The Phillies have a hole at third base, and Michael Young is a man without a position in Texas. These two problems look to be coalescing into a trade between the Rangers and Phillies, where Texas would ship Young to Philadelphia in order to give him the chance to have a regular gig again, and they’d receive a little bit of salary relief in the process. The Rangers would still be on the hook for $10 million of the $16 million he’s due in 2013, a natural response to the fact that Young was Major League Baseball’s worst regular player in 2012, but they’d free up a roster spot, save a bit of money, and give one of the franchise’s most popular players a chance to keep his career going in a new city. From that perspective, the deal makes a world of sense for Texas.
But, despite Young’s dismal 2012 season, I like this deal for the Phillies as well. As I noted on ESPN Insider yesterday, there’s a decent list of recent performers who have apparently fallen apart in their mid-30s, only to rebound the next season and regain most of their pre-faceplant production. While Young was genuinely terrible last year, we also need to keep in mind that single year performance isn’t the best indicator of future performance, and any decent projection should be informed by his success prior to 2012 as well as his failure last year.
Even if we just take the most basic projection possible and do a 5/3/2 weighting system on his last three season WARs, we’d still come out with a projection of around +1 WAR for 2013. Interestingly, of the 19 players I identified in that ESPN piece who had negative WAR seasons between 34 and 36 and then played another season, their average WAR in the follow-up year was +1 WAR, and a good chunk of the guys in the sample were above average players in their rebound season. There’s reasons to think Young could be one of those bounce back players as well.
Young is a high contact line drive hitter who rarely hits infield fly balls, which is the main reason he’s posted a career .334 BABIP despite not being the fastest guy around. Last year, his BABIP fell to .299, the lowest he’s posted since his rookie season back in 2001. If you prefer, here’s the graphical form.
He’s already had two recent declines that weren’t predictive, as his drops in both 2008 and 2010 were followed by seasons where he put up a BABIP over .350. The Phillies shouldn’t be betting on that for 2013, but there’s real reason to think that his average will get a bump from basic regression to the mean next year.
Even if he’s not hitting for a lot of power, Young’s high contact/gap power skills make him not that dissimilar from Jeff Keppinger, who was also in the mix to play third base for the Phillies before he signed a three year, $12 million contract with the White Sox. Both are roughly average hitters with poor defensive skills at multiple positions in their mid-30s. Both have enough value to be a nice stopgap third baseman on a contender, especially at a marginal price. Young’s $6 million pricetag next season is a little higher than Keppinger’s $4 million, but it’s only a one year commitment, so the overall deals aren’t that far apart in value.
I’m sure there’s going to be a subset of folks who mock the Phillies acquisition of Young if he accepts the trade, based on the fact that Young was truly awful for the Rangers last year. However, at $6 million for one year, Young is a decent fill-in for a team in win now mode, and there is historical precedent for these kinds of players rebounding to prior form. Young might not be what he used to be anymore, but we shouldn’t just assume he’s done because he had one lousy season. For the Phillies, this is not a bad risk to take, and assuming it goes through, looks like a win-win for both sides.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.