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T.R. Sullivan mailbag

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T.R. Sullivan has a new mailbag column up, and there was one question and answer that jumped out at me:

I like Michael Young, I really do. He's a consummate pro in every way possible ... but the guy is a defensive liability at shortstop. And, his power is virtually non-existent. At what point do the Rangers look at a position change for him? Where would they even consider moving him, back to 2B? Or maybe the outfield?
-- Paul C., Trenton, Texas

There are 24 shortstops in the Major Leagues who have played in at least 103 games. Young ranks 10th among them in both fielding percentage and range factor, which is putouts and assists per nine innings. He is not Omar Vizquel, but if the Cardinals can win with David Eckstein at short, then the Rangers can win with Young. They have far too many other needs to mess with that right now.

You notice, Sullivan sort of ducks the question...he doesn't come out and say that Young is a good, bad or indifferent shortstop. Instead, he trots out his fielding percentage and range factor as being middle of the pack, and leaves it at that.

However...the problem with range factor is that, like RBIs, it is heavily influenced by opportunity. Teams with pitching staffs that strike out a lot of batters are going to have fewer balls in play, and thus the fielders are going to have lower range factors than they would behind a staff that doesn't strike out a lot of batters.

The Rangers' pitching staff is 25th in the majors in strikeouts, with 920. The average major league staff has struck out 987 batters.

Groundball staffs are going to get more ground balls, and thus give infielders more opportunities to make plays than a flyball staff would. I think the Rangers are fairly heavily a groundball staff, although I can't find the numbers for the team as a whole.

So Young should have a relatively high range factor, even if he's not very good defensively.

That said, as I mentioned above, Sullivan doesn't come out and say that Young is a good defensive shortstop, and at the end, seems to acknowledge that Young's defense is a problem, but sort of punts the issue.

The Rangers have sort of backed themselves into a corner with Young...he doesn't want to move, and the Rangers are committed to him for the next 6 years at a pretty huge number. And his offense would be below average at any position that he'd be able to play other than shortstop.

But the Rangers also have been trying to build a groundball staff, because of the homer-friendly home park they play in. Putting a sub-par defensive shortstop behind a groundball staff ends up defeating the purpose.

I still tend to believe that Young will end up moving to third base, maybe after 2009 (when Hank Blalock becomes a free agent).

Sullivan also suggests that 5 years, $75 million for Torii Hunter wouldn't be unreasonable for the Rangers, since the Rangers gave Young an $85 million, 5 year deal. Still, to me, that seems like saying, "You bought a Honda Accord for $75,000, so this BMW 325i for $70,000 is a bargain in comparison!"