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Sunday, February 02, 2014

Lemire: Michael Young: A great player in the wrong era

Non-Walking Distance: Young gig over. Maybe there’s only one career to every customer.

Young’s legacy is complicated by its timing. Had he played two or three decades ago, his career would have been hailed as great and almost Hall of Fame caliber. After all, he retires with a .300 batting average, 2,375 hits, seven All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove and at least 100 games’ experience playing each of the four infield positions, and as having served as de facto team captain in Texas. He helped the franchise to its first two World Series appearances, in 2010 and ’11.

Instead, Young became a lightning rod for sabermetric derision for all the things he wasn’t. (He didn’t help his cause when he told USA Today last spring, “In my opinion, I think stats are always overblown.”) He began his career in 2000, the height of the Steroid Era in which power numbers were inflated, rendering his high-average, moderate-power (an average of 14 homers per full big league season) offensive skills as seemingly inferior by comparison, especially since he played home games in hitter-friendly Texas. Similarly, Young averaged just 44 walks per season at a time when patience at the plate and on-base percentage were attributes growing in popularity.

He also played at a time when many statistical analysts were devaluing the unquantifiable impact of leadership and when defensive performance was becoming more quantifiable. Although the merit of those fielding metrics remains debatable, it was universal that Young fared poorly when evaluated by the Fielding Bible or with Ultimate Zone Rating. For instance, he won the 2008 AL Gold Glove at shortstop — his 11 errors were the fewest among league shortstops who logged at least 100 games — while costing his team four runs, according to the Fielding Bible, which ranked 26th in the majors that year. Other seasons had much higher totals of runs cost. In his defense, however, he was regularly moving around to accommodate others.

Repoz Posted: February 02, 2014 at 09:17 AM | 37 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. bookbook Posted: February 02, 2014 at 10:18 AM (#4650033)
Is Michael Young really that controversial? Sabr types and traditional folks aren't really further apart on him than they are on others, are they? Both see him as HOVG, broadly speaking.
   2. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: February 02, 2014 at 10:41 AM (#4650037)
If Michael Young had played two or three decades ago, he would have played the bulk of his home games in Arlington Stadium instead of The Ballpark at Arlington, and nobody would have thought he was much more than an average major league hitter.
   3. BDC Posted: February 02, 2014 at 10:48 AM (#4650040)
Had he played two or three decades ago, his career would have been hailed as great and almost Hall of Fame caliber. After all, he retires with a .300 batting average, 2,375 hits


The wonder of B-Ref PI allows us to quickly find everybody in a tight range of results around .300 and 2,375 for their career:

Player             dWAR    H   BA WAR/pos  SB        Pos
Kenny Lofton       14.5 2428 .299    67.9 622    
*8/H7D9
Joe Cronin         13.9 2285 .301    66.3  87   
*6H/5347
Barry Larkin       13.8 2340 .295    70.3 379     
*6H/4D
Billy Herman       12.4 2345 .304    54.5  67     
*4/53H
Joe Torre          
-0.6 2342 .297    57.3  23     235H/7
Mark Grace         
-5.4 2445 .303    46.1  70     *3H/1D
Joe Judge          
-5.5 2352 .298    47.0 213      *3/H9
Jake Daubert       
-6.2 2326 .303    39.1 251       *3/H
Jeff Bagwell       
-8.1 2314 .297    79.6 202     *3/HD9
Enos Slaughter     
-8.3 2383 .300    55.2  71     *97H/8
Jim Rice           
-8.6 2452 .298    47.3  58    *7D/9H8
Mickey Mantle     
-10.0 2415 .298   109.7 153 *8397H/645
Bernie Williams   
-10.4 2336 .297    49.5 147    *8D/9H7
Michael Young     
-11.4 2375 .300    24.1  90    654D3/H
Orlando Cepeda    
-14.2 2351 .297    50.2 142   *37D/H95
Frank Thomas      
-23.5 2468 .301    73.6  32      *D3/


And there are a lot of Hall of Famers in the mix. TFA has a certain point in that if you choose just a couple of measures to Young's advantage, you can produce a list comprised of him and 15 players a lot better than he was. You can do this for lots of players, of course, especially if you choose less germane measures than Hits and Batting Average.

