Michael Young’s Value

Today, Michael Young was named the Gold Glove winner for the American League at shortstop, a selection that rivals some of the worst picks the managers have ever made. Young is, by pretty much every defensive metric out there, one of the worst defensive shortstops in the game. He’s a second baseman playing out of position, and his lack of range shows every time a ball is hit up the middle.

However, this column isn’t about the Gold Gloves. They’ve been a joke of an award for years, and most people realize that by now. Instead, this is about the amazing ability of the mainstream media, along with people in the game, to totally ignore the collapse of Young’s value over the last three years.

In 2005, Young was a pretty terrific player, even with the poor defense. He hit .331/.385/.513 in 732 plate appearances, combining quantity with quality to post a 2.50 WPA/LI. Even knocking 10 to 15 runs off his total for his lack of range, he was still an all-star quality player, because the bat was that good.

That’s the player he’s still remembered as – an offensive force at a premium position. It hasn’t been true for three years, however.

In 2006, he .314/.356/.459, still good by shortstop standards, but a pretty substantial drop in offensive value nonetheless. His WPA/LI fell to 0.86, meaning he was about 1.6 wins worse as a hitter than the season before. However, because he accumulated 217 hits, the drop in production mostly went unnoticed. In fact, before the next season began, Young was given a 5 year, $80 million contract extension that covered 2009 to 2013. The Rangers saw him lose a substantial portion of his value, and reacted by giving him a massive contract that covered his age 33 to 37 seasons.

Clearly, Texas thought he was more like his ’05 performance than his ’06 performance, and would rebound in ’07. He didn’t – Again, he hit racked up 200 hits, but his line fell to .315/.366/.418, losing even more of his power, and again seeing his WPA/LI decline, this time to 0.73. For two years, he’d be an above average (but not great) hitter, even while posting one of the highest averages in the league.

In 2008, the average deserted him, as he fell to .284/.339/.402, and his WPA/LI fell to -0.60. For the first time since 2003, he was a below average hitter. For a guy who is a pretty significant liability defensively, his value is built on his bat, and when that disappears, he becomes a problem.

Michael Young heads into 2009 with $80 million guaranteed to him over the next five years. To justify that salary, he’d have to be an all-star caliber player, worth approximately three wins more than a replacement level shortstop.

In reality, projections for Young in ’09 have him as slightly below average with the bat, as he comes in about -5 runs or so. The position adjustment for shortstop is about +10 runs, so that puts him back up above average, but he gives all of that right back with his poor defense, where he usually ranks as a -15 or so defender. Finally, we have to add 20 runs to convert from average to replacement level, leaving us with the following:

-5 offense + 10 position adjustment – 15 defense + 20 replacement level = +10 runs.

Michael Young’s current skillset makes him worth about one win above a replacement level shortstop, the kind you could get floating around on waivers. One win. The Rangers are going to pay him $16 million for that one win, and hope like crazy that the decline doesn’t continue at its current rate.

Meanwhile, most of baseball just continues to believe that Young is a premium player, the kind of guy winning teams are built around. It’s just not true – he’s not even league average at this point in his career.

Don’t believe the hype. Michael Young just isn’t very good.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Listen to this man. He speaks the truth.

People still believe in Gold Gloves though.