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Mike Olt’s Arrival May End The Michael Young Era

As you’ve undoubtedly heard by now, the Rangers have summoned third base prospect Mike Olt from Double-A, and he’ll be joining the team in Texas in time for tonight’s game against the Angels. With Adrian Beltre manning the hot corner, though, third base is not in his immediate future, and the Rangers certainly aren’t calling Olt up to sit on the bench. Instead, his arrival signifies the likely end of the Michael Young Era in Texas. At least, the era where Young played any kind of meaningful role on the team.

Young’s been a staple in Texas since 2001, and contributed at least +2.5 WAR in every season since 2003. While there’s a pretty good case that he got overrated by the mainstream media, it was more of them making too much out of a good player rather than Young simply not being an actual contributor. He wasn’t a perfect player, but he was a durable +3 win player who the team could rely on, and that kind of consistent production has a lot of value.

However, at age 35, Young appears to have hit a wall. After accumulating at least 50 extra base hits in eight of the last nine years, Young has just 22 this season, and all three of his home runs came in the first five weeks of the season. Since May 7th — the last time he hit a ball over the fence — Young is batting just .247/.275/.306, and just 14 of his 71 hits have gone for extra bases. That’s 305 plate appearances over 72 games without a home run. Exactly five years ago — beginning on May 8th, 2007 — Young had a 77 game stretch without hitting a home run, but he hit .330 with 21 doubles during the stretch, so he was productive even without the long ball.

The Rangers have patiently waited for him to come out of his slump. Now, three months into it, they can’t wait any longer. They have to accept that Michael Young, Good Hitter may be gone forever. And, with Mike Olt offering the possibility of some much needed power at the 1B/DH positions that Young has manned this season, making the change is absolutely the right move.

Now, Olt comes with some warts of his own. He was striking out in 25% of his plate appearances as a 23-year-old in Double-A, and there are questions about how much contact he’s going to make in the big leagues. A lot of Olt’s success in the minors came from drawing walks (16.4% BB% last year, 14.5% this year), and minor league walk rates don’t always translate to the big leagues, especially if opposing pitchers find an area in the strike zone that they can exploit. However, Olt has big time power and he drives the ball to all fields, so the power should play from day one, especially in a park like Texas. With that kind of thump, he can strike out a lot and still be a significant upgrade over Michael Young.

Using the fantastic new leaderboard filters, I queried out every qualified hitter in baseball this year with a K% of 25% or higher and an ISO of .200 or higher. Here’s the list:

Jason Kubel, 136 wRC+
Curtis Granderson, 126 wRC+
Adam Dunn, 126 wRC+
Corey Hart, 124 wRC+
Mike Napoli, 113 wRC+
Pedro Alvarez, 109 wRC+
Chris Davis, 101 wRC+
Ike Davis, 89 wRC+

By and large, these guys are productive hitters, though their contact rates (and in most cases, lack of defensive value) keep them from being true stars. Seven of the eight are producing at an above average rate and the one who isn’t has a .230 BABIP. Even if Olt’s contact issues prove as severe as Alvarez’s, that’s still a quality hitter, and one who can instantly provide some life to a struggling Rangers offense.

While Young is still highly regarded in some circles for his personality and leadership qualities, a team with World Series aspirations simply can’t carry him as an everyday player anymore. ZIPS projects a .315 wOBA going forward, which is a substantial improvement over what he’s given them in the first half of the year but still below replacement level for a guy who only contributes at the plate.

Maybe Young does still have something left in the tank, and he’ll find his power stroke again at some point. The Rangers should hope that’s true since they’re still on the hook to pay him $16 million in 2013, but they can’t afford to let those hopes interfere with their pursuit of a championship this year. Young’s lack of production has forced the Rangers hand, and with Olt tearing up the Double-A, the team simply has to make this switch. If Olt hits, it’s hard to see Young ever getting a regular job back in Texas.

While he was a terrific contributor for the past decade, the Rangers have to move on, and in calling up Mike Olt, they apparently have come to the same conclusion. He can still help them as a bat off the bench if he’s willing to accept that role, but the days of Young being a fixture of the Rangers line-up appear to be over.

Mike Newman shot some video of Olt in spring training, so you can see his swing for yourself below.