was….

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