I Don’t Have A Problem With Michael Young

**ORIGINAL POSTED DATE 8/16/12**

The way I consume baseball today is entirely different from how I consumed baseball ten years ago. Ten years ago, I dissected box scores on page 8C of the Dallas Morning News, oftentimes on newspaper that was half-wet from the morning dew. I used to love to look at the starting pitching matchups for the day and the “loves to face” and “hates to face” hitters for each pitcher. I read about the Texas Rangers from one source, with maybe two or three writers at that source. Today, it’s a new world.
I now never read the Dallas Morning News, unless it’s online and then only to see some quotes from the managers or the players that weren’t already shared on Twitter. I know that the “loves to face” type of statistics rely on too small of sample sizes to be reliable predictors of future outcomes. I read about the Rangers from about 200 different people on Twitter, not to mention the full-length articles found at this site and about a dozen others, composed by multiple authors at each; information abounds.

All of that is slightly tangential to the real point I want to make, so I’ll get on with it. Lately, and really for the last two months, there has been a consistent topic about the Rangers that has been discussed and beaten to death on Twitter and in articles. That topic is Michael Young, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any positive reviews on the longtime Ranger. Young is something of a punching bag right now in many forms of the media that I now consume.

The reason for all of the negativity pointed in the direction of Michael Young in the past couple of months is driven by the cold, hard facts of 2012. Michael Young has played terribly. You cannot look at one area of Young’s performance and spin it in a positive light this season. It’s just not possible. Young is having the worst season of his career. He is at a career low in on-base percentage, and well below his career low in slugging percentage. His .642 OPS is in the bottom ten in baseball among all qualified batters. His 3.43 pitches per plate appearance is also in the bottom ten. He is walking significantly less than ever before, is hitting for no power, and beyond just the statistics he has looked overmatched at the plate. Young has been a true professional hitter for 10 years, and this season he has looked lost. He is tied for the worst fWAR in baseball at -1.6.

There are a lot of things that have gone wrong for Young in 2012, and that is why he is the source of so much backlash from fans and writers alike. Even his most loyal supporters are beginning to come around on the idea that Young should be benched. I have been saying for two months that my solution would be to move Young to a platoon role, where he could still be effective against left-handed pitchers (.767 OPS in 2012). I still think that’s the answer to the problem of his lack of production, as it wouldn’t completely emasculate him and put the chemistry of the clubhouse at risk in a pennant race.

With all of that being said, I still really like Michael Young.

It’s not fair to criticize Young because he is playing poorly. It’s entirely justified to criticize the amount of playing time that Young receives, but that’s not the player’s fault. Young is still putting forth a maximum effort. His terrible performance in 2012 isn’t because he’s slacking off, pouting, or otherwise disengaging from the ballclub. If there is one thing a player can be criticized for, it’s a lack of effort. Another flaw that would draw justified criticism would be having a negative influence on the clubhouse in any way. Neither of those is the problem.

Michael Young is aging. At its core, that is a major part of the problem. Yes, he’s chasing more pitches out of the strike zone and walking less and hitting more ground balls and hitting with less power, but those are all symptoms of the root issue: age. It happens to all players. At some point, the imaginary wall with extra birthday candles is struck, and things go downhill. There are exceptions to the rule, or different variations at what age that slide starts, but no one is invulnerable to it. Young’s increasing age and decreasing physical skills is driving his microscopic production on the field. Young can’t be blamed for that.

Some may argue that Young should voluntarily remove himself from the lineup. He should walk into Ron Washington’s office and say “Skip, it’s time”. As noble and Hollywood-esque as that sounds, it is just as ridiculous a notion as if Stephen Strasburg were to tell the Washington Nationals that he thinks an innings limit is a good idea. These men are ultimate competitors, and they will do whatever they can to stay on that field and endure the grind to help their team win. It’s not Young’s decision to make when it’s time for his role to be reduced, and he shouldn’t be held accountable for that.

The lack of value provided by Young in 2012 is also magnified because of his status, and his contract. Young has been the face of the Rangers franchise for nearly a decade, but that’s not a title that he claimed for himself. As much as it is mocked, he has been a leader on this team, and that matters for something. He has earned it through respect, not by a self-imposed title. As for his contract, it was the Rangers current front office regime that gave it to him.

I understand those who want to bench Michael Young. I don’t think that’s the right answer, but I get it. However, Young has been a valuable member of the Texas Rangers in some of the most important years in franchise history. I hope that no matter how his career closes, he will still be remembered for the value he brought to this team. If things remain the way they are, the unfortunate result may be that he is exposed too long with his diminishing abilities on prominent display, and all recollection of what a fine player he has been is lost.

He hasn’t quit trying, and he’s not a cancer in the clubhouse. He is just an employee whose current position does not fit his skills. I have no problem with Michael Young because he is doing all that he knows how to do; it’s just that his tank is near empty. He can still be a valuable member of the Rangers, but not in his current role. It’s up to the Rangers management to transition Young into the next phase of his career. As a fan, I hope that step is taken soon, because I don’t want my last memory of Michael Young to be as a player who was the weak link in what otherwise might have been a championship team. That would be a tragedy for all Young fans, Rangers fans, the Rangers organization, and for Young himself.

Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM
Peter Ellwood

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