Throughout the week, the Crashburn staff will be unveiling their bold predictions for the 2013 season.
Michael Young will make the All-Star Team.
It’s also possible that he’ll bounce back enough to be a real contributor to the Phillies this season, but that’s really a separate issue.
Young will wind up on the All-Star team for the same reason he wound up on the Phillies: third base nowadays is a yawning bunghole of irredeemable detritus from which there is neither escape nor redemption. Playing third base full-time is like being loved by Barbara Hershey in a movie. If baseball’s positions were the novels of Robert Heinlein, third base would be I Will Fear No Evil, an unpolished mess conceived and written in a fever.
The National League needs two All-Stars at third base, and as of right now, it has about six who are worth a crap: David Wright, Chase Headley, Ryan Zimmerman, Pablo Sandoval, Aramis Ramirez and David Freese. Seven if you think Hanley Ramirez isn’t moving back to shortstop. Martin Prado is also worth a crap, but he’ll probably play all over the place. Ditto Todd Frazier.
Still, that’s a bunch of third basemen, and that’s not even considering the possibility that somebody like Pedro Alvarez gets his act together. If third base had a royal line of succession and David Wright were the king, Young would still be the Hereditary Baron of Remote Exurbia. But Wright is hurt, as are Hanley and Headley. Zimmerman isn’t, but give him a couple weeks and he’ll maim himself slicing a bagel or something. He always does. Sandoval, despite having destroyed civilizations during last year’s postseason, is in the public doghouse again for being fat, as if that’s 1) a new thing that 2) has ever prevented him from being good before.
But even if that’s there’s an opening, why will it be Young, and not Frazier or Alvarez, who gets that open spot?
Michael Young is the perfect storm of overratedness. He’s a “team leader,” for one. The best way to get people to think you’re good is to have been good in the past. We don’t re-evaluate our perception of players nearly often enough, so if people thought you were good even eight or ten years ago, they’re willing to grant tremendous latitude to you now. This is the only reason why Ryan Howard is going to hit cleanup for the Phillies rather than hitting sixth and platooning with John Mayberry or Darin Ruf.
Second, Young’s value is almost entirely tied up in his batting average. He plays all around the diamond with a uniform defensive…creativity. He hits for some, but not much power and displays some, but not much patience at the plate. He steals few bases. But Young, bless his heart, will hit .300 in his sleep. And because his managers tend to foolishly play him 1) every day and 2) near the top of the lineup, he’ll be among the league leaders in hits as well.
Post a high batting average and people will think you’re good. Two years ago, Young got a first-place MVP vote despite posting a 2.1-win season on a team that included Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton and Elvis Andrus. Young is the holder of a particular meaningless hat trick of accolades: batting title, Gold Glove and hits leader. The people who make All-Star-type decisions: average fans, coaches and managers still think Young is good, even if he was never as good as they thought he was.
Third base is not the deepest position in the National League, and its luminaries don’t have a reputation for particularly robust health. Young is going to play every day, and I’d say it’s even likely that he’ll hit .300 over half a season. In fact, it wouldn’t shock me particularly if he wound up hitting .350 in June. If you make enough contact in a small enough sample size, the sky’s the limit. Even if your defense is such that posting GIFs of you giving grounders the Roger Dorn treatment has become Bill Baer’s daily bread. Because defense doesn’t matter in the All-Star game. Batting average does. Reputation does. And Young has both in abundance.