Shifting Michael Young

The Rays-Rangers portion of the American League playoffs is set to kickoff Wednesday. Michael Young might be the Rangers’ fifth or sixth best hitter depending on the day (and Lupe Fiasco’s favorite baseball player) but do not be surprised if he becomes a person of interest during the series, and not necessarily because of his performance either.

The Rays are notorious for taking advantage of every possible benefit – some would call it The Extra 2% — which includes shifting just about any batter they can. Teams usually only employ shifts against pull-heavy batters like J.D. Drew, David Ortiz, and Travis Hafner, but the Rays even shifted for Derek Jeter earlier this season.

Young and Jeter share many attributes, most notably as offensive-minded infielders with histories of defensive mockery. Both bat right-handed as well, but tend to go the other way and up the middle more than most. Since 2008, 73% of Young’s batted balls have ended up in center or right field. When Young does pull the ball it’s been of the groundball variety- roughly 70% of the time. He tends to hit the ball on the ground up the middle and in the air to right.

What that means for a potential shift is intuitive. The Rays would shift their outfield toward the right field foul line, perhaps placing their right fielder a couple of steps from the line. Their infield could remain in the same position, or they could slide toward right field as well. Evan Longoria would become responsible for the left side of the infield while Jason Bartlett played up the middle and Ben Zobrist moved a few steps to his left.

By playing the percentages, the Rays leave Young a tantalizing amount of open space on the left side of the field. All he has to do is pull or tap a ball in that direction and he could have a double, or who knows, maybe a triple. To assume Young’s swing is the only thing changing would be an oversimplification as his mindset has to alter too. If the Rays are aligned with the eggs in the basket of him going the other way then they are probably pitching him away, away, and away, right? But what if the Rays anticipate Young thinking that and bust him inside to catch him off guard?

It is hard to quantify exactly how much that game theory matters (if it matters at all), and further complicates a basic defensive philosophy. The only thing we know for sure is that Young facing the Rays’ shifted defense will be a battle of wits and god-given ability on one of baseball’s grandest stages.

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7 Responses to “Shifting Michael Young”

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  1. Zach Sanders says:

    How much did Jonah pay you for that plug?

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  2. tom says:

    The shift needs to be value based, not just % based. It also should be (gasp) context based.

    As you allude to… if the outfield shift “fails” it may lead to triple, whereas the shift working may prevent a single or double some of the time.

    So it’s not just simply the % of balls hit but the relative expected value saved. Would you rather give up an extra single 1 out of 10 times at the cost of a triple 1 out of 25 times? Does that situation change leading off an inning vs 2 outs? Men on base vs noone on?

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  3. Shauntell47 says:

    Hamilton, Cruz, Guerrero are the best 3 hitters and then I would put Kinsler and Young at a tie.

    I’d like to know who else is better than him.

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  4. Shauntell47 says:

    I’m guessing you mean Murphy.

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  5. Mike R. says:

    I think it’s a bit of a stretch comparing Mike Young (25 WAR) to Derek Jeter (70 WAR).

    I guess I can see how Mike Young is an offense first, defense last guy like Jeter, but for some reason many have said Mike Young is Jeter’s equal except without the New York hype whereas we’re comparing Ray Durham to Robbie Alomar.

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    • Alireza says:

      Roberto Alomar could play defense. Derek Jeter can’t carry Roberto Alomar’s jock when it comes to all-around play.

      Anyway, Young has lost a lot of WAR compared to Jeter simply because of all the 2B and 3B he has played. No, he’s not as good, and certainly didn’t hit as well for as long, but its not far off to call Young the broke man’s Jeter.

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      • Jon says:

        Yeah, Jeter’s piddling lifetime 70.4 WAR for his all-around play sure can’t hold a candle to Robbie Alomar’s HOF-worthy 68.2.

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