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What we talk about when we talk about Michael Young

Oct 25, 2011, 9:55 AM EDT

Michael Young dugout

Barring him hitting the World Series-winning home run or something, this is the last thing I’m writing about Michael Young for a while. And really, I’m not even writing anything about Young himself here.

I’m mostly just quoting Gregg Doyel, because even though I believe that he and I are on different sides of the dividing line he describes when it comes to Michael Young, he’s pretty much right on the money in describing the existence of the dividing line:

Young’s role, for lack of a better word, in the evolution of the game’s coverage. His place in the conversation between the two camps of baseball media: old vs. new, mainstream vs. sabermetrics. Michael Young isn’t just straddling the fault line. He is the fault line … So Young is that guy, an offensive version of the Felix Hernandez vs. CC Sabathia debate for the 2010 Cy Young. And writers on both sides are waging their own war, on Twitter and in blog posts. It’s a little unseemly, to be honest, the way both sides are using Michael Young the way an angry divorcing couple uses their only child to get at each other.

I don’t agree that there’s spite here — I feel what I feel about Michael Young and the world in which he inhabits rather genuinely and — even if you choose to disbelieve me — without malice towards him personally.  And I believe those who rave about Young approach it the same way. They’re not trying to simply make a political point nor are they showing him disingenuous love.

But I do agree that this stuff is way less about Young himself than it is about competing philosophies, both about how to value a player and how to decide what we think of players off the field, their intangibles, etc. Young is a proxy. He’s a Rorschach test. While no one thinks he isn’t a good player, he does things well that a certain sort of person values more highly than another sort of person.  Same goes for some of the sabermetric darlings of the past.  Dwight Evans should be in the Hall of Fame but isn’t and Jim Rice is but shouldn’t be precisely because of that appreciation deficit.

I think there will always be players that live on those battle lines. And to be honest, I wouldn’t want it any other way.  Life is boring when everyone agrees on stuff like this.

  1. skipperxc - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    I’m frankly kind of happy that we’re having this conversation about somebody other than Derek Jeter for once. Get some fresh blood in there.

    • Old Gator - Oct 25, 2011 at 3:55 PM

      I agree. And you gotta love it when a sports blogger alludes to Raymond Carver, too.

  2. Chris Fiorentino - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    That was a great article. This line absolutely stuns me…

    “Anyhow, Young’s a complex case. He hits the ball like a star, getting to 2,000 career hits faster than all but 10 players since 1900. ”

    Amazing. You would think with some of the things we have read that he’s just a slightly above average player and that his getting 2,000 hits was just a ho-hum thing. But to get there in faster than all but 10 players since 1900…that’s pretty special I think.

    • kopy - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:22 AM

      It’s pretty special, but largely a result of his affinity for swinging the bat and not talking walks. I would certainly venture a wager that he wasn’t nearly as fast reaching base 2,000 times compared to his peers.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:29 AM

        So now a guy gets punished for hitting .330 but not walking enough? I guess to some people, there are only about 3 or 4 truly great players in the history of baseball. Ruth, Gehrig, Mays, and Williams?

      • kopy - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:38 AM

        Who’s punishing him? If you think I’m wrong, say so, but the more you put the ball in play, the faster you will accumulate hits. Young puts the ball in play more frequently than your average player. No reason to get all upset.

        But now I have to point out that he’s a career .304 hitter that broke .330 one year.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:54 AM

        But now I have to point out that he’s a career .304 hitter that broke .330 one year.

        He’s also a career .304 hitter who hits like Coco Crisp away from Arlington.

      • youreyesareweird - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:54 AM

        “Young puts the ball in play more frequently than your average player” Really???

        Thanks for pointing that out Einstein…maybe that explains why he has 2K hits…what an idiot.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Oct 25, 2011 at 11:07 AM

        Didnt he lead the league when he hit .331 and then hit .338 this year? That would be twice above .330, right? Just saying…

    • tomemos - Oct 25, 2011 at 11:07 AM

      Yes, well, look what stadium he’s played in his whole career.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Oct 25, 2011 at 11:24 AM

        Yeah, I guess there’s always something. If a guy doesn’t have an OBP of .450 in Petco Park hitting 45 home runs and driving in 35% of the runners on base in front of him while striking out once every five walks, but still having an OPS of 1.500 and an OPS+ of 250, well, that guy can be nothing more than slightly above average..

