Michael Young

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

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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.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.