By: Dustin Dietz
One of the more enjoyable things I remember from my childhood was memorizing statistics on the backs of my favorite baseball player’s baseball cards. I loved being able to tell my friends Cecil Fielder hit 51 bombs in 1990, or Ken Griffey Jr. hit .327 in 1991. I have forgotten most statistics I once knew right off the top of my head (I had to look up Griffey’s batting average in 1991), but I still remember quite a few of the stats I learned from the back of baseball cards I purchased as a 9 and 10 year old.
When one glanced at the statistics of his or her favorite baseball player 20 years ago, one would immediately glance at the player’s batting average, home runs, and RBI’s to determine how good the player really was. Batting average, home runs, and RBI’s are the statistical categories we all grew up on. Baseball game broadcasts would use (and still do) the three categories when a player comes to bat for the first time in a game. If a player had less than 5 home runs in August, most fans were wise enough to realize the player was struggling.
Well, in the early 00’s baseball statistics and determining a player’s worth changed drastically thanks to Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. Beane was forced to start playing Moneyball with his Oakland A’s teams of the early 00’s because the Oakland franchise was cash strapped and could not afford to sign players to luxurious deals. After players like Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon signed exorbitant contracts with bigger market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, the A’s had to find cheaper replacements like Scott Hatteberg and Jeremy Giambi not because the players hit more home runs or hit for a higher batting average, but because the cheaper players get on base just as often.
Moneyball became a successful book, and then movie, because of how successful the A’s were with players who on paper looked like nothing more than Triple A players (Except Hudson, Mulder, and Zito). The story is quite fascinating really. Numbers gurus and stat geeks stick their middle finger up at scouts using the eyeball test because their radical formulas proved lesser players can be just as effective as star players. However, Beane did not just discover these statistical formulas and categories one day when throwing balled up sheets of paper into a waste basket.
What many might not realize, except baseball stat nerds, is the Moneyball craze actually started back in the 1970’s with a man named Bill James. James began writing books devoted to baseball history and statistics and coined his new approach to baseball SABERMETRICS. James can be considered the L. Ron Hubbard of SABERMETRICS, and new approach to determining a baseball player’s worth.
Billy Beane actually began using James statistical approaches for his A’s teams in the 00’s and had significant success doing it. Then, the Red Sox hired Bill James in 2003. Boston won the World Series a year later for the first time since 1918, and the rest they say is history.
Today, the moniker floated around for most baseball sabermetricians is baseball hipster. The problem I found most often early on with the baseball hipster was how condescending he or she was too you because you thought players such as Michael Young were still usable players when the hipster had these numbers few actually used to prove otherwise. The baseball hipster would point out Mike Young slugs this, or has a terrible fWAR, or his BABIP is low, which makes the traditionalist look like a moron.
I must say that I was quite cynical of the sabermetrics for quite a while. I did not see how players with batting averages around .280 could ever be considered useless. However, after giving much thought and opening my mind a little, I have learned to fully accept and appreciate sabermetrics. While I still believe batting average, home runs, and RBI’s are a huge determining factor of a player’s worth, I have learned to admire stats such as WAR (wins above replacement) and UBR (ultimate base running) despite not understanding how in the world to calculate them. I do not think UBR will be on the back of baseball cards for 9 year olds to memorize anytime soon, but I believe the stats have a place in the baseball world.
I apologize for the 700 word spiel so far, but I promise I will get to my point very quickly. One of the favorite statistics baseball hispters like to use today is WAR. The stat, according to Fan Graphs, encapsulates a player’s total value to their team in one stat. There are two different versions of WAR, rWAR (used by baseballreference.com) and fWAR (used by fangraphs.com). The formulas for both are slightly different as fWAR uses a few distinct statistics I will choose not to explain because I will more than likely cause mass confusion for most readers. Basically, rWAR usually is lower than fWAR, but both are usable.