All the same, I have to think that no matter what his era, Young would be reckoned closer to guys like Joe Judge or Mark Grace in overall value, than to guys like Cronin or Larkin. Or perhaps conversely, if Judge or Grace had been born right-handed, they might be HOF shortstops!
   4. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: February 02, 2014 at 11:04 AM (#4650041)
"Leadership"? The guy's a certifiable #######. He led the team in ######## about where and how much he played.
   5. TJ Posted: February 02, 2014 at 11:38 AM (#4650052)
We can all agree, I think, that Michael Young's HOF case is based on his hitting and not his defense, which means a better version of Young did play three decades ago- his name was Al Oliver, and he isn't in the Hall of Fame either...
   6. Bug Selig Posted: February 02, 2014 at 11:46 AM (#4650057)
"Leadership"? The guy's a certifiable #######. He led the team in ######## about where and how much he played.


He's a white middle-infielder who played for a long time. I'm not saying you're wrong, but that's enough for some people to slap a "leader" label on him.

Larry Bowa was such a selfish, narcissistic prick take down the manager's lineup and replace it with one that included "SS Bowa". He got multiple managing jobs.
   7. Heinie Mantush (Krusty) Posted: February 02, 2014 at 12:29 PM (#4650066)
I think there's something to this. The same can be same for Juan Pierre, too. The rise of sabermetrics has changed what mainstream fans value, and significantly changed what hardcore fans value.

While Young probably isn't a Hall of Famer in any era, his raw stats would have won him significantly more acclaim if he'd posted them from, say, 1970-1984 or 1950-1964 (had Young posted his raw numbers from 1960-1974, he'd probably have a HOF argument considering the low run environment.) Moreover, Young probably wouldn't be retiring just yet, while he still obviously has some ability to hit and he probably wouldn't have been shuffled around the infield as much.



   8. BDC Posted: February 02, 2014 at 12:54 PM (#4650071)
Four guys I often thought of as analogies to Young during his career were two old Senators teammates, Buddy Myer and Cecil Travis; and two later Red Sox who just missed being teammates, Billy Goodman and Pete Runnels. All four were infielders who never settled in at one position; all hit for good average. All won batting titles except Travis, who had the bad timing to hit .359 in 1941.

Young had more power than any, though all of them except Goodman would probably have hit 10-15 HR a year in Young's era. All except Travis were more serious about working walks than Young was. Young had the longest career, so they don't show up on the list in #3: though Travis, for one, fought in WW2 and missed substantial playing time. All were made more valuable by their versatility, even if none of them was Rabbit Maranville out there. If they'd been Maranvillelike, they'd have stuck at shortstop – and with their hitting ability, been certain Hall of Famers.
   9. DJS and the Infinite Sadness Posted: February 02, 2014 at 01:03 PM (#4650075)
Of course Michael Young's .300 career BA would have gotten more plaudits in a less HR-friendly era. Because in other eras since the 1930s, a .300 career BA Michael Young would have been a better hitter than the actual one. He played in the biggest BA era of the last 75 years.
   10. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: February 02, 2014 at 01:06 PM (#4650077)
While Young probably isn't a Hall of Famer in any era, his raw stats would have won him significantly more acclaim if he'd posted them from, say, 1970-1984 or 1950-1964 (had Young posted his raw numbers from 1960-1974, he'd probably have a HOF argument considering the low run environment.) Moreover, Young probably wouldn't be retiring just yet, while he still obviously has some ability to hit and he probably wouldn't have been shuffled around the infield as much.

Of course, if he had put up the same numbers in a much lower run environment, he would have a much better HoF argument. That's because he would have been a much better player. The problem is there is no reason to believe that he was capable of putting up the same numbers in a worse environment.

Edit: Coke to Dan.
   11. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: February 02, 2014 at 01:16 PM (#4650081)
Is Michael Young really that controversial? Sabr types and traditional folks aren't really further apart on him than they are on others, are they? Both see him as HOVG, broadly speaking.

That's true for most baseball fans, but specifically at BTF the combination of "was overrated at some point" and "was signed by the Phillies" means lots of people absolutely hate him.
   12. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: February 02, 2014 at 01:16 PM (#4650082)
Just to illustrate my point, Michael Young's career translated to the '68 Dodgers per bRef. Obviously not the definitive final word on the matter:

.253/.295/.372 1877H 147HR
   13. BDC Posted: February 02, 2014 at 01:33 PM (#4650087)
Fourteen straight years with the 1968 Dodgers, followed by 14 straight years of whining about being moved to third base to accommodate Ted Sizemore :)
   14. lonestarball Posted: February 02, 2014 at 01:36 PM (#4650089)

He's a white middle-infielder who played for a long time. I'm not saying you're wrong, but that's enough for some people to slap a "leader" label on him.


