I'm Joey Matschulat, and I'll be joining John Vittas in providing Rangers coverage for the Most Valuable Network. I'm quite excited to have this opportunity to write about the Texas Rangers, a team that I've developed an incredible passion for.
My first baseball experience was in 1996, as a Rangers game came up while I was flipping channels in an Austin hotel room. Sadly, I didn't have much appreciation for what was then the golden era of Rangers baseball, and my interest flipped on and off for the Rangers over the next eight years or so. However, the "miracle" 2004 Rangers campaign turned me from a casual to a die-hard fan, and there's no going back now. Since I live in Tyler, Texas, a good drive from Arlington, I only make it out to perhaps one game per season, but have been to at least 10 games over the years, including the memorable return of Alex Rodriguez to Arlington in 2004.
I've dabbled a bit in baseball journalism, but this is my first regular foray into it, so hopefully I don't disappoint any of the loyal readers that John's great writing has brought in. I attend Tyler Junior College presently, aiming for a degree in business, but hopefully in a career that is associated with baseball. Besides my first love of baseball, I also enjoy hip hop and jazz music, and have had a lifelong fascination with severe weather and tornadoes.
Anyway, that's enough about me. The big news today out of spring training is the Rangers offering Michael Young a contract extension past the 2008 season, although both the front office and Young are keeping quiet about any negotiations taking place. The consensus seems to be that it's going to take at least $60 million over the next four seasons to keep him in Arlington, and will probably cost Texas more than that in both dollars and years. If I had to wager a serious guess, I'd say that the Rangers made him a five year offer worth in the neighborhood of $65-70 million, with an option year tacked on at the end since Jon Daniels likes to throw those in. But is Young worth it?
Absolutely. Although Young had a bit of a down year last year (his OPS dropped 83 points from 2005), he's still well above average offensively for an American League shortstop. If he rebounds back to 2005 type numbers, great. Right now, he's treading the line between "very good" and "elite." His defense is more debatable, however. There are those who swear that Mike's a Gold Glove caliber defensive player, and there are those who claim he's a terrible defensive player with poor range. Measuring defensive ability in baseball is still a very inexact science because the kind of statistics that accurately and reliably measure defense are still under development. There are several statistics, however, that have gained more recognition as far as their credibility goes.
Baseball Prospectus's RAA2 statistic, for instance, measures fielding runs above average over time, or in simpler terms, how many runs that player saves defensively throughout an entire season compared to an average player at the same position. Curiously enough, Young is placed at -16 runs in 2004 and -15 in 2005, meaning that according to this fielding metric that Young was quite below average. However, he inexplicably jumped to a whopping 23 runs above average in the 2006 season. There's several possible explanations for this discrepancy, but the most likely ones are:
- Young just plain got better on defense, through maturation, fielding drills, etc.
- Ian Kinsler replacing Alfonso Soriano after the 2005 season - Soriano's notorious for his poor defense at second base.
I feel like it's a combination of both, personally. BP says there was a 19 run difference defensively between Soriano in 2005 (-22) and Kinsler in 2006 (-3), which has a big impact when the two positions are so closely linked. There's a precedent here, too: Derek Jeter was rated as well below average defensively until Alex Rodriguez and his two Gold Gloves came to town, at which point his RAA2 also rose dramatically.
BP isn't the only place saying that Young's defense is now above average. Chris Dial of Baseball Think Factory did some work with Zone Rating data, which pegged Mike as the 5th best defensive shortstop in the American League last season.
Of course, to my untrained eyes, Young's a fine defensive player. And even though he's now 30, there's a decent chance that he'll get even better: with Kinsler hopefully improving further in his second full season, and the fielding master Ron Washington bringing his vast repository of knowledge, things look bright for Michael Young's future on both sides of the ball.
Let's just all pray that his future is in a Rangers uniform - for 2010 and beyond.