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The Embellished Season of Michael Young

Given the tendency of the local and national media to deify Michael Young in the past, we should have seen the embellishment of Michael Young’s unproductive 2013 season coming. We heard some of it — good teammate, great in the clubhouse — as trade rumors circulated towards the July 31 trade deadline, and now that the August 31 waiver deadline is drawing ever nearer, writers are getting their last words in about Young’s contributions to the disappointing Phillies team.

If Young exceeded expectations, it was because they were set below floor-level to begin with. Young was the second-worst player in baseball last year going by Baseball Reference’s version of Wins Above Replacement, sandwiched between Jeff Francoeur and Greg Dobbs. Among players aged 35 or older like Young who were two wins below replacement or worse, only Carlton Fisk bounced back and contributed one win above replacement or better. Young is at -0.7 WAR, which at least isn’t the -2.0 WAR of last year.

Though many accept that his defense has been somewhere between below average and laughably bad, leaning more heavily towards the latter, many have been enthused by his offensive performance. He has an adjusted OPS of 103 on the year, a few ticks above the league average. His wRC+ (like adjusted OPS but with weighted runs above average and park adjustments) is 105, a marked improvement over last year’s 79.

There are two reasons for the improvement in offense. For one, he is hitting for more power. His .128 isolated power is well above last year’s .093. However, last year aside, it is still his lowest since 2008. His eight home runs match last year’s output. And to put the .128 ISO in context, it ranks 110th out of 149 qualified players, putting him between Andre Ethier and Brandon Crawford.

The second reason is that Young is walking more than he ever has in his career, representing nine percent of his plate appearances. It is an improvement of nearly four percent over last season, which seems quite good. However, the National League average walk rate is 7.6 percent, so over 500 plate appearances, Young will walk just seven more times than the average hitter. If Young’s plate discipline looks good, it is only due to the low bar set by his previous career marks and by his team — among Phillies with at least 200 plate appearances, Young has the highest walk rate.

What has been talked about a lot, yet still gets overlooked is Young’s propensity to ground into double plays. He was on an historic pace earlier in the season but cooled down lately, leaving him with 18* on the season.

* FanGraphs counts 18 double plays, while Baseball Reference lists 17.

Young’s double plays have combined for -1.2 Win Percent Added on their own, averaging -0.06 WPA per double play. This means that Young’s double plays on average have decreased his team’s odds of winning by six percent. His most costly double play decreased his team’s odds by over 18 percent. Going by overall WPA, Young has contributed the 14th-least among qualified National League hitters at -0.87.

Date Pitcher Inn. Outs Base Score Double Play WPA 
April 14 C Qualls 8-T 0 12_ 1-1 4-6-3 -.183
June 4 M Dunn 8-B 0 1__ 2-2 5-4-3 -.142
May 19 H Bailey 6-B 0 1__ 0-2 5-4-3 -.115
April 18 A Wainwright 4-B 1 12_ 0-2 5-4-3 -.112
July 13 M Lindstrom 8-B 1 1__ 1-1 6-4-3 -.104
May 26 S Strasburg 6-T 1 1__ 0-0 4-6-3 -.076
April 5 W Davis 1-B 1 12_ 1-0 6-4-3 -.072
April 22 A Burnett 5-B 1 1__ 2-2 6-4-3 -.067
April 21 J Westbrook 4-B 0 1__ 2-1 6-4-3 -.067
June 9 K Lohse 3-T 0 1__ 4-0 6-4-3 -.061
May 1 B Shaw 7-T 0 12_ 5-0 4-6-3 -.053
May 3 R Nolasco 1-B 1 1__ 0-0 4-6-3 -.049
June 28 C Capuano 2-T 0 1__ 0-3 6-4-3 -.037
June 22 J Edgin 7-B 1 1__ 7-5 5-4-3 -.022
May 3 R Nolasco 5-B 1 1__ 4-1 5-4-3 -.019
May 6 C Gaudin 7-T 0 1__ 1-5 6-4-3 -.011
June 15 A Ottavino 7-T 1 1__ 10-2 6-4-3 -.006
April 17 L Ondrusek 9-T 1 1__ 11-2 5-4-3 .000

Both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs agree that 2013 has been the second-worst season of Young’s career. Any intangibles he does supposedly bring, according to the sportswriters happy to embellish his rather meager contributions, are worthless to a team that was realistically out of contention by the end of June and now sits 13 games under .500, 19.5 games out of first place. All of the clubhouse leadership, grit, and hustle couldn’t outweigh Young’s lack of production on the field and help the Phillies out of the gigantic hole they have dug for themselves.