Yes, I'm sure that that's why Ron Washington calls Michael Young a leader -- because he's a white middle-infielder who played for a long time.

I think the MSM's praise for Young's intangibles goes overboard quite a bit, but at the same time, the idea that Young being a leader has been manufactured by the media is pretty off-base.
   15. Best Regards, President of Comfort, Esq. Posted: February 02, 2014 at 01:41 PM (#4650092)
Just to illustrate my point, Michael Young's career translated to the '68 Dodgers per bRef. Obviously not the definitive final word on the matter:


If Young started his career with the 1973 Rangers, finishing with the 1986 Phillies and Dodgers, his career numbers:

.290/.336/.427 (.762 OPS)
2204 hits
1012 Runs Scored
171 HRs
929 RBI
   16. TerpNats Posted: February 02, 2014 at 01:45 PM (#4650093)
#8 makes me wonder what kind of stats Young would have posted had he played half his games at Griffith Stadium before 1954, when it was 400+ feet to the left-field foul pole.
   17. JoeHova Posted: February 02, 2014 at 01:48 PM (#4650094)
While Young probably isn't a Hall of Famer in any era, his raw stats would have won him significantly more acclaim if he'd posted them from, say, 1970-1984 or 1950-1964


I actually think he got more acclaim than he should have. He made 7 all-star teams in 12 years as a full-time player. Contrast that with, say, Robin Yount, who was a full-time player for 10 years of that 1970-1984 time span and made 3 all-star games in his career. Alan Trammell made 6 all-star teams, Lou Whitaker made 5 and they both played a lot longer than Young. If anything, I think he was an overhyped and overrated player who got a lot more credit and praise than he deserved. Sure, he was good at times, but so were a lot of guys who didn't make 7 all-star teams and get incessantly praised by broadcasters and in print.
   18. Lars6788 Posted: February 02, 2014 at 02:41 PM (#4650102)
Young playing in seven All-Star games means he was probably good enough to be playing well at the All-Star break - so while it might not be seen that way, it doesn't necessarily mean people thought he was a bigger star than he really was.
   19. valuearbitrageur Posted: February 02, 2014 at 03:32 PM (#4650116)
Micheal Young had 24 career WAR.

I would have guessed 12.
   20. Swedish Chef Posted: February 02, 2014 at 03:57 PM (#4650120)
It's easy to be an all-star if you're a good player on a lousy team.
   21. BDC Posted: February 02, 2014 at 04:07 PM (#4650123)
It's easy to be an all-star if you're a good player on a lousy team

Needless to say, that wasn't Young's route to the ASG. Maybe in 2007, when they were at their worst during his tenure here (75-87) and he was their only All-Star. The rest of the time they were middling to pretty good, and he had lots of company in Texas uniforms on the AST.
   22. Tom Nawrocki Posted: February 02, 2014 at 04:09 PM (#4650125)
Great intro, by which I mean: I get it.
   23. Spivey Posted: February 02, 2014 at 04:36 PM (#4650131)
Young would have been a damn fine player if he was as good defensively as his reputation. As it was, he was a solid player for a decade.
   24. Tricky Dick Posted: February 02, 2014 at 05:19 PM (#4650145)
Michael Young moved over to shortstop to accomodate the acquisition of second baseman Alfonso Soriano. I think that move probably contributed to overrating Young. Young's offensive numbers looked very good at shortstop. But from a defensive standpoint, he was miscast as a shortstop. One could speculate how he would be viewed if he had stayed at 2d base during the mid-2000's. His defense would have fared better, but his offense would look more average to slightly above average at that position. For second basemen playing between 2003 and 2008 (when Young was at shortstop), Young's wRC+ during that period would rank 16th (tied with Jose Vidro and behind Mark Loretta and Ray Durham). Among shortstops for the period 2003-2008, Young ranks 6th in wRC+ (behind Ramirez, Jeter, Guillen, Tejada, and Garciaparra).
   25. Srul Itza At Home Posted: February 02, 2014 at 05:33 PM (#4650151)
A great player in the wrong era


Dude pulled in $91 Million. I think this era was just fine for him.
   26. Walt Davis Posted: February 02, 2014 at 05:42 PM (#4650154)
Obviously "great" is not an adjective that should be applied to Young (relative to ML players) but ...

