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February 06, 2011


So Michael Young’s relationship with Texas appears to be irreparably sundered. This isn’t surprising. Despite public statements to the contrary from management, the acquisitions of Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli clearly reduced him to a supporting role, albeit strong support. He might qualify for the batting title (502 plate appearances nowadays), but his standard 700 PAs seems too lofty a goal. Moreover, his ostensible role as DH plus backup at all four infield positions has always sounded a bit dubious, if interesting. There’s no antecedent for it, not unless you get really creative with the criteria. Some findings via the wonderful Play Index at Baseball-Reference.com:

  • No Major League player has ever qualified for the batting title while playing at least five games at 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, and DH. Not at age 34, not ever.

  • Among players in the Age 34-36 bracket (concurrent with the remaining three years on Young’s contract), a handful have qualified for the batting title while playing at least five games at four of the five positions:

    5+ games at 1B, 2B, 3B, and SS (but not DH): Tony Graffanino in 2006 (2.1 bWAR) and Mark Loretta in 2007 (0.3).

    5+ games at 1B, 2B, 3B, and DH (no SS): Bobby Grich in 1985 (2.9 bWAR)

    5+ games at 1B, 2B, SS, and DH (no 3B): none.

    5+ games at 1B, 3B, SS, and DH (no 2B): none.

    5+ games at 2B, 3B, SS, and DH (no 1B): Jim Morrison in 1987 (1.0 bWAR)

Lowering the standard from five games to just one game at each position creates a five-position qualifying group of just Graffanino, Loretta, and Morrison.

Players who are good enough to play positions tend to play positions. Players who aren’t tend to DH or support less arduous positions like 1B and the corner OF slots. Weak defenders are poor candidates for “super utility” players, particularly if some of the utility is to be realized in the middle infield. If the opposite were true, Esteban German would have 8-10 years of MLB service time. Young is better than German, of course; he has power and still catches what he reaches. Much as I like the idea of breaking new ground in baseball, a notoriously conservative sport, it’s an awkward fit.

Young’s departure would put more pressure on Mitch Moreland to fulfill his potential (as an adequate, not great, 1B) and once again leaves the Rangers limited against left-handed pitching. Should he stay, Young’s best bet for achieving 650-700 plate appearances would be as a replacement for a disappointing performance from Moreland or an injured Kinsler or Beltre. I can’t imagine Texas entrusting shortstop to Young in the long term if Andrus were injured.

The New Pornographers, "Use It," Twin Cinema, 2005

Posted by Lucas at February 6, 2011 05:07 PM