All of this brings me to Texas Rangers primary designated hitter Michael Young. For much of the season, all we have heard from sabermetric gurus and baseball hispters is how horrendous Young has been because his OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage)is low and he has one of the worst WAR’s of all time, and an endless amount of other numbers which proves Young is the worst player in MLB history.
While Michael Young has had his unusual moments off of the field with the Rangers, he still has over 2100 hits and a career batting average over .300. I thought to myself, “He cannot be this bad. Can he? The man was just voted the most underrated player in baseball. That has to stand for something. He is a team leader and well liked in the clubhouse.”
Well, with my newfound appreciation of sabermetrics and my love for the Rangers, I thought I would do a little research to find out how atrocious Michael Young has been. My findings, a line of .269/.300/.342 with an OPS of .642, all pathetic numbers based on what we are used to seeing from MY.
Face has hit 3 home runs, and has only 24 extra base hits. While MY is near the top of the league in singles, his extra base power appears to have completely vanished after 58 extra base hits in 2011. Young also rarely walks as he has only drawn a free pass 22 times. Here is the most concerning stat, Young’s rWAR is -2.1 and fWAR is -1.6. Yes, Young is actually costing his team wins when he plays games.
So, my findings are simple, Michael Young is indeed having an extremely dreadful year at the plate. Yet, manager Ron Washington continues to put him in the lineup and play him over younger players like Mike Olt. While many of us do not understand continuing to play Young, benching Young might cause chaos and mutiny in the locker room because of Young’s leadership status. Wash really has little choice. What we are left with is an interminable amount of Michael Young jokes on Twitter after viewing the Rangers lineup every day.
Okay, we have established Young sucks this year, and Wash will continue to play him despite Face putting up dead ball era numbers. Well, my next thought was, “How many World Series champions in the last 20 years have had everyday players/major contributors on their team statistically worse than Mike Young?” Well, I decided to research and find out if any everyday player/major contributor worse than Mike Young in 2012 has played on a World Series champion.
Note: I decided to use rWAR instead of fWAR. I realize many use fWAR, and if you choose to not read any further because I used rWAR, you have that prerogative.
Starting with the 1991 Twins, through the 2011 Cardinals (Remember, there was no World Series in 1994), the worst everyday player/major contributor for a World Series champion in the hallowed rWAR stat was Ruben Sierra with the 1996 Yankees who had a -1.1 rWAR. Yes, Michael Young is a full point below that total. Scott Brosius with the 2000 Yankees had the second lowest with a -0.6 rWAR.
I then wanted to look at the last 20 World Series champions worst OPS among everyday player/major contributors and see how Michael Young’s OPS compared to those players, and found the following: Michael Young’s current .642 OPS is higher than only 4 of the worst player’s OPS on World Series champions out of the past 20 winners. Here is the list of everyday players/major contributors with a worse OPS than Michael Young currently has:
1. Yadier Molina – .595 (2006 Cardinals)
2. Bengie Molina – .596 (2002 LA Angels)
3. Carlos Ruiz – .620 (2008 Phillies)
4. Kelly Gruber – .627 (1992 Blue Jays)
The three worst OPS belong to catchers, and Kelly Gruber was at the least a serviceable 3rd Baseman in 1992, which makes all four of the players usable every day. Young is now primarily a DH relied upon to generate respectable offensive numbers, while the others were not expected to produce much offensively and were in the lineup every day for their gloves. If Young is going to yield such miniscule numbers, he better be able to play defense, which he cannot very well at this point in his career. So, since MY cannot play the field like the 4 everyday players with worse OPS’s, I think we can say MY is still having a worse year than all four of the players mentioned above (None had near as low a rWAR as MY currently has).
After discovering this, I determined if the Rangers are going to win the World Series this year, Michael Young will have been the worst everyday player in the last 20 years on any championship team. However, I then thought to myself, “Which teams have won the World Series in any year with an everyday player/major contributor worse than Michael Young?”
