Time To Platoon Michael Young

Every time Michael Young has changed positions in his MLB career, it has been newsworthy. Prior to the 2004 season, Young took on the responsibility of moving from second base to shortstop, and did so relatively well. This could have been the move that created the #leadership meme that so many have adopted, as Young received praise of a selfless and team-first attitude for making the move. Then, before the 2009 season, on the heels of a Gold Glove award, Young was moved from shortstop to third base, a move that was publicly made known to be against Young’s wishes. A similar scenario occurred before the 2011 season, as the moniker of everyday fielder was removed from Young and replaced with two solitary letters: DH. Now, in his age 35 season, the time is coming for Michael Young to make one more transition (another one that will certainly bruise his pride) to the role of a platoon player. 
Young has struggled more in 2012 than any season since he entered the league in 2002. Entering Monday’s action, Young’s batting average was at .274 (down to .270 after an 0-for-4 night), on-base percentage was .303, and slugging percentage was an anemic .357. Young’s strikeout rate is at 12.3%, below his career average of 14.5%. So it is not as if Young is struggling this year because he is striking out more. Instead, he is just making poor contact in a season that has been typified by weak groundballs to the second baseman and shortstop (GB rate in 2012 is 53.2%, up from a 46% career average). His career batting average against balls in play is .336, while in 2012 Young has a BABIP of .297. He is putting balls in play at approximately the same rate, they just aren’t finding holes in 2012 like they have for most of his illustrious 13-year career.

Despite a .661 OPS (that trails all other Rangers’ regulars) there has been no adjustment to the lineup because of Young’s struggles. Most nights he still occupies the 5-spot in the lineup, and over the last four games he has moved to the 3-hole in replacement of Josh Hamilton. It is time for a change. Not just a change in Young’s position in the order, but also in the frequency with which his name is slotted into the lineup card each night.

Below is a sample of what the Rangers lineup looks like most nights against right-handed pitchers and left-handed pitchers. Also included are that player’s platoon splits for plate appearances and OPS. 

We are accustomed to seeing these being the Rangers on the field on most nights, unless there is an injury, or a player is getting an off day. You can see Young inserted in the 5th spot in both lineups. If you will, observe Young’s OPS against right-handers (.578) compared to left-handers (.863). An .863 OPS is more than respectable, and deserves to be in the lineup. A .578 OPS is not, especially if there is a suitable replacement available.

Looking at the Rangers bench options, there is only one suitable replacement: Craig Gentry. Gentry is over-performing so far this year, and will certainly come back down to earth at some point. His .407 BABIP is not sustainable. However, Gentry has never had a sizable difference in his splits against LHP and RHP. At this moment, Gentry is a better option than Young against right-handed pitchers. At the very least he is no less effective at the plate. Beyond what he can do at the plate, Gentry provides significant value when he plays center field and when he is running the bases. Young cannot match Gentry’s contributions defensively, or on the basepaths.

I am proposing the new framework for the Rangers lineup should be the following:

Look at the difference in the total team OPS for both platoons with these new lineups. You’ll notice that this would put Young on the bench against right-handed pitchers, and makes Gentry an everyday player. Yes, I have concerns about over-exposing Gentry offensively if he is asked to play an everyday role. However, as I mentioned, Gentry’s speed and defense are exceptional, won’t slump, and provide enough value that the tradeoff is worth it.

Like it or not, Michael Young is an institution in the Texas Rangers franchise. This move is not one that will be taken lightly, nor do I expect it to be made anytime soon. Ron Washington will give Young every chance to right himself out of the current slump he is stuck in. The Rangers, and Young, need to be prepared for the fact that Young is 35 years old, and perhaps is reaching the end of his time as an elite hitter. He can still be a useful hitter, however, if used properly. He has shown the signs that he needs to become a platoon player, it is just a matter of time before a new title is placed upon him.

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

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