Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Michael Young litmus test

There are certain players whose stature illustrates the difference between baseball traditionalists and the sabermetric thinkers. Bill James spent much of the 1980s ripping at the reputation of Enos Cabell, whose gaudy batting averages masked his true ineffectiveness at the plate (especially as a corner infielder). Today's lightning rod is Derek Jeter, not so much for his offense -- the concepts of on-base percentage and isolated power have sunk in even for the traditionalists -- as for his defense.

Michael Young's sense of  his value may
be far higher than anybody elses'. 
Then there's Michael Young, who has been a centerpiece of the Texas Rangers roster for a decade. A career .300 hitter, six seasons of 90-plus runs scored,  five seasons of 90-plus RBIs, winner of a Gold Glove at shortstop ... in theory he's great. In reality, not so much. His numbers are in large part a product of his environment (Texas is a great hitter's park); his defense, by any of the metrics, has been subpar at any position. And he's 34 now; he's on the decline.

And now he wants out of Texas. The Rangers moved him to third base after 2008 -- his Gold Glove season -- to make room for Elvis Andrus at short. This winter they signed Adrian Beltre, with the intent of making the 34-year-old Young the DH. Now they've traded for Mark Napoli, and Young apparently figures he's going to lose even DH at-bats.

Aaron Gleeman on Tuesday provided this takedown of Young's decaying skills. And I think it is testimony to the spread of sabermetric thinking in baseball's front offices that it's difficult to imagine anybody taking Young off the Rangers' hands, even if the Rangers agreed to absorb his hefty salary.

The Twins are apparently one of the eight teams to which Young can, per his contract, be traded. I cannot imagine any circumstances in which the Twins would take him, even if Texas offered to pay the entire $48 million he's to get over the next three seasons.

What would they do with him? Play him at third over the younger Danny Valencia? Install him at second or short to wave at ground balls as they go past? If he's displeased with the notion of being the regular DH in Texas, he's hardly going to be happy getting platoon at-bats in that role in Minnesota.

No, old Mr. Young is about to get a reality check, one his abilities have insufficient funds to cover.

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