      • Joe - Oct 25, 2011 at 11:55 AM

        Why do you have to be an idiot about it?

        MY is 16th among active players in BA. He’s 67th in OBP
        MY is 18th among active players in hits. He’s 30th in times on base.
        He’s 28th in offensive WAR, 47th in total WAR for position players, and tied for 80th in adjusted OPS+.

        If you want to look at just hit totals and batting average, he’s really good. If you want to look at total production and take the ballpark out of it, he’s a bit above average.

      • alang3131982 - Oct 25, 2011 at 12:04 PM

        No one is saying that Michael Young isnt a good player. he’s simply not great, there’s nothing special about him., yet everyone seems to think he’s amazing.

        Michael Young’s .3036 batting average is 160th best all time, that’s pretty good, but far from amazing.

        Michael Yong’s .3500 OBP is 646th all time — again nothing special.

        Young’s .4508 slugging percentage is 373rd all time – really nothing special (especially when you consider his home ballpark).

        MY has scored the 304th most runs in MLB history, has the 235th most hits, the 265th most bases, the 376th most homeruns, the 343rd most RBIs, the 659th most walks, the 201st most strikeouts, the 276th most extra base hits and has grounded into the 121st most double plays.

        I use to like MY, he was a fine player (but the narrative and it isnt his fault has gone way overboard). Supposedly he isnt great defensively, which clearly hurts his place in history. but, his calling card (offense) just isnt anything special.

        Please show me one thing MY has done in his career that is spectacular or different from a good portion of other MLB players. Bill Mueller won a batting title…

      • Chris Fiorentino - Oct 25, 2011 at 12:08 PM

        So let me get this straight…if I say a guy who has a .304 career batting average and got to 2,000 hits the 11th fastest since 1900 has had a great career, then I am an idiot. You guys deflate Batting Average and RBIs and now you want to deflate hits too??? Jesus Christ…when does it end? No matter how you want to couch it, the fact remains that Michael Young got his 2,000th hit faster than every single player in baseball since 1900 except 10. Now, you want to blame that on the ballpark or the fact that he doesn’t walk. OK. But he did do it. 11th fastest. Out of how many thousand guys who played the last 111 years…Young got to 2,000 the 11th fastest. Isn’t that a great accomplishment? Nope, because it’s # of times on base that truly matters, not Hits. Duh!!!!!!

      • Jonny 5 - Oct 25, 2011 at 12:37 PM

        alang3131982,
        “Michael Young’s .3036 batting average is 160th best all time, that’s pretty good, but far from amazing.”

        160th of around 15,000 ball players is in the top what? I think some people have a skewed perception here.

        To be above average in Major league baseball is amazing in itself actually. If you’d like to dissect things even further and count the people who’ve tried and failed miserably at it as well you would see things more clearly I think.

      • chrisdtx - Oct 25, 2011 at 12:51 PM

        “Nope, because it’s # of times on base that truly matters, not Hits. Duh!!!!!!”

        I love how you use that as a throwaway line, a barb at those with whom you disagree. Getting on base IS what truly matters. Why? Because if you get on base, you didn’t make an out. Not making outs is way more important than the manner in which you accomplished it. As it happens, Michael Young creates more outs than a lot of other players, which makes his high batting average somewhat hollow particularly given his average-at-best power and home ballpark.

      • clydeserra - Oct 25, 2011 at 12:59 PM

        You keep using that 11th fastest. I am not sure what that means. Is it at his age? # of ABs? Years of service?

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 25, 2011 at 1:06 PM

        I am not sure what that means. Is it at his age? # of ABs? Years of service?

