Valuing Michael Young’s Season

Michael Young leads all Phillies hitters with a .360 weighted on-base average, a few ticks ahead of Chase Utley as we prepare for the series finale in San Francisco this afternoon. Young’s triple-slash line reads .330/.398/.426, certainly much better than most of us anticipated going into the season. The 36-year-old finished 2012 with a .297 wOBA and was one of the worst overall players in baseball, so his rebound is a welcome sight.

Young hit in 14 consecutive games between April 9-23, including the final 12 games of the streak including exactly one hit and that one hit being a single. He had a .901 OPS across the streak, which is actually on the lower end as far as hitting streaks of 14 games or longer go. 30 of his 38 hits this year (79%) have been singles, which is why the slugging percentage is so low; furthermore, his .096 isolated power is the 14th-lowest in the National League and the second-lowest among all NL third basemen, ahead of only Placido Polanco.

Another remarkable aspect of Young’s season thus far is his unconscionable rate of grounding into double plays. He leads the Majors with 10 GIDP’s, and that is in 128 PA overall, and 24 plate appearances with a runner on first base and less than two outs. Double plays aren’t accounted for in any aggregate offensive stats like OPS or wOBA, but using RE24, we can see the impact of all ten double plays. A quick overview of RE24:

RE24 is the difference in run expectancy (RE) between the start of the play and the end of the play. That difference is then credited/debited to the batter and the pitcher.

Young’s double plays:

Date RE24
April 5 -0.87
April 14 -1.08
April 17 -0.49
April 18 -0.87
April 21 -0.74
April 22 -0.49
May 1 -1.11
May 3 -0.49
May 3 -0.49
May 6 -0.69
TOTAL -7.32

By comparison, the three singles Young hit on April 27 against the Mets had RE24 values between 0.1 and 0.4. The average RE24 of his double plays is -0.7. Young’s overall RE24 on the season is -2.07, meaning that aside from the ten double plays, he has been +5.25.

Just as Young isn’t likely to continue grounding into double plays at his current rate, he isn’t likely to continue getting hits at his current rate, either. His batting average on balls in play is .394, 60 points higher than his career average. With 95 balls put in play, his current BABIP represents a 5-6 hit surplus over his career average. Five fewer hits would lower his batting average from .330 to .287. Last season, only five hitters across baseball had a BABIP in excess of .370: Dexter Fowler (.390), Torii Hunter (.389), Mike Trout (.383), Andrew McCutchen (.375), and Austin Jackson (.371). It isn’t as if Young frequently makes good contact with the baseball. Via ESPN Stats & Info, of the 95 balls Young has put in play, only 25 of them (26.3%) have been considered “well-hit”. The league average is 23.1 percent. Though known for consistently making contact, Young is not in the upper 90 percent of hitters when it comes to BABIP.

When you factor in his poor defense and below-average base running, along with his expected regression, Young isn’t likely to be anything better than below average relative to his position going forward. To be fair, however, Young looks much better in comparison to players that have manned third base for the Phillies since the end of the Scott Rolen era.

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31 comments

  1. AGH

    May 08, 2013 01:09 PM

    I get that Young isn’t exactly a stalwart, but I think you have to put his acquisition in the “success” column for Rube (at least, so far).

    During the offseason, I was very much in favor of going young and cheap with Frandsen at 3B. But Young has been the most consistent guy in the lineup. And while he hasn’t hit for much power, Young is leading the club in OBP and walks. He also hasn’t been abjectly terrible in the field–certainly better than Frandsen was last year.

  2. Pencilfish

    May 08, 2013 01:20 PM

    How poor has been his defense so far in 2013? You don’t quantify, so it is hard to know if you mean it is predictably poor, or it has been passable, and you expect a regression.

  3. Richard

    May 08, 2013 01:25 PM

    his UZR is currently at -0.9, which isn’t good, but perhaps not as bad as some of us feared/expected… insert typical irresponsibility of citing early season UZR scores caveats here.

  4. Bill Baer

    May 08, 2013 01:27 PM

    I don’t quantify because, as Richard notes, the sample is far too small.

    The prior is that Michael Young’s defense is pretty bad, so that’s your starting position.

  5. NavyJoe

    May 08, 2013 03:02 PM

    I’ve got to be honest, this blog post seems to exhibit a certain amount of confirmation bias.

    At no point in time did I disagree with the assessment of the Young acquisition prior to the season, but the fact is he is exceeding expectations which were, if I recall correctly, that he would be among the worst position players in baseball in 2013.

    There is no mention of his BB% rate, which is 100% higher than it was last year and 50% higher than his career average. Is that likely to regress?

    If his GB% does not regress–I’m not sure it’s clear that it will–isn’t his BABIP likely to stay fairly elevated?

    Finally, and while I agree that GIDP are crushing, aren’t they as situationally dependent as RBIs?

