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.