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Michael Young, Picking Machine?

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One of the most common complaints against Michael Young since he moved to shortstop is that he's not a good defensive player. He has the arm, of course, but his range has been consistently knocked as sub-par since moving over to short after the ARod trade.

Young's defensive stats were improved last year, although there was some question about whether that was a real change, or just a fluke, so I figured I'd take a look at where he stands now.

BP's defensive stats put Young at 11 runs above average so far this year. To put this into context, he was at 24 runs above average by BP's metrics last year, after being 16 and 14 runs below average the previous two years.

BP's defensive stats have been criticized because they aren't play-by-play based, but are extricated from the whole, and I'm not all that confident in their reliability...so while that's a decent starting point, I'd rather look more deeply into some other play-by-play generated numbers.

The Hardball Times has a couple of stats that, factored together, give a good snapshot of range...Revised Zone Rating (or RZR) and Out of Zone (or OOZ). RZR evaluates how many balls within a fielder's zone the fielder gets to, and OOZ calculates how many balls outside of a fielder's zone the fielder gets to. Dave Studeman gives a good breakdown of RZR and OOZ in this piece, which also provides for a back-of-the-envelope approximation of THT's defensive +/- ratings.

Looking at RZR, Young grades out pretty well, coming in at 3rd in the A.L. and 9th in the majors in RZR.

If we look at RZR and OOZ together to get a +/- for Young, and compare him to the rest of the regular shortstops in the league, we get this:

Name Balls in Zone Plays Made on BIZ OOZ Plays +/-
Tulowitzki 258 224 53 13.44
Everett 153 133 34 9.36
Vizquel 236 212 26 8.32
Reyes 223 200 23 6.8
Greene 232 201 36 6.08
Furcal 225 192 38 4.56
Tejada 168 144 28 3.84
Wilson 259 215 52 3.44
Pena 233 193 44 1.36
Gonzalez 201 170 27 -0.72
Hardy 197 158 39 -2.96
Young 232 195 29 -3.04
Lugo 203 164 37 -3.44
Crosby 243 201 36 -3.6
Bartlett 220 176 43 -4
Drew 212 170 38 -5.12
Renteria 218 177 34 -5.6
Harris 180 142 30 -7.68
Guillen 224 181 29 -9.44
Cabrera 211 168 29 -10.48
Rollins 255 203 39 -10.8
Betancourt 231 185 27 -12.72
Peralta 243 186 41 -15.6
Uribe 232 182 28 -16
Jeter 256 200 25 -21.28
Ramirez 223 167 22 -25.36

So Young comes in 12th out of 26th in +/-, at around 3 runs below average so far. It is worth noting that this is a measurement of range, and thus doesn't factor in things like turning the double play or the arm on relay throws.

But still, by this measurement, Young is an acceptable defensive shortstop...a far cry from where he was a couple of years ago.

It is interesting to note that Young's increased range the past couple of years has been in conjunction with his power numbers dropping off...I'm wondering if Young made the decision to get small in order to be able to cover more ground in the field, sacrificing some power to help his defense.

If Young fields like this, and hits like he did last year, he's a quality shortstop. If he fields like this and hits like he has this year, of course, he's not...he's a below-average starting shortstop.

But it is a bit reassuring to see that he does seem to be making strides with his defense, which will hopefully allow him to stay at the position for the life of his contract...