        It has to be Games played or some variation of it, because it’s definitely not age. I easily found 10 guys* who all got their younger out of about 14 (Boggs and Molitor both got it at age 34 season same as young, but i’m not running thru game data to find the exact date.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 25, 2011 at 1:07 PM

        sonofa, forgot the *

        Rose, Jeter, Arod, Musial, Cobb, Brett, Carew, Henderson, Yaz and Murray all did it younger than Young (dept of redundancy dept is on line 1).

      • Joe - Oct 25, 2011 at 1:19 PM

        Juan Pierre has over 2,000 career hits, and reached the milestone at a younger age than Michael Young, though it did take him more games. He is 22d on the active leaders for hits and 24th in batting average. Juan Pierre, as measured by the Michael Young standard, is a premier offensive baseball player.

      • alang3131982 - Oct 25, 2011 at 1:21 PM

        Johnny 5-

        We’re comparing Young to other baseball players. Is it amazing that anyone gets through all of the pitfalls and becomes a regular, absolutely. Is 160th in batting average amazing? sort of, but by your logic, Todd Helton, Bill Everitt, Nomar Garciaparra, Larry Walker, Bobby Veach, Magglio Ordonez, Don Mattingly, Matty Alou, Johny Pesky, Rusty Greer, Bill Madlock, Tony Oliva were all amazing. they all have better batting averages than Young. Are any of them considered great ballplayers? I dont think so, really.

      • scatterbrian - Oct 25, 2011 at 1:39 PM

        @Joe – Good point, and I was just adding it up. I assume they go by plate appearances (that seems the fairest way), so Young got 2000 in 7193 plate appearances. Pierre did it in 7418, just 225 more than Young.

        @alang – Yes, I would consider Larry Walker a great player. Dude’s a borderline HOFer.

      • alang3131982 - Oct 25, 2011 at 2:24 PM

        @scatterbrain

        I concur on Walker (see: http://h2hcorner.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/h2h-corner-check-you-out-on-the-flip-side-larry-walker/). But i dont think the majority of people see that list as great ball players, good, above average, sure, but not transcendent. And really they have the same types of numbers Michael Young does, so if you dont think Tony Oliva (or whatver his name is: http://h2hcorner.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/h2h-corner-check-you-out-on-the-flip-side-tony-olivacal-mclish/) was great, then MY isnt great.

    • Kyle - Oct 25, 2011 at 12:03 PM

      Michael Young, career OPS+: 106. This ties him with the likes of Kelly Johnson and David DeJesus, and behind Lyle Overbay and Michael Cuddyer. Not to mention he’s a butcher on defense and acts completely unprofessional when asked to move positions. It’s a matter of perception vs. reality, is all.

    • El Bravo - Oct 25, 2011 at 12:50 PM

      Exactly. I still will endlessly call out Gleezy for knocking this fact earlier in the year as fairly inconsequential and that it was over-hyped. It was hyped, not over-hyped, and yes, it was a big deal.

    • alang3131982 - Oct 25, 2011 at 1:24 PM

      One last thing:

      Michael Young: .304/.350/.451, 2,061 hits, 169 HRs, 917 RBIs, 1,006 runs.
      Ray Durham: .277/.352/.436, 2,054 hits, 192 HRs, 875 RBIs, 1,249 runs
      Bill Madlock: .305/.365/.442, 2,008 hits, 163 HRs, 860 RBIs, 920 runs.

      At this point in time are any of those “great” numbers?

      • Chris Fiorentino - Oct 25, 2011 at 1:41 PM

        Yeah, I think a .300 career hitter with a minimum of 7,000 plate appearances has had a great career. I don’t care about any other numbers. 7,000 plate appearances and a .300+ batting average I’ll say is a great career. You can have your opinion on what the definition of a great career is and I’ll have mine. My opinion is that if a guy hit .300 for his career and had enough PAs for around 11-12 seasons, then he had a great career.

      • Joe - Oct 25, 2011 at 2:17 PM

        Bill Madlock’s numbers are pretty terrific, given the era during which he played. 123 OPS+ vs. 106 OPS+ for Michael Young.

      • buddaley - Oct 25, 2011 at 4:27 PM

        I want to look at the issue in a slightly different way.

