Defending Michael Young’s Defense

Adrian Beltre.jpg

Michael Young.jpg










                Adrian Beltre                                        Michael Young

Everything I’ve read about the Rangers’ signing of Adrian Beltre indicates he will be an outstanding defensive upgrade at third base over Michael Young, who’s manned the hot corner for the past two seasons.

Young will be transitioning in 2011 to the DH/Super Utility role on the Rangers to make way for Beltre. He’ll see most of his play at DH and presumably will spell virtually every member of the infield when they need a rest. What this does for Andres Blanco’s role on the 2011 Rangers remains to be seen.

I read the main Rangers fan sites on an almost daily basis and, again, all point to the defensive improvement Beltre will bring to the Rangers.

Having watched almost all of the Rangers games in 2010 (mostly on TV), I understand what people feel about the subject. I, too, saw many times where Young didn’t reach a ball that it looked like he should have had. In addition, the number of errors Young had in his second year at third base was higher than his first year (19 vs. 9), so it was easy to see Young had “regressed”.

Still, it’s important to note how thin the line is between a “bad” fielder, as many view Young, and a “great” fielder, as many view Beltre. Beltre is not only considered the superior fielder to Young in a career sense, but if you ask who the better fielder was in 2010, I’d guess the percentage voting for Beltre would be in the 90%+ range.

After reading some breakdowns comparing the two (Beltre was ranked the 4th best 3rd baseman in the sabermetrics UZR ratings, Young the 5th worst), there were things that struck me.

Both played about an equal number of games at 3rd base. Young played 28 more innings there than Beltre, the equivalent of about three games more. Both Beltre and Young committed 19 errors in 2010. Beltre participated in 4 more double plays than Young. Beltre also had more put-outs and assists than Young (some of this I would attribute to Elvis Andrus’ superior range).

But here’s the thing that stood out for me. According to stats reported on Bill James online, Beltre was 16 plays better than Young on balls hit to his left, one play better on balls hit straight on and six plays better on balls hit to the right in 2010. I’ll let this sink in. We’re talking a total of 23 plays over the course of an entire season. Divide that up over a 162 game season and this “huge” difference is the result of Beltre converting one more play every 7 games. That’s roughly one play a week.

One play a week is the defensive difference between bad and great. One play a week is the difference between thinking our guy is the greatest defensive player on the face of the earth or the biggest bum around!

It’s the same with hitting. Based on 600 at bats in a season, the difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter is a grand total of 30 hits. Over a 162 game season, that means a .300 hitter gets one more hit roughly every 5 1/2 games. The difference between .283 and .300 is a mere 10 hits- one more hit every 16 games. One more hit about every 2 1/2 weeks.

We notice the difference with batters more easily because a batting average is just that- an average. Hitting is more an exercise in hot and cold streaks. Better hitters have longer hot streaks an shorter cold snaps, so it’s easier to pick up on good hitters than good fielders. 

The point? Maybe we should cut Michael Young a little bit of slack. Beltre’s been playing third base in the majors for 13 years to Young’s two and Beltre was only one play a week better than Young.

Oh, yeah, and the Rangers still made it to the World Series despite that “bum” at 3rd base. 


One comment

  1. russelw

    I remember back in the early to mid 80’s the Cubs had Ron Cey at 3B. One season (1986?) Cey had very few errors and a high fielding %, people were suggesting that he should win the Gold Glove. But the guy couldn’t move. Anything more than a step to the left or right got past him for a single. And forget about making a barehanded bunt pickup and throw.

    While 23 plays might not seem like much. I’d take it. It might allow the SS to play one step over and make more plays, it might take away the bunt for a single option from some hitters. I would never sacrifice offense for defense, but all other things being equal, take a better glove when you can.