Michael Young’s Value

Today, Michael Young was named the Gold Glove winner for the American League at shortstop, a selection that rivals some of the worst picks the managers have ever made. Young is, by pretty much every defensive metric out there, one of the worst defensive shortstops in the game. He’s a second baseman playing out of position, and his lack of range shows every time a ball is hit up the middle.

However, this column isn’t about the Gold Gloves. They’ve been a joke of an award for years, and most people realize that by now. Instead, this is about the amazing ability of the mainstream media, along with people in the game, to totally ignore the collapse of Young’s value over the last three years.

In 2005, Young was a pretty terrific player, even with the poor defense. He hit .331/.385/.513 in 732 plate appearances, combining quantity with quality to post a 2.50 WPA/LI. Even knocking 10 to 15 runs off his total for his lack of range, he was still an all-star quality player, because the bat was that good.

That’s the player he’s still remembered as – an offensive force at a premium position. It hasn’t been true for three years, however.

In 2006, he .314/.356/.459, still good by shortstop standards, but a pretty substantial drop in offensive value nonetheless. His WPA/LI fell to 0.86, meaning he was about 1.6 wins worse as a hitter than the season before. However, because he accumulated 217 hits, the drop in production mostly went unnoticed. In fact, before the next season began, Young was given a 5 year, $80 million contract extension that covered 2009 to 2013. The Rangers saw him lose a substantial portion of his value, and reacted by giving him a massive contract that covered his age 33 to 37 seasons.

Clearly, Texas thought he was more like his ’05 performance than his ’06 performance, and would rebound in ’07. He didn’t – Again, he hit racked up 200 hits, but his line fell to .315/.366/.418, losing even more of his power, and again seeing his WPA/LI decline, this time to 0.73. For two years, he’d be an above average (but not great) hitter, even while posting one of the highest averages in the league.

In 2008, the average deserted him, as he fell to .284/.339/.402, and his WPA/LI fell to -0.60. For the first time since 2003, he was a below average hitter. For a guy who is a pretty significant liability defensively, his value is built on his bat, and when that disappears, he becomes a problem.

Michael Young heads into 2009 with $80 million guaranteed to him over the next five years. To justify that salary, he’d have to be an all-star caliber player, worth approximately three wins more than a replacement level shortstop.

In reality, projections for Young in ’09 have him as slightly below average with the bat, as he comes in about -5 runs or so. The position adjustment for shortstop is about +10 runs, so that puts him back up above average, but he gives all of that right back with his poor defense, where he usually ranks as a -15 or so defender. Finally, we have to add 20 runs to convert from average to replacement level, leaving us with the following:

-5 offense + 10 position adjustment – 15 defense + 20 replacement level = +10 runs.

Michael Young‘s current skillset makes him worth about one win above a replacement level shortstop, the kind you could get floating around on waivers. One win. The Rangers are going to pay him $16 million for that one win, and hope like crazy that the decline doesn’t continue at its current rate.

Meanwhile, most of baseball just continues to believe that Young is a premium player, the kind of guy winning teams are built around. It’s just not true – he’s not even league average at this point in his career.

Don’t believe the hype. Michael Young just isn’t very good.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

11 Responses to “Michael Young’s Value”

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  1. Drew says:

    Listen to this man. He speaks the truth.

    People still believe in Gold Gloves though.

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  2. Jason says:

    Less than average offensively? For a shortstop? You obviously haven’t watched Jason Bartlett or whoever the Angels run out at shortstop these days. And those teams seem to do pretty good. Young is getting paid as an All-Star caliber player…yes thats good logic. He’s been an all-star for the past several years. What is your argument again? Oh yes, to throw a bunch of numbers at us, even if they don’t make sense. Well done.

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  3. Hawke says:

    The thing that killed Young in 2008 was his decision to play tough guy and play through a fractured ring finger he suffered on July 28th. He never really took any extended time off to let the injury heal, and as a result it dogged him throughout the second half, as evidenced by his dropoff from a .298/.345/.421 pre-injury line to .256/.326/.363 post-injury. Not that his pre-injury numbers are anything special either, but that injury no doubt was a difference maker in his overall offensive season.

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  4. Jerry says:

    At least Dave uses numbers, Jason, not purely subjective reasoning. And the numbers made perfect sense to me.

    You should read what he wrote before you try to argue with it. He didn’t say Young was below average offensively for a shortstop. In fact, the quote was:

    “In reality, projections for Young in ‘09 have him as slightly below average with the bat, as he comes in about -5 runs or so. The position adjustment for shortstop is about +10 runs, so that puts him back up above average, but he gives all of that right back with his poor defense…”

    And FWIW,
    Michael Young 2008: .284/.339/.402
    Jason Bartlett 2008: .286/.329/.361

    And every defensive metric has Bartlett as one of the best defenders in the game.

    (Oh, and I’m pretty sure when he refers to an “all-star caliber player”, he’s not just talking about players who have played in the All-star Game. We all know that’s as much of a joke as the Gold Gloves.)

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  5. Bill says:

    See, I can excuse Jason for making a comment that would be considered asinine by anyone who understands basic statistical analysis. The numbers used here are derived from an objective analysis. If you want to argue against them, argue against the metrics. They are not perfect. Good teams are paying guys a lot of money to come up with better metrics. Basically, what you are doing, Jason, is arguing against the results of the analysis. You are saying that Young is an All Star caliber player because he plays in the All Star game. In other words, he’s an All Star because people think he’s an All Star. One and one is two even if everyone thinks it is three. I recommend studying stats and logic, not just for baseball, but for everyday life. Things make a lot more sense and it’s a lot harder for people to deceive you. I think that knowledge of proper statistical analysis helps me to understand baseball better and that it makes me a better fan, but I’m sure this isn’t the case for a lot of fans and that’s fine. The problem is that many GM’s don’t properly analyze their talent. This is their job and they are paid a lot of money to do it. It’s frustrating, as a fan, to see them being ignorant.

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  6. Dave says:

    I don’t know much about Michael Young, but he did have the best RZR (acdording to Hardballtimes) among SS in the AL in 2008.
    So maybe he does deserve the GG?
    I would have probably gone with Mike Aviles, but since he only played a partial season, maybe Orlando Cabrera would have been a better choice.
    Still, there are many worse defensive SS in the AL than Young (Betancourt is one example, Peralta another one…)

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  7. Mike says:

    Dave, your numbers are totally correct! I have no doubt that you are using “objective reasoning.” However, you talk about the shortstop position as it was first base or an outfield position in regards to “power” in Young’s hitting abilities. In the tradition of objective reasoning, may we take the shortstop position into context with other players around the league? Sure, we have Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, and Jimmy Rollins, but come on, these guys are really rare players–athletic players that will most certainly end up on the DL. And you know why that is? Shortshop is a hellish position to play! Who cares about power at shortstop, I want consistency. Michal Young is always in the top 5-10 shortstops because he doesn’t get injured that often (ok, I’ll give you the finger in 2008), but he aways steady. The Rangers won’t trade him and they WILL pay him good money because he isn’t a risk. I would love to see a comparison of other shortstops to Young in your next analysis. Give the guy a break, he’s a true steady freddie!…lol

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  8. KingFelixPrinceMorrow says:

    Thank you for the great read. I have been trying to explain to people on various message boards why Young is a terrible defender and the only response I get seems to be “well he won a GG so he can’t be all that bad”…I even had one guy trying to argue that Young is better than Jeter both with the stick and in the field!

    I just linked them your article! LOL

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