COMMENTARY| A player's WAR (Wins Above Replacement) has become his measuring stick. The stats you see on the back of a bubble gum card or in the newspaper under League Leaders tumble down a steep slope toward insignificance when assessing the value of a player. The Bill James-ian contingent of number crunchers has all but rendered the numbers we grew up understanding and utilizing to judge our players obsolete.
Philadelphia Phillies' newly-acquired third baseman Michael Young was a 2012 victim of the sabermetric era. When you look at his old school numbers his season seems pedestrian. He hit .277 with a .312 on-base percentage, drove in 67 and went deep 8 times. That collective is in itself terribly deficient of Young's typical production. There's nothing impressive about any of it, but it doesn't leave you trembling in horror. Young's WAR, however, was a -2.4, meaning that he was worth two and a half less wins for his team than the average replacement would have been. It means he shouldn't have been playing. It means his season was, indeed, horrifying.
I contend that Young's 2012 numbers with the Texas Rangers, while unimpressive, may have been a bit of an apparition.
Before diving into Young's 2012, it's important to grasp the impressive career that he put together, somewhat quietly, with Texas since 2001. Young has a career .301 average and .347 OBP. He's hit 20 or more homers four times as predominantly a middle infielder and knocked in more than 90 runs six times. He's had more than 200 hits in a season six times.
Young's career WAR is 22.1, but career WAR is accumulated. He's never been a high-WAR player because his defensive numbers have always hurt him. For example, Jimmy Rollins, whose production numbers are better than Young's over time but whose average and on-base percentages are inferior, has a 40.3 career WAR in the same time span due to his excellence in the field.
Excluding the 2000 season, when Young had just two plate appearances, his season average WAR is 1.85. A general guideline when measuring WAR for a season is 8+ MVP, 5+ All-Star, 2+ Starter, 0-2 Bench Player, less than 0 Replacement Player. According to those rubrics, Young, who is a 7-time All-Star, has been nothing but a bench player throughout his career. Take that for what it's worth.
Before we can broach the subject of whether or not Young can rebound from a sub-standard 2012, we need to ask why he experienced such a drastic drop in production from 2011 to 2012. At 34 in 2011, Young celebrated one of his most accomplished seasons. He produced a hitting line of .338/.380/.474 and drove in 106 runs.
In 2012, there was a general feeling that Rangers brass had rendered Young unnecessary. With Adrian Beltre at third, Ian Kinsler at second, Elvis Andrus at shortstop, Mike Napoli and Mitch Moreland at first, and up-and-comers Jurickson Profar (SS) and Mike Olt (3B) set to crack the lineup, the Rangers weren't sure what to do with Young. He played all over the infield and DH last season. That does not completely explain his decline but it could have played a factor. There's something to be said for feeling comfortable and knowing your value in a lineup.
Young was reticent to pack his bags for Philadelphia, leaving behind, for a time, the life he had built in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but he eventually agreed because he's a gamer. Gamers don't go down without a fight. Young feels he still has more game at 36 than he showed in 2012. Citing a quirk in his swing that he believes he remedied in September, Young feels he'll be able to get back to numbers closer to 2011 with Philly.
In September, Young hit .313 with an .838 OPS, which the optimist would say could mean two things: First, that he indeed made an adjustment, and second, that even at age 35, he got better at the end of a long season.
With the Phillies, Young joins a veteran lineup where he will likely hit in the 2-hole with protection from Chase Utley and Ryan Howard behind him. He will play third base exclusively because even with an aged and injury-prone infield, the Phillies have some depth should anything go awry long term. If Howard goes down, Darin Ruf could step in and play first. If Utley or Rollins spend time on the DL, Freddy Galvis will be available to spot them. As it is, Young will be able to get days off throughout the season with the emergence of Kevin Frandsen as a viable resource.
Young should mesh with this lineup seamlessly. There's no guarantee he'll return to the gaudy numbers he put on the board in 2005 and 2006, and there is a guarantee his WAR will not impress anyone due to his defensive deficiencies.
None of that means he can't be redeemed on a team that desperately needs him and desperately wants him here. And he has no need to look over his shoulder.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer who has covered the Phillies for more than three years and followed the team since Dickie Noles dropped George Brett in the World Series. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.
- Sports & Recreation