December 7, 2012

Assessing Michael Young's Value

Michael Young has been mentioned in trade rumors in connection with the Phillies lately. It looks like there's a deal in place, and because Young has a no-trade clause in his contract the Rangers and the Phillies are just waiting for his approval. Yesterday, Drake Campbell took a look at why Michael Young might not be as bad as he is perceived around baseball circles. I'm going to follow up on that today.

Drake's one sentiment particularly caught my eye regarding positional adjustments:
In 2012, Young played 111 of his 156 games as either a first baseman or a designated hitter.  These positions come with a hefty negative positional adjustment, as more is expected in terms of offensive output.
For those who might not know, positional adjustments are used in FanGraphs WAR calculations to compare players across positions. The adjustments basically boil down to how much more difficult it is to play X position as compared to Y position. For more information, you can read this article from Fangraphs. But obviously it takes a lot more defensive talent to play shortstop than designated hitter. In fact it takes no defensive talent to play designated hitter.

The issue with Michael Young is that his positional adjustment is largely terrible from 2012 because he played "easier" positions, like first base (-12.5 positional adjustment) and designated hitter (-17.5), which gave him a total -10.1 positional adjustment for 2012, and -17.8 for positional adjustment plus UZR. Now we assume Michael Young is better at third base than the average DH, but not necessarily good. Conveniently, another former third baseman moved back to the position last year, who could serve as a comp for Young.

Miguel Cabrera moved back to third last season after four seasons of being the Tigers' primary first baseman. He was the worst-fielding third baseman in baseball last year (ignore Jordan Pacheco, he only played 600 innings as a 3B), posting a UZR of -10.0. Now I know Young is several years older than Cabrera, but he also played the position more recently, and Cabrera is a big, big fella'. I think this is a fair assessment of Young's defensive value.

Add that to a positional adjustment for third base of +2.5 and you get a total of -7.5, which is terrible. However, it's almost a full win better than he was credited for last season. This still gives him a negative overall value, but we're also assuming he'll have a better season in 2013 than he did in 2012 at the plate as well.

To quickly sum up why this might be the case: Young's BABIP was 35 points below his career average, and he was an above average hitter as recently as 2011 (.369 wOBA, 126 wRC+). For another look into Young's chances of being a good hitter again, see Dave Cameron's post over at FanGraphs.  As he wrote:
Interestingly, of the 19 players I identified in that ESPN piece who had negative WAR seasons between 34 and 36 and then played another season, their average WAR in the follow-up year was +1 WAR, and a good chunk of the guys in the sample were above average players in their rebound season.
Add in +1.0 win for his positional adjustment, and you get a player who has a good chance to be an average third baseman. Of course, his skills could continue to erode, but at ~$6 dollars and with little prospect loss, that seems like a potential bargain in this barren third base market.

With such little committed, the Phillies could just dump him and insert in-house options at the hot corner (Kevin Fransden/Freddy Galvis), and they're back where they started. In my opinion, Young's a risk worth taking.

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