        Using basically traditional stats so we are talking about the same thing:

        A leadoff hitter has a line of .255/.355/.477. He hits 32 home runs, scores 121 runs and drives in 77. He also has 30/34 SBs. Whether using stats or observation, he is seen as an excellent defensive second baseman and a very good base runner. He strikes out in just 9.8% of his ABs.

        A cleanup hitter has a line of .338/.380/.474. He hits 11 home runs, scores 88 runs and drives in 106. He is 6/8 in SBs. Both stats and observations make him out a poor fielder whether it is at 1B, 3B or anywhere else, and he is used often as a DH. Stats show him to be a good base runner. He strikes out in 11.3% of his ABs.

        Now, even if you consider those DH stats to be very good because you value BA and RBIs, why would you consider him more valuable to the team than the second baseman? Let’s even give you that he is a clubhouse leader. In the conversation about the Rangers, shouldn’t the second baseman be getting at least close to the same praise as the DH?

  3. yankeesfanlen - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    Michael Young is Beep-beep South.

  4. sacharisma - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:19 AM

    This isn’t really as black and white as “stats vs. old fashioned methods.” A big issue is the media coming to this unbelievably bizarre decision that Michael Young oozes with class, is the nicest guy you could ever meet, etc. when the guy is a gigantic whiny baby who threw a tantrum when the Rangers tried to change his positions.

    It’s really more “reality vs. ignoring it.”

    • Bill - Oct 25, 2011 at 11:10 AM

      This is exactly right. Yeah, part of it is old-school vs. new-school, in that if you focus mostly on his batting average and ignore the park he plays in, he looks like a pretty great hitter. But there’s nothing particularly sabermetric about listening to the words that actually come out of his mouth and concluding that, no, he’s not really any classier or more selfless than other ballplayers (to say the least).

      • 18thstreet - Oct 25, 2011 at 12:58 PM

        There was a moment last night that Joe Buck referred to him as one of the best hitters in the game. It’s just not true. Even for the old-school numbers. You could look and see that he has a great batting average. But under what circumstance is a guy with 11 homers one of the best hitters in baseball?

        I mean, I remember those BA/HR/RBI days. As a kid, I was fascinated by slugging percentage (but not OBP), because it made sense to me that a guy who hit a lot of homers but also made a lot of outs was still pretty great. (Despite growing up in Boston, I was a Mike Schmidt fan; his batting average was pedestrian, so I looked for a piece of evidence that proved how great he was.)

        I honestly don’t understand how a guy like Joe Buck can possibly say Michael Young is one of the best hitters in baseball. There’s so much more to hitting than batting average. I knew this at 8.

    • Ari Collins - Oct 25, 2011 at 12:06 PM

      This.

  5. drunkenhooliganism - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    In that picture he looks like a 7th grade gym teacher that bangs his students

    • cur68 - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:38 AM

      My Jr High had a gym teacher that did exactly that. She did look a bit like Mike Young, now that you mention it.

    • danderoo - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:54 AM

      Have you lost you sense of balance, making a comment like that? Brain lock?

  6. hermitfool - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:46 AM

    With all the talented players on the Rangers to choose from, why single out Young as the most important? Hard to figure. He’s been a Ranger for quite a spell, been a good player all that time, but until some other folks came on the scene and established themselves as valuable players, the Rangers did not get to the next level. Hamilton, Kinsler, Cruz, Andrus and a bunch of good young arms pushed them into the WS last year. The additions of Napoli and Beltre might be enough to get them over the final hump. If you’re choosing a Ranger MVP where would Young finish in the voting? Somewhere between 5 and 7?

    So why have national commentators picked up the narrative of Young as the most important contributor? Old white guy? Looks like a pedophile 7th grade gym teacher? Maybe it’s because folks haven’t bothered to do their homework on the Rangers, because they’ve expended their limited attention spans watching BoSox/Yankee soap operas and are desperate to come up with a gut-wrenching narrative?

    • Ari Collins - Oct 25, 2011 at 12:08 PM

      This too. Beltre, Hamilton, Kinsler, Cruz, all better players than Michael Young. Beltre may be the most underrated player in baseball.

