Baseball, like so many other forms of entertainment with passionate followings, has long had a dichotomy between its rabid fans and the more casual ones. It follows logically that the media that covers these forms of entertainment must find a way to cater to both types of fans. Realistically, the type of in-depth analysis that is done here at BBTiA, or mirrored in advanced cooking books, wine magazines or insider music blogs, is not generally ideal for people who are not truly interested in the subject and only want quick synopses of what’s happening every month (or more rarely). Baseball throws in the added complexity of a new statistics vs. traditional statistics approach, but I think that interesting points can be made using both.
Michael Young has been a bit of a Rorshach test for most baseball analysts over the past few years. He is a player who has measured well in traditional statistics like batting average, has played multiple defensive positions with decent fielding percentages, and is an overall clean-cut, genial guy who took on a leadership role and became a fan favorite. However, as our methods of analyzing baseball became more advanced, we began to see that Michael Young was a perfect example of a player who is easily overrated and subsequently overpaid. It doesn’t mean that we hate them; it just means that they will likely draw our ire as players who are not pulling their weight relative to their pay.
Tension naturally develops between the traditional and new statistics fans as the data that each of them value show a larger and larger discrepancy. Sequential All-Star nominations hit six, while WAR only points to three All-Star-worthy seasons (4.0 WAR and up); UZR consistently ranks him as one of the poorer defenders over a significant sample size right around the time that he is awarded a Gold Glove at shortstop; a .300 lifetime hitter with double-digit home run totals in all but two seasons measures out as a merely above-average hitter in all but two seasons in advanced, park-adjusted statistics. Young’s positive portrayal in the press and good interactions with fans results in him becoming a fan favorite and one of the faces of the franchise -- all while advanced statistics are telling us that he’s not quite as good as a cursory look would have you believe, and he’s almost certainly not going to be worth the money that his large contract extension will be paying him.
The reaction to this argument from the quarters of both the traditional statistics-inclined fans and the more traditional, larger media sources who write articles directed at them was to diminish these statsand point out the importance of Michael Young as a selfless leader on this team who has changed positions multiple times, putting the team first.
While I don’t believe that leadership is valueless, I also don’t think Young’s leadership skills were enough to make up for the difference in performance and his contract, especially in the future. However, every spring and then throughout the year, we were fed narratives about the importance of Michael Young’s intangibles, because narratives are as much a part of baseball as box scores.
This off-season, when the team looked for ways to upgrade itself, it was inevitable that they would look at the expensive, older, defensively-challenged Young as a place to upgrade. Every other position outside of catcher and DH had either an established star or a cheap young player providing adequate, if below-average, performance. More importantly, there was a chance to upgrade with a premier defensivethird baseman who could hit just as well (if not better), was younger, and provided the sort of talent at the position that would not be available through free agency for the next two years or so. The Rangers had one shot for a prospect-free improvement to the team at third base, and they made the right moveby taking it.
And so began the complaining by Michael Young ...
It was so brief at first. A bit of disgruntlement before the signing actually happened that was so quickly reversed that most of us forgot about it. The Rangers looked into the possibility of trading Young, but most assumed that the dollars involved would be too limiting. It seemed that Young was going to handle this position change with more grace than the last time he was asked to change positions. The traditional media raced to write the easy narrative:
The Adrian Beltre signing will work for the Texas Rangers, not only because of Beltre's significant talent, but because Michael Young's attitude will allow it to work...
The willingness to put the needs of the team first is not a new development for Young. He came up as a second baseman, was moved to short, and more recently, moved to third to make way for Elvis Andrus.
For Young, the desire to remain with the Rangers is a larger factor than the desire to have things his own way.
"This is where I want to play," he said Wednesday in a teleconference. "I'm willing to make a pretty big sacrifice to do that."
Then a trade for Napoli and, all of a sudden, whispers started about Young being disgruntled and Texas once again looking to trade. Things escalated last week, and finally Young decided to take matters into his own hands, giving quotes to multiple sources that ripped the front office and specifically Jon Daniels in an outright attempt to make sure that some trade happens before spring training, even if the trade was overly costly to the Rangers:
“I want to be traded because I’ve been misled and manipulated and I’m sick of it,” Young added.
However, he declined to reveal details of how he was misled or manipulated.
“That would be unproductive for everybody, particularly my teammates and coaches,” he said. “I know the truth and Jon Daniels knows the truth and I will sleep well.”
How can this be? How can a player who is openly quoted as being accepting of a position switch so that the team can get better so radically change his stance? Why wouldn’t somebody who had become one of the public leaders of the team, who is well-compensated and will be for the next three years, and who is finally getting to play on a team that is truly contending for championships, suddenly want a trade to a location that will give him more playing time? A tweet from the FWST's Anthony Andro:
Rangers president Nolan Ryan: Young's mindset is best interest of career, better to move on and play position on daily basis.