  6. Jonny5

    May 08, 2013 03:03 PM

    Mitch, to your side note. Can you say upgrade?!?! lol…

    Next season Galvis on 3rd? Or is it Rollins on 3rd, Galvis SS? Or are we screaming for a FA?

  7. the Philly sports desert

    May 08, 2013 03:26 PM

    MY’s value to the Phils comes in comparison to what you believe a Freddy/KF split would have provided at a much less cost.
    POS – FG
    much cheaper, could have used the 6 mill elsewhere
    Much better defensively
    Give us a better chance to evaluate FG over a whole season
    FG STATS – BA .250, BABIP – .257 OBP.327 SLG.455 OPS.781 2 SB, 3 HR, 4BB/7K 44AB
    KF – Poor man MY with more power, little worse defence.
    MY – he is what we thought he was
    330 .398 .426 .825 .394 BABIP 6 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR 13BB/20K 115AB
    Basically, FG should see his BA increase by close to what MY will see decrease and so we have gained nothing and added poor fielding

    I like MY as a person and a player but this is one of the reasons why the Braves have a bright future and we don’t. They have been very good at integrating young players into their lineup. I know this is due to money but it has been their way since the 90’s and RAJ is not shown a talent at integrating youth.

  8. NavyJoe

    May 08, 2013 03:40 PM

    Philly Sports Desert,

    Why do you assume Galvis’s BABIP will improve?

  9. LarryM

    May 08, 2013 04:44 PM

    You know, I find myself, irrational as this may be, being a very pissed off at the fact that wOBA doesn’t include double plays. Maybe I should be pissed off at myself.

    For years, in examining advanced hitting metrics, I would do a pretty thorough job of looking at the details before relying upon them. Eventually it got to the point where the most popular metrics were all (a) pretty reliable, and (b) reached similar conclusions. So after a point, there’s a tendency to conclude that offensive metrics are pretty darn reliable, and focus attention on areas where modern metrics are less reliable, such as defense.

    Then you get one of the most popular systems of player evaluation relying upon a new metric, and we just assume it is a careful, accurate system. Only to find out now that it is garbage, utter and complete garbage.

    Rant over, I guess. What a horrible black eye for Fangraphs though. What a joke. What an embarrassment. Why shouls any of us give any credence at all to any of the clowns who run and/or work on that site?

  10. LarryM

    May 08, 2013 04:47 PM

    I see it was developed by Tango. I was actually thinking of buying his book. Thank goodness I found this out before I wasted my money.

  11. Joe

    May 08, 2013 04:57 PM

    I think we our getting what we would have hoped from Michael Young. But my pessimism comes from, we had many questions going into this season that had to go right, like, Are Utley and Howard healthy? (appears so) Was last year just a down year from MY and he goes back to being a .300+ hitter? (so far so good). Is mike adams healthy again? (looks like it) And this team still can’t score runs and is a sub .500 team. And I don’t think anyone thought Galvis is an everyday player offensively. He came up as a great glove/ no bat guy…and was suspended for PED’d. I think anyone would have been happy if when we got M Young, we knew he would be hitting over .320 the first 2 months (and the Rangers paying a lot of his salary).

  12. LarryM

    May 08, 2013 05:00 PM

    It’s funny though – I grew up with Bill James. His formulas did incorporate Double plays and sac flies. I was always a big fan of Bill James, and took to heart his critigue of linear weights. Over time, I came to realize (as did James) that his major critique of linear weights was mistaken. But we threw out the baby with the bath water.

    And I know (now) the justification for excluding double plays and sac flies. But it’s garbage. Maybe at best a justification for adjusting the formula to account for base runners. Yeah, that would be more complex. And for sac flies, maybe a forgivable simplification. But not for double plays, which can make a HUGE difference for some players over the course of the season.

  13. Bill Baer

    May 08, 2013 06:45 PM

    @ LarryM

    wOBA is a tool that does what it is designed to do (be context-neutral) very well. If you want a tool that takes context into account, then certainly you’d want to use another tool, but this does not make wOBA a bad tool.

    Look at xFIP — it doesn’t incorporate a pitcher’s tendency to induce infield pop-ups, thereby underrating them. This, though, does not invalidate xFIP because that is not what xFIP is designed to do.

    For another analogy, it’s like getting mad at your hammer for being unable to screw in a Phillips-head screw.

  14. Ben

    May 08, 2013 09:10 PM

    Bill,

    I think you’re being a little harsh on Michael Young’s baserunning. He is a career +20 on the bases according to FG, and a career +12 according to B-R. Granted he was negative in both last year, but he was positive in both the year prior, so it’s probably unfair to call him “a below-average baserunner.” While he doesn’t steal bases, he is at least not going to be a net negative out there.

  15. Bill Baer

    May 08, 2013 09:18 PM

    Not sure why you’d use career numbers on a stat that’s very sensitive to age. (e.g. Jimmy Rollins hasn’t stolen 32+ bases since 2008, why use his 2001-08 base running stats?)