So, at this point, I decided to begin with the 1990 Reds and search Baseball Reference to find out how many everyday players on World Series winners had an everyday player/major contributor with a rWAR lower than Michael Young’s current rWAR. I was going to stop searching when I found a player with a worse rWAR.
Right off the bat, I discovered Todd Benzinger with the 1990 Reds had a rWAR of -1.8. However, the number is still not lower than Mike Young’s rWAR, and Benzinger was mainly used for his defensive prowess at 1st Base. I thought I would find a player very quickly worse than Face.
Then, I searched through the champions of the 80’s. Not one rWAR lower.
Then, the 70’s. No lower rWAR.
The 60’s, the 50’s, and finally into the 40’s I made a startling discovery.
Here is Sturm’s line: .239/.293/.300 with an OPS of .592. Sturm had only 23 XBH’s, 3 home runs, 36 RBI, and 37 walks in 568 plate appearances. Sturm also committed 12 errors in the field.
One can easily look at Sturm’s numbers and determine he had an absolutely terrible year playing a position which requires decent power numbers, and the Yankees still won the World Series. Keep in mind, there were much less teams in MLB back then, and that Michael Young’s rWAR is only .2 higher than Sturm’s. So, we have to go back 71 years to find an everyday player/major contributor for a World Series champion worse than Michael Young.
Since I had gone back to 1941, I decided to check every other World Series winner and see if there was any other everyday player/major contributor with a worse rWAR than Michael Young. Well, I am sad to report I did not find one.
Unfortunately Ranger fans, take it for what it is worth, but one team in over 100 years of the World Series has won a World Series with an everyday player possessing a lower rWAR than Michael Young currently has.
I did find a few everyday players on championship teams who had really putrid years, but with higher rWAR’s than Michael Young. Here is the list of players who come close to Mike Young’s forgettable 2012 season thus far.
1990. Todd Benzinger – Cincinnati Reds – 118 games, .253/.291/.340 with an OPS of .631. 5 HR’s, 46 RBI, 21 XBH in 376 AB’s. -1.8 rWAR.
1985. Onix Concepcion – Kansas City Royals – 131 games, .204/.255/.245 with an OPS of .500. 2 HR’s, 20 RBI, 8 XBH in 314 AB’s. -.9 rWAR.
1961. Bobby Richardson – New York Yankees – 162 games, .261/.295/.316 with an OPS of .610. 3 HR’s, 49 RBI, 25 XBH, and committed 18 errors.-.9 rWAR.
1945. Skeeter Webb – Detroit Tigers – 118 games, .199/.254/.238 with .492 OPS. 0 HR’s, 21 RBI, 14 XBH, and committed 25 errors. -.9 rWAR
1920. Bill Wambsganss – Cleveland Indians – 153 games, .244/.316/.317 with an OPS of .633. 1 HR, 55 RBI, 28 XBH, 54 BB, and committed 38 errors. -1.0 rWAR
Obviously, every player on this list including Sturm had miserable years. Richardson and Wambsganss probably had the worst years based on the fact they played in essentially every game (Wambsganss missed one game and Richardson played in every game). At least Sturm only played in 124 games despite posting the -2.3 rWAR.
Now, I am not trying to say I know more about baseball than the average fan like baseball hipsters have the propensity to do. All of the numbers I found are on the internet for one to look up if one chooses too.
However, what I do know is this, if Michael Young does not begin to perform better at the plate, the Rangers will have a difficult time of winning the World Series this year. Teams do not win championships with major contributors performing as poorly as Michael Young currently is. One might be dubious of sabermetrics, but the numbers do not lie, and the numbers appear to be an ominous cloud on what has already been a bizarre season of Rangers baseball. While Michael Young deserves all the respect and admiration from fans for his many years of service in Arlington, all the criticism he is receiving is deserved. If he does not begin to snap out of the season long funk he is in, according to over 100 years of baseball history, the Rangers are in big trouble come October.
By Dustin Dietz
Follow Dustin on Twitter @DustinDietz18