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Michael Young = Derek Jeter?

On the Monday evening ESPN SportsCenter, Dave Winfield was highlighting the big plays of the afternoon tilt between the Rangers and the Tigers. Since Michael Young went two-for-four with a big RBI double that broke open a tied, scoreless game in the seventh inning, Winfield was right to attribute much of the offensive glory to the longtime Ranger. He was the offensive WPA champ of the game (+.184) on the revamped box scores.

But maybe Winfield went a little too far when he said “Michael Young is the Derek Jeter of the Texas Rangers.” Derek Jeter still plays shortstop and owns all those rings! Then again, we might find with a little uncovering that the description was apt.

First blush doesn’t do the comparison justice. Jeter has 70.3 WAR and blows Young’s 25.6 WAR out of the water. But Jeter has 10,588 plate appearances to Young’s 6,745, and is two years younger. Pro-rate Jeter’s WAR to Young’s PAs and you get 44.8 WAR for the Yankee shortstop, which probably reflects Jeter’s .371 career wOBA compared to Young’s .346 number. Young does own a .374 wOBA lifetime, at home, but Winfield did not say that “Michael Young at home is the Ranger’s version of Derek Jeter in any stadium.” It looks like an overall comparison fails before we even get to defense portion of the equation.

But let us zoom in on the last three years, if only because that’s about how long our short-term baseball memories seem to last. In the last three years, both players have shown declining bats and gloves. They even share a resurgent year. Check out their wOBAs and fielding runs above replacement for the past three years:

Young Jeter
2008 0.331 -4.6 0.343 -0.3
2009 0.385 -7.6 0.390 6.4
2010 0.335 -5.4 0.320 -4.7

Well now we’re getting somewhere. Yes, Jeter is still a tiny bit ahead because of his one-year defensive improvement, but this paints the picture of two declining players. They are both still capable of a strong year but are also both much more likely to put up a year that looks like an average offensive player than an outstanding one. Over this time period, Young has accrued 9 WAR (29.6 Batting Runs) and Jeter 13.3 WAR (41 Batting Runs).

Defense is interesting part of this equation, obviously. Back before Jeters’ 2009 resurgence at shortstop, he was the topic of much consternation, as the defensive numbers for him were execrable. He’d lost 40.4 UZR runs in his past four years and was described as the worst defensive shortstop of the era. Unfortunately for Young, that wasn’t quite true. Since 2002, only one shortstop has had a worse UZR total than Jeter (-42.4). That shortstop is Young (-55.6). In 2008, Young was switched off the position and lost four runs of positional replacement value with his move, on average.

But check out the batting runs above, and you see that even with the gloves taken out, and even with the help he gets for being two years younger than Jeter, and even with the scope narrowed to the last three years, Young doesn’t really make it to the Cap’n’s level.

If Winfield had said that “In the past three years, Michael Young’s impact on the Rangers in home games has been similar to Derek Jeter’s impact on the Yankees in that he represents an aging bat connected to an aging glove and complications related to prior service to their teams,” then he would have been correct. But that wouldn’t play so well on television.