Furthermore, it looks like the basis of this decision revolves around the type of contract Young could get after this current one (yes, the one that pays him $48 million over the next threeyears). Though I do not begrudge any player’s attempt to make as much money as possible, I can not help but point out the strong disconnect between his current actions (and the likely motivations for them) and the many articles written about Young’s selfless leadership of this team.
It will be interesting to now watch the fan reaction to Michael Young’s comments and likely trade. He has been a fan favorite for a long time and the Rangers will almost certainly have some fans lose interest with the team as Young leaves town, though not as many as if this had happened in 2008.
Pieces like this, written solely in defense of Young and attacking everyone else involved, become further examples of the traditional media putting the easy, incendiary narratives above a more measured look at the situation:
In the curiously sad and bloody case of the Texas Rangers and Michael Young, however, we'd also know it was "death by committee." It was a conspiracy to commit "murder" on the local career of a player whose only crime was in giving his heart and soul to an organization he loved with every fiber of his being.
So here's my list of those culpable in this heinous crime:
John Hart did it. And Jon Daniels. And Nolan Ryan. Tom Hicks did it, and so did Chuck Greenberg. An aggressive prosecutor probably would also indict Buck Showalter as an accessory to the crime.
Each and every one of them is guilty of bringing the Rangers' de facto team captain to this sorry juncture in his stellar career.
It is frustrating to read such a hyperbolic piece that so strongly defends Young without spending as much time looking at reasons why the Rangers would trade him (and why so few teams would take him on). I can see how it approximates the feelings of many in the fan base who love Michael Young, avoiding what the advanced statistics said about him and lacking understanding of why the Rangers would trade a good player. However, though this article is directed at casual fans and those who eschew advanced statistics, it does not mean that it needs to ignore the fact that there are multiple sides in any trade request of this magnitude. I wish the piece were more balanced to help inform some of the casual fans about the value of players, even if from the perspective of other front-office types like Richard Durrett’s piece here, and the potential benefits of such a trade.
Fortunately, other voices have started weighing in and we are starting to see some balance on the issue from traditional outlets like NBC:
Wow. Young declined to provide any details of how he was misled or manipulated, but JaysonStark of ESPN.com reported earlier tonight that the Rangers were shopping him earlier this winter, but telling him otherwise.
There’s probably a certain segment of Rangers fans who will defend Young in this instance. That’s understandable. After all, he is the club’s all-time hit leader. But it’s still awfully difficult to feel sorry for someone who is going to get paid $48 million over the next three seasons, whether he plays third base or sits on the bench a couple days a week.
It is simply astounding to me how quickly the narrative of Young as Selfless Leader has been turned on its head. And for those looking for reaction from sources with a more advanced statistical bent, well, let’s turn to Twitter:
The Rangers should respond to Young’s request for a trade with their own formal request for him to be a better player. (via @DSzymborski)
Number of teams to which Michael Young would accept a trade > Number of teams that would accept Michael Young’s contract (via @keithlaw)
"We moved you around the diamond in the hopes you would improve, but we ran out of positions." (via @Marc_Normandin)
It should be noted that just reading the opinions of those who place weight in advanced statistics will not give the complete picture. I’m not advocating only picking one side; there are biases on both sides and being informed of the strengths and weaknesses of both will help discern between the two.
The issue, then, is this: Baseball fans can be roughly broken down into these two disparate groups and there is media available that caters to both; however, if we don’t do a good job of having dialogue between the two sides, we do ourselves a disservice and make it harder to see the full picture.
I’m not sure how Michael Young thought his comments from the evening of Monday, February 7th, 2011 would be received, but in the end I can’t help but wonder if it’s going to serve as an excellent way to bring together casual Ranger fans and the more statistically-interested fans as we read quotes like the following:
"This has been a long time coming based on things that occurred off the field. I’m sick of it. It hit a point where I felt it was unfair to me and my family.”
Full of logical gaps and shots at Jon Daniels specifically, Michael Young’s quotes today did his best to kill his future with the Texas Rangers. It seems that it's all because he won’t get enough time in the field in the new configuration to put himself in line for another multi-year contract at the age of 37, three years and almost fifty million guaranteed dollars away from now. For the player who is loved by fans in part for being a selfless leader, this has to come as a shock. For those who have been aware that he would be unlikely to be worth his contract, these comments only serve to further enrage -- especially when considering that the team has seemingly done all it can to cater to a player with diminishing skills.
Though I’m sure that once the trade is finalized, we will eventually look back and try to carry positive memories of Young forward after the initial anger fades, but I would be lying if I said I am not looking forward to the death of the easy narrative of Young as the tragic, selfless leader. He was a very good player while he was here in Texas, a good guy off the field and one of the team’s leaders on it -- but, in the end, he’s still just a baseball player who wants to be treated, paid and played as his pride says he deserves, and not in a way that’s best for the team.