      • 18thstreet - Oct 25, 2011 at 1:01 PM

        It’s an academic discussion, but how do we define most underrated? (I’d vote for Kinsler or Alex Gordon, by the way. And I LOVE Adrian Beltre. Just for this: http://bosoxgifs.imgur.com/beltre_head_rubs/. Also, the homers from his knees. I love that shtuff.)

  7. antlerclaws - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    I think some writers are obsessing about Michael Young way too much. Or obsessing about people obsessing about Michael Young. Either way, like I’ve said in previous posts, I think he puts the whole whiney thing behind him once Spring Training starts and becomes a professional, and I really doubt he gives it that much thought.

    • paperlions - Oct 25, 2011 at 12:24 PM

      True enough…but a selfish, leader that is a team player never whines or demands a trade to begin with…what annoys people most is the wilfull ignorance of those that prop Young up (and he does need the propping). He’s just not that good a player (horrible defender, can’t hit if he’s not in Arlingtion) and not a good leader or selfless…leaders don’t demand trades because they are asked to play a different position and they don’t go whine to the media about it.

      Texas has many fine players on the team, and if I were to list the players that concerned me most going into the series, in some order, Kinsler, Beltre, Cruz, Napoli, and Hamilton would all be above Young….he’s a role player on this team.

  8. halladaysbicep - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    The more this goes on it feels like Craig has a little crush. Kind of like a schoolyard boy that really likes someone but tells anyone “eww, he/she is gross”

  9. vanmorrissey - Oct 25, 2011 at 11:17 AM

    Like the back and forth, cool.

  10. mkd - Oct 25, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    This is absolutely not mainstream vs sabermetrics. This is about a guy being constantly lauded as the greatest teammate in the world despite the fact that there are numerous documented cases of him acting like a selfish brat, trying to prevent his team from getting better and then demanding trades when he doesn’t get his way. Any other player pulls the crap Michael Young has pulled and he’d be branded a self absorbed malcontent, and yet we have to sit and listen to people tell us what a once-in-a-generation leader and teammate he his. It’s bullcrap.

    No numbers are involved in the making of this controversy.

    • 18thstreet - Oct 25, 2011 at 1:04 PM

      Race definitely plays a role here. No black player could get away with this.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 25, 2011 at 1:08 PM

        Derek Jeter? Does he only half count?

      • 18thstreet - Oct 25, 2011 at 1:26 PM

        Derek Jeter is better at baseball than Michael Young.
        And he never demanded to be traded.
        And he never whined — publicly — about being asked to switch to a new position.

        Michael Young, as far as I can tell, is among the bigger jerks in sports.

    • chrisdtx - Oct 25, 2011 at 1:21 PM

      Why do we hear about Young’s “leadership” all the time, though? A lot of it has to do with beat writers/MSM folks lapping that type of narrative up with a spoon. On the other hand, you hear Young’s teammates/managers/coaches driving that narrative as well. There has to be something to that – I’m more inclined to put stock in what the guys in the clubhouse think of his “leadership” than scribes with a narrative to push or critics with an axe to grind. Ultimately he’s accountable to what Ian Kinsler or Adrian Beltre or Ron Washington think about him, not what you or I or Evan Grant or Craig Calcaterra think.

  11. Jonny 5 - Oct 25, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    He’s a good pro ball player. Which to me, is amazing in itself.

  12. Old Gator - Oct 25, 2011 at 1:58 PM

    I don’t believe that there is a Michael Young. I think he’s an idoru.

    • hermitfool - Oct 25, 2011 at 3:05 PM

      Question: Do you have any current plans to be in attendance when the Snakes and the Marlin meet in the glorious new ball park at the tail end of April?

      • Old Gator - Oct 25, 2011 at 3:54 PM

        Diamondbacks. Tail end. Heh…..that one really cracked Friendo up.

        Yep, unless I go to London for a few weeks around Passsover, which we often do, I ought to be there. Depends on whether there’s a resurgent recession and the airlines get desperate enough to start giving away seats again.

  13. hermitfool - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:07 PM

    Sounds like it might work. I’ll check in with you when we get a little closer.

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