he's just retired and people are writing his baseball obituary. You don't want people talking about your defensive range at your funeral either, do you?
   27. haggard Posted: February 02, 2014 at 05:51 PM (#4650157)
I've followed baseball since the late 1950's and I think its unlikely that Young would have received more acclaim in an earlier era.
Pete Runnels, mentioned above, was never close to being as big a star as Young despite being a middle infielder who won batting titles.
   28. Jose Canusee Posted: February 02, 2014 at 10:50 PM (#4650531)
Without examining stats, I would think Young in the 70's would look about like Steve Garvey at a harder defensive position without the consecutive game streak. Dependable to get large number of hits, some power, ok defense, bit less than average walks. In the lineup most days.
   29. Walt Davis Posted: February 02, 2014 at 11:17 PM (#4650554)
I agree there's no era in which Young would have been a big star. He had the same "problem" that lots of players have -- he wasn't good enough to crack the full-time lineup until 26 and, as such players often do, he faded early. He was durable enough that he amassed over 8600 PA in his "short" career but it's still not enough time to compile the sorts of counting stats to get you anywhere near the HoF line.

Another pretty good comp is Hubie Brooks. Howard Johnson is not far off.

Still, maybe he's a bit closer than I think -- fun with raw numbers!

MYoung 8612 PA, 300/346/441, 2375 H, 441 doubles, 185 HR, 7 AS, 1 GG
Larkin 9057 PA, 295/371/444, 2340 H, 441 doubles, 198 HR, 12 AS, 3 GG

On the surface, that's awfully close.

If you ignore defense -- and he did get one GG, so it wouldn't be the first time -- Young's numbers are pretty impressive.
   30. Dale Sams Posted: February 02, 2014 at 11:22 PM (#4650557)
How come Jeff Kent didn't get this kind of push?
   31. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: February 02, 2014 at 11:25 PM (#4650559)
What kind of push for what?
   32. GEB4000 Posted: February 03, 2014 at 03:34 PM (#4650919)
Young was born too late, he missed out on his chance to be overrated in a Steve Garvey kind of way. In the 1970s, a high average mediocre middle infielder would be considered a star.
   33. Moeball Posted: February 04, 2014 at 11:15 AM (#4651328)
Young was born too late, he missed out on his chance to be overrated in a Steve Garvey kind of way. In the 1970s, a high average mediocre middle infielder would be considered a star.


He missed by more than that. If you do the neutralization on his numbers and transport him back to be one of Frankie Frisch's teammates in the 1920s and 1930s, he still has the .300+ career BA which would have certainly put him on the FF Veterans Committee back door express to the HOF in the '70s.

Young wasn't the poor man's Derek Jeter, as was proposed in another thread - he was the rich man's Freddie Lindstrom.
   34. Moeball Posted: February 04, 2014 at 11:20 AM (#4651332)
Apologies to the Fred Lindstrom fans - I was thinking Young and Lindstrom were similar which, offensively, they are. But Lindstrom was actually a better player overall than Young was.
   35. Bug Selig Posted: February 04, 2014 at 05:09 PM (#4651605)
Yes, I'm sure that that's why Ron Washington calls Michael Young a leader


And when I'm looking for what people really think, my go-to is what they say at a retirement press conference.

Ron Washington is one of the guys who had to dance around for several offseasons, avoiding the phrases "because he really can't play third base" and eventually "because he's not a good baseball player anymore" because his "leader" is such a selfish red-ass that the truth had to be avoided at all costs.
   36. The Good Face Posted: February 04, 2014 at 06:28 PM (#4651685)
Ron Washington is one of the guys who had to dance around for several offseasons, avoiding the phrases "because he really can't play third base" and eventually "because he's not a good baseball player anymore" because his "leader" is such a selfish red-ass that the truth had to be avoided at all costs.


Meh. Ron Washington is also the guy who trotted out an EXTREMELY toasty Michael Young (-2 WAR) for 156 games in 2012, including a disatrous 80+ games in the field. He could (and should) have sat Young's ass on the bench a lot more than he did, but he kept right on writing his name into the lineup while his team went on to lose the division by a single game. I'm guessing he really did think Young was a team leader, chock full of heart, soul, grits, guts, and whathaveyou. Because even Ron Washington knows that a .277/.312/.370 line from a DH/terrible fielder ain't good.
   37. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: February 04, 2014 at 06:50 PM (#4651702)
Without examining stats, I would think Young in the 70's would look about like Steve Garvey at a harder defensive position without the consecutive game streak.


Young wasn't as good a hitter as Garvey, put Garvey in Michael Young's offensive context, and his raw [traditional] numbers would easily be HOF "worthy"- just about 3000 hits, over 1500 ribbies

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