Michael Young has long been the poster boy of the analytic crowd when it comes to poking holes in empty superstars. His fielding--or lack thereof--has greatly reduced the value of his offensive benefits over the years to put him on that poster. But all fielding aside, the guy has always been a good offensive player for the Rangers. In his eleven seasons, Baseball-reference.com has him at 35 oWAR (wins above replacement from just an offensive standpoint). His average season equals 199 hits, 90 runs scored and driven in with a .791 OPS. That has to be adjusted for his home ballpark and it still gives him a 104 OPS+ for his career. And he had one of his best seasons offensively a year ago. But this year? Crater city.
Michael Young currently has the tenth lowest wOBA of all qualifying batters in baseball. Add that to the times he plays in the field and you come up with the second LEAST valuable player in Major League Baseball behind only Francoeur of the Royals. And for once, Fangraphs is more kind than B-R. Fangraphs gives Young a -1.5 fWAR whereas B-R gives him a -2.2. Ugh and ouch, that is a lousy season. So what happened?
For one, his power has disappeared. And he has been trending that way for the last couple of years. He hit only eleven homers last season despite the very good offensive season he had. And that came after two 20+ homer seasons the previous two years and an average of 16 dingers a season. This year, Young has hit four homers. Four. But at least Young hit 41 doubles last season and six triples. This season, with a little more than a month to go, he has hit 20 doubles and three triples. His slugging percentage is 124 points below last season and his OPS is down a whopping 200 points. His homer to fly ball rate is the lowest of his career at 3.9 percent.
Perhaps Michael Young just had a bad start and hasn't had a full chance to recover. Nope. His OPS in the first half was .656. His OPS in the second half is .650. His OPS for August is a bit better at .703. He is not taking advantage of his home park like he did in the past. For his career, Young has an .849 OPS at home. That is 114 points higher than his road OPS. But this year, he actually has a higher OPS on the road than at home and neither one of them are any good.
The two biggest things his stats show are first, he is hitting a lot more ground balls. And, secondly, his BABIP is way off on his career mark. The ground balls have to be hurting him. His ground ball percentage for his career is 46.3 percent. This season, that mark is 53.4 percent. His career ground ball to fly ball ratio is 1.57. This season, it is 2.25. He is still hitting line drives at a good clip at 23 percent. But the high ground ball rate and much lower BABIP is killing his production.
Another big thing to notice is that he is struggling against the fastball. Michael Young has always been a good fastball hitter. Just last year, his ability to hit a fastball was worth in the positive at 29.4 and he has been over ten on that pitch for five straight seasons. This year, his score on fastballs is -9.7. He is hitting off-speed stuff at a decent clip, but the fastball? No.
This leads to the question of whether at the age of 35 if Young's bat has slowed down the point where pitchers can overpower him. The only other possibilities are that his mechanics are off or he is fighting injuries we haven't heard about.
Whatever the case, Michael Young is having a very bad season and has another year left on his contract to the tune of $16 million. That cost is a sunk one for the Rangers this year. As such, what will they do with Young next season? Are his intangibles and leadership worth that kind of money if his days as an offensive producer are over? Those are tough questions the Rangers are going to have to figure out over then next five to six months.