Why not yet another missive on the travails of Michael Young? He’s everyone’s favorite punching bag this season. According to most sabermetrics, Young’s weak bat is exceeded only by the Royals’ Jeff Francoeur among everyday American League players. Even I have thoughtfully decided now wouldn’t be a bad time to give Mr. Ranger a few more days off than he’s been getting.
Well, we all know it’s not going to happen, no matter how much we may wish it. Ron Washington is sticking with Michael Young and it’s doubtful he gets any rest until the Rangers clinch their third consecutive American League West crown.
Inside every fan’s dark cloud comes a silver lining. IF (and it is a BIG if) the Texas Rangers succeed in making the Fall Classic for the third consecutive year, this could turn out to be a bright spot. Most folks look at the designated hitter in the American League as a huge advantage in the World Series. Not me. I don’t have the stats to back it up, but I think the National League has two built-in advantages going into the World Series every year. The first is their pitchers are used to hitting regularly. No such luck for AL pitchers, whose experience batting has always ended mid-season with the end of interleague play.
The other advantage is surprisingly at DH. The National League representative may not have anyone used to playing DH in a game, but they do have a lot of players used to coming off the bench at a moment’s notice to pinch-hit. American League baseball doesn’t employ pinch-hitters as often, so in the American League, the Designated Hitter position often goes to one player the majority of the time.
Here’s the conundrum: When a team employs a more or less full-time DH, it makes for a HUGE disadvantage in a National League park in a World Series, because the DH is usually a player who provides big offensive numbers. The only way to take advantage of those numbers is to play the DH in the field at the NL stadiums. You keep the offense but most of the time you pray they don’t hurt you defensively.
Look at the Rangers’ first two trips to the Series. In 2010, Texas used Vladimir Guerrero as their primary Designated Hitter. These are pretty simple figures, but when you add Guerrero’s runs scored plus his RBI and subtract his HR’s (which count as both a Run and an RBI), big bad Vlad was involved in 25.1% of the runs the Rangers scored. If you just take his RBI for the season, Vlad knocked in 14.6% of the Rangers runs in 201o. Guerrero’s offensive contributions pretty much demanded he play the field against the Giants in San Francisco. As we all know, Guerrero botched plays in each of the first two games in right field, helping contribute to the Giants taking a 2-0 Series lead en route to a World Championship.
Fast forward to 2011, Michael Young’s first season as the Rangers’ primary Designated Hitter. Young had an excellent 2011, batting over .300 and knocking in over 100 runs. In the Runs Scored + RBI-HR category, Young was involved with 22.6% of the Rangers scoring output. In RBI alone, he was responsible for knocking in 12.3% of the Rangers runs. As a defender, Young was the Rangers’ super utility infielder, but other than second base, he didn’t excel defensively anywhere and, in fact, had negative defensive stats. Still, Young’s offensive contributions demanded he be in the field when Texas played in St. Louis. There, Young was the Rangers’ first baseman. Texas nearly won the Series anyway, but Young had two errors, both in the critical Game 6.
Now we’re in 2012 and Young is having easily the worst year of his career. Instead of 22.6%, so far he’s factored into only 16.6% of the Rangers runs. And instead of 12.3%, he’s only knocked in 8% of the Texas runs on the season. The Rangers continue to win, though. They have the best record in the American League while playing Michael Young every day, mainly at DH. But if the Rangers make it to the Series again, think about this. Now Michael Young’s offense isn’t nearly as vital to the Rangers winning a game as it was just a year ago. Which means it isn’t as vital for Wash to put Young in defensively when the Rangers are playing in the National League Park. Texas, if Wash can resist the temptation, can go with their strongest defensive line-up at the NL park without sacrificing a lot of offense. That’s something that wasn’t true the first two times.