In defense of Michael Young's defense

I've been meaning to post something about Michael Young's defense lately, and this comment from U.S.S. Mariner this morning:

{Michael Young's} defense has already degraded to the point that he shouldn't be playing shortstop

has motivated me to go ahead and get something up.

Dave Cameron over there echoes what a lot of people in the stathead community have said for a while, which is that Michael Young is a lousy defensive shortstop.  

A couple of things here...

First, I think that it is worth clarifying that, even if Michael Young is a liability defensively at shortstop, it doesn't necessarily stand to reason that he shouldn't be playing the position.  If it makes more sense to have him at, say, third base than second base, he's going to have to be enough less of a liability defensively at third base to outweigh the fact that his offense is going to be less of a positive while playing third base.  This also, of course, doesn't take into account roster construction issues, since at this point, Young shouldn't be moved off of shortstop because there's not really anywhere you can move him that would make the team better, when you consider the alternatives available to the team at shortstop.

But second, I think there's no question (in my mind, anyway) that Michael Young's first two seasons at shortstop, he was a bad defensive player.  I'm not taking issue with that point.

My issue, rather, is that Michael Young was not a bad defensive shortstop in 2006.  

Let's look at a couple of different defensive metrics...BP's Fielding Runs Above Average and Fielding Win Shares.

FRAA had Young at 26 runs above average last year, defensively.  

The Hardball Times' Win Share calculations put Young at 7.7 Win Shares (fielding), which is third in baseball among shortstops, behind only Adam Everett and Jhonny Peralta.  Now, the fact that Young logs a ton of innings at shortstop is going to boost that raw Win Share total...but nevertheless, given that 6th place overall is almost 20% behind Young (6.2 Win Shares for Juan Uribe), playing time alone doesn't account for all the edge.

Now, those two numbers reflect a well above-average performance, and even Young's biggest fans generally aren't usually that bullish on his performance.

Plus, I'm sure a bunch of the more progressive statminded folks are saying, "You idiot, Win Shares and FRAA are so 2003...any defensive stats that aren't based off of individual play-by-play data are inherently unreliable."

So...let's look at some of the play-by-play stats.

Among the 9 qualifying American League shortstops, Michael Young was second, at .836, well behind Juan Uribe at .868, and a little ahead of Carlos Guillen (.832) and Miguel Tejada (.824).  

If we go to all of MLB, Young is 10th in ZR out of 24 qualifiers, although he's virtually tied with 8th place Ronny Cedeno and Jack Wilson, who is 9th.

Or, if you expand it out as Chris Dial did for players with at least 650 innings, Young slots in at 5th in the A.L. (out of 14 players), with Dial calculating that he is at 4 runs saved per 150 games.  

So ZR suggests that Young is a pretty decent defensive shortstop.

We can also look at the Probabilistic Model of Range.  This compares the number of outs an infielder would be expected to have made, versus the actual amount.  Young is middle of the pack in 2006, recording 99.55 actual outs for every 100 predicted outs.  

So PMR suggests Young, last year, was about average defensively.

I may be missing a defensive metric that I should be including, but overall, it seems that the stats from 2006 suggest that Michael Young was at least an okay defensive player.

Now, will he repeat that this year?  I don't know.  We'll have to see.

It doesn't mean that Young's 2006 season wasn't an outlier, that it wasn't the fielding equivalent of GMJ's 2006 with the bat.  It may be that, with 2006 being his third season back at shortstop after having played second base for several years, Young is more comfortable there.  It may be that he has a better feel for positioning himself.  

Or it may just be that, like GMJ's batting average spiking 50 points for no apparent reason, things just went Young's way with the glove in 2006, and he's no more likely to repeat his 2006 season than GMJ is.

But I do think that the improvement Young showed last year was significant enough, and reflected across a wide enough selection of stats, to suggest that he was a good defensive shortstop in 2006.

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