The last few weeks before pitchers and catchers report is mostly a time of great anticipation for players and fans. However, it is often serves as a time when veteran free agents without teams decide that the available offers are not attractive enough to be worth it and retire. This seems to have been the case with Michael Young, who announced his retirement last week. He retired as as a member of the Texas Rangers, and he and the team seem to have been able to put aside whatever differences they had over the last few years of Young’s time with Texas.
Many of us have had a lot of fun at Young’s expense. Some of it was probably funnier to those making the jokes than to those hearing them, but that is the way of the blogosphere. Young was a good player. He was not great or a superstar as some media members seemed to think. He was a good hitter that at his best hit well enough (he was also very good at taking the extra base) to be an above-average player despite being below average (to put it kindly) at second, shortstop, and third base. Young does seem to have been legitimately admired by his teammates in Texas, and maybe if announcers had not constantly swooned over him (during the 2011 playoffs, I remember a national announcer saying that Adrian Beltre was a good “complement” to Young in Texas) and his “classiness,” there would have been less snark in response. But players around the league even looked up to him, picking him as the most underrated (!) player in baseball in one survey.
Rangers fans will each have their favorite Michael Young moments. My personal favorite was when, during those 2011 playoffs, that same national announcer said that Young never complained when asked to move positions for Elvis Andrus and then Adrian Beltre (I remember it a bit differently). But Young also had some tremendous moments at the plate. Let’s take a look at his three hits with the biggest in-game impact according to Win Probability Added (WPA).
(Usually I try to include a playoff hit in these posts, but in Young’s case, his regular season hits, at least according to WPA, were much more dramatic.)
On September 16, 2007, both the Rangers and the As were nearing the ends of unimpressive seasons under rookie managers Ron Washington and Bob Geren. For the Rangers, Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre were still to come, and then-shortstop Young, who made his fourth straight All-Star Game, was hitting third. Cleaning up behind him was Sammy Sosa, in his final season.
Michael Young was clearly the star of this game. (A’s fans might pick Nick Swisher, who, having hit home runs in the three previous games of the Texas-Oakland series, got beaned in the first inning by [surprise!] Vincente Padilla, leading to a bench-clearing brawl.) Young first delivered in the top of the second when he singled in Travis Metcalf and Ian Kinsler to put the Rangers ahead 4-2. The Rangers extended their lead to 6-2 after Sosa singled in Young and Brad Wilkerson, but the lead did not hold. The A’s scored five runs in the bottom of the third to go up 7-6. Young came through again in the next inning, doubling in Brad Wilkerson, which tied the game up. Oakland took an 8-7 lead in the fifth. The pitching for both teams sides got its act pretty much together until the top of the eighth, when Oakland’s Andrew Brown ascended to the mound. Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled, Frank Catalanotto walked, Kinsler sacrificed, and Wilkerson walked, loading the bases. Young then hit a grand slam to cap his 3-4, seven-RBI night with a game-winning hit that registered .455 WPA.
By 2011, the Rangers’ fortunes had changed dramatically, as they would eventually end up in their second World Series in a row. Young’s role had changed as well. He had moved from shortstop to third to make room for Elvis Andrus after being awarded a Gold Glove in 2008 (the first instance in which he totally did not complain), then after 2010 he moved into a DH/utility role to make room for Adrian Beltre (more non-complaining). Whatever he said or didn’t say, or could or could not do in the field, Young hit very well in 2011, to the tune of .338/.380/.474 (127 wRC+). Whether that, combined with his intangibles, was enough to make him worthy of a first-place MVP vote is something for you to decide.
On August 5, Texas faced Ubaldo Jimenez, who was making his first start after being traded to Cleveland by Colorado. Jimenez did not exactly impress his new team, allowing five runs in five innings despite striking out seven. However, he was better than the Rangers’ Derek Holland, who lasted less than two innings and gave up six runs. The Rangers were down 6-1 early, but knocked Jimenez around a bit. Texas was still down 7-5 in the bottom of the ninth when Cleveland closer Chris Perez entered. Let’s just say that Perez did not exactly light up the joint. After getting Kinsler and Andrus out, he allowed a single to Hamilton. Young then homered to tie the game up, and the blast registered .487 WPA. The game-winning hit actually did not come until the bottom of the eleventh, when Andrus ran like mad to score from second on Hamilton’s infield single, but the Rangers would not have been in that position without Young’s homer.
For our final Michael Young moment, we need to go all the way back to 2004. The Rangers were managed by Buck Showalter. The near future seemed bright. They won 89 games during the season. They had a dynamic young infield of Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Michael Young and Hank Blalock. They did get there eventually, but, only Young remained out of that group.
On August 24, Texas faced Minnesota, and the Twins were on their way to a 92-win season and their traditional playoff series loss to the Yankees. As one would expect from a Chris Young-Carlos Silva match up (ahem) in Texas, this game was not a high-scoring affair. The Rangers were down 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth when Young singled in David Dellucci to tie the score, but that was not enough. The Twins took the lead again 4-3 in the top of the ninth. Future Rangers pitcher Joe Nathan, a dominating closer for the Twins in the midst of perhaps his best season, came to the mound. Gerald Laird somehow managed a single, but Nathan then struck out Soriano and Dellucci. Young came through with two outs, though, doubling in Laird to tie the game for a whopping .502 WPA — the biggest hit of his career according to the metric. Teixeira would eventually get the game-winning RBI when he drove Young in, but according to WPA, Young’s hit was more significant.
Print This Post