    You could weight each season going backwards, with the most recent season getting the most weight and getting progressively lighter as you go back.

    EDIT: It’s also important to keep in mind that since the base running stat is a counting stat, it is affected by positive or negative performance at the plate. In all likelihood he isn’t as bad as he was last year because he isn’t that bad offensively.

  16. Ben

    May 08, 2013 09:32 PM

    Even if you do a simple 5-3-1 on his last 3 years worth of B-R you get him at -1 per year. But I think for a guy who’s baserunning value is driven more by smart baserunning than pure speed it’s also more appropriate to look at career numbers because that’s going to be less elastic to age.

  17. Bill Baer

    May 08, 2013 09:34 PM

    Why is his base running from four years and beyond relevant? (he did earn some poor marks in previous years, FWIW)

  18. Ben

    May 08, 2013 10:00 PM

    Because he was never particularly fast, so it may indicate some “skill” at taking extra bases/reading outfielders and batted balls.

  19. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    May 09, 2013 10:09 AM

    I think NavyJoe makes a pretty good point at the end of his comment. Aren’t double plays like RBIs? In each case, the batter is being credited or demerited based on circumstances that were not entirely of his making. For example: Young has been hitting 5th for much of the season, meaning that some sizable proportion of those double plays have come with Ryan Howard running (galumphing?) at first. More generally, even more than most baseball outcomes, a doubleplay is the product of a lot of unpredictable factors: is the runner going on the pitch, is the fielder correctly positioned, and so on. And that doesn’t even take into account line-drive double plays, which are totally fluky.

  20. Phillie697

    May 09, 2013 10:12 AM

    I am waiting until the All-Star break to, you know.

    He’s not going to be the 4-WAR player he’s been playing like the first quarter of the season, but I believe I said he’ll be a 2-WAR player, which would be 1) worth far more than the $6M we’re paying him, and 2) better than what any of us was predicting to get out of Frandsen. Dudes with 2.6, 2.8, 2.4, and 3.4 WAR the previous 4 seasons before his -1.7 WAR last year doesn’t just go ka-poot and become utterly worthless overnight without some terrible injury, which Young hasn’t had.

  21. hk

    May 09, 2013 10:32 AM

    Phillie697,

    How many WAR would you have predicted for Kevin Frandsen in the exact same playing time you were expecting Young to receive when you predicted he’d accumulate ~2.0 WAR? Also, for what it is worth, Young is costing $7.2M this year as the Phillies had to pay him an extra $1.2M to get him to waive his no-trade clause.

  22. Phillie697

    May 09, 2013 10:55 AM

    @hk,

    Young is already at 0.8 WAR, it won’t take much for him to get to 2. Frandsen, his performance in limited capacity last year notwithstanding, has been a replacement level player, and his minor league numbers prior to his call-up didn’t suggest much more than that, maybe a 1-WAR player at best. MY would have been an upgrade to that, at fairly reasonable cost.

    I know your focus has always been that you care only about the incremental upgrade between Frandsen and Young, but may I remind you, you only get to play one 3B, and if you want to acquire a 2-WAR 3B from the market, you’re going to have to pay 2-WAR price to get that player. Whatever you have in your cupboard doesn’t matter in that equation. In this case, RAJ spent an insignificant portion of our budget to get an upgrade; I can’t fault him for that. It’s not like he dumped $50M into Michael Young or something.

    We can speak about whether it was worth it given that we had to trade assets for the right to have MY, but that’s another discussion. We didn’t exactly give up much there either.

  23. hk

    May 09, 2013 12:25 PM

    Assuming that RAJ stopped spending because he had a budget, which may be a poor assumption, I think that the $7.2M could have been spent better than to get what projected to be a 1 WAR upgrade over the 3B that was already on the roster.

  24. Phillie697

    May 09, 2013 01:22 PM

    hk,

    Maybe, but assuming MY is a 1-WAR upgrade and 1 WAR is valued at $5M, you’re essentially quipping over $2.2M (or $2.7M if you want to factor in Frandsen’s salary, but that salary would be used to have him or someone else as a bench player anyway) and a couple of fungible prospects. I never said the deal was good or great, but it was reasonable enough given the “barren wasteland” that has been used to describe the 3B market this off-season.

  25. hk

    May 09, 2013 02:33 PM

    Fair enough. We can continue to agree to disagree on this one. I just like to beat this dead horse every month or so although beating this one is not nearly as fun as beating the “why the F did they give away Nate Schierholtz?” dead horse.

  26. Phillie697

    May 09, 2013 02:44 PM

    @hk,

    I’ll continue to bemuse why we have Douchbag Young on this team and give him playing time. Or mention the Papelbon contract a dozen times or more every month. Plenty of material to pick from when it comes to RAJ, LOL.

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