One night back in September of 2008, I finally boiled over watching Michael Young attempt and fail to defend the shortstop position. I wrote about it for for the DMN. The piece no longer exists in cyberspace, but there are references to it here, here and here.
At the time, the Rangers were one of the worst defensive clubs in MLB and Young was one of the worst offenders. He, of course, celebrated his -4.6 UZR with a Gold Glove.
Back then, and to this day, my friend Evan Grant and I have had countless arguments about my insistence that the Rangers had to get Young's glove off the field. Like most, if not all of the mainstream media guys who are in the clubhouse on a regular basis, Grant has a justifiably enormous amount of respect for Young. I think that on some level my arguments have taken a small hold somewhere in Grant's consciousness (his somewhat frequent comparisons of Young to Paul Molitor, which started a couple of years ago make me think that Grant actually agrees with me on some level), but he and the other beats still seem to have their judgment of Young's defensive value somewhat clouded by their personal feelings for the guy.
And let me be clear about this: Young deserves the respect. He is a great guy, a great leader and a very good hitter. With one notable exception, he's always said the right thing. He has always done the right thing. He has played through injuries, he works his ass off. He takes the bullets in the clubhouse when bullets need to be taken by someone.
He is, as everyone says, the consummate professional. He is more valuable to this ballclub than he would be to any other ballclub and for that reason, among others, I do not want the Rangers to trade him. They would have to pay him anyway, it's hard to imagine they'd get anything of value for him if they didn't pay almost all of his contract, and his departure would clearly leave a gigantic void in the clubhouse. And here, I take issue with a contingent of the stathead crowd who often forget that baseball is a game played by people and personalities do matter when creating a team.
But that does not mean that he can field a position anymore.
Since 2008, the Rangers have climbed from one of the five worst defensive ballclubs to one of the five best. In 2010, you might be surprised to learn, Elvis Andrus was one of the few Rangers defenders who did not rate well above average at his regular position by UZR / UZR 150.
First of all, get a load of Craig Gentry's numbers at all three outfield positions. Wow.
Back to the point: Young was the worst defender on this ballclub by a sizable margin. He was also one of the worst defensive 3B's in baseball last year
|Alberto Callaspo||- - -||3B||1134||192||1.1||4.2||5.3||6.3|
|Pedro Feliz||- - -||3B||804||133||-4.3||0.8||-3.1||-4.9|
|Jhonny Peralta||- - -||3B||840||163||-9.9||5.3||-4.1||-6.1|
|Miguel Tejada||- - -||3B||823||154||-4.4||-2.3||-6.9||-9.9|
First of all, you have to get excited about replacing that -5.8 with a +12.7 at third base. But you also look at that and ask yourself how can Grant write this sentence in his DMN story on this Young's "sacrifice" published yesterday?
"At 34, Young can still play the field, and this move will actually force his repertoire to grow, not shrink."
Grant, of course, is not alone among his peers in holding this opinion. The mainstreamers all seem to believe this. It's part of the traditional pressbox narrative of this thing to perpetuate the notion that Michael Young is a man without flaws. And he is, almost. He just can't field anymore and once we strip away the narrative and look at the facts, we see that Young is simply too big of a liability in that department to be tolerated by a ballclub in hot pursuit of excellence.
It would be one thing if the eyeball test said something different about Young than these numbers do (see, e.g. Elvis), but did anyone seriously watch Young at the hot corner last year and "see" anything that said "he can still play the field"? I actually found myself feeling bad for him on a fairly frequent basis. I mean, you know he cares. You know he does the work. You know that he knew that he wasn't great (or probably even average), and you know it bothered him because he clearly cares so much.
The 2011 Rangers could be -- should be -- one of the best defensive clubs in baseball and will almost certainly be the best defensive ballclub this organization has ever sent home from spring training. The rotation should be emboldened by this defensive unit, giving them no reason not to pound away at the strike zone and get through innings quickly. The bullpen figures to be outstanding with two wise old lefties, a gimmick arm that MLB hitters still haven't figured out and an armada of RH power arms. The club will hit plenty once again, and DH Michael Young will be an important part of that.
This club is also exceptionally strong in the clubhouse. You can laugh that off if you want, but it matters to the guys in the room. Don't think for a minute that it doesn't. They like going to work every day. They like their boss. They react to adversity exceedingly well. And the credit for that goes in large part to Mr. Young.
I don't want him at first base. Based on my eyeball test, I don't see him being very good at picking the ball. I don't want to suffer through two weeks of seeing him struggle at short or second if Elvis or Ian hit the DL. I just want to watch him hit. And lead. He's good at both of those things and I'm willing to bet that he'll continue to be good at both of those things for years to come.