Monday, February 10, 2014

Michael Young and the Hall of Fame

Earlier this week former Texas Rangers infielder Michael Young announced his retirement. Young played 14 years in the MLB, 13 with the Rangers and one with the Phillies, before being traded and playing 21 games with the Dodgers. Young retired despite a few options on the table, including (allegedly) a chance to earn a starting role at first base with the Brewers. He is 37 years old and has said he wants to spend more time with his family. Young may have had some production left in the tank, but either way had quite an illustrious career. The question now, is was his career worthy of the Baseball Hall of Fame? Mike Schmidt, the best third baseman to play the game, has stated that "Michael Young is probably 2 Michael Young years away from being a first ballot Hall of Famer". This statement was made a few months before his retirement, meaning that we will not get to see those two "Michael Young" years. As it stands, however, Young retired with .300/.346/.441 slash lines, 2375 hits, 185 Home runs, seven AS game appearances (and one AS game MVP) and one batting title. Let's take a look at the pros and cons:



For Michael Young and the Hall of Fame:

Michael Young was a hitting machine. He won the 2005 batting title with a .331 batting average, also leading the league that year with 221 hits. He led the league once more in hits in 2011, garnering 213 that season.

Michael Young was versatile. He played 793 games at shortstop, 465 games at third and 448 games at second. Only one other player has played more than 400 games at each of those positions, and that player (Buck Herzog) was nowhere near the caliber hitter that Young was.

Young's career was defined by consistency. He hit over .300 seven times in his career, and notched over 200 hits six times as well. He hit over 40 doubles three times, over 30 doubles 9 times and over 20 doubles 12 times, only missing out by two his rookie year, where he hit 18. He had double digit home runs 9 times, and over 20 home runs 4 times. He also had six seasons of over 90 RBI's. For an infielder Young had quite a bit of power, amassing 185 home runs (same number as Alan Trammell) and 1030 RBI's. (Ahead of Rod Carew, Wade Boggs, Ralph Kiner and again Alan Trammell).

According to www.baseball-reference.com, Michael Young has a HOF monitor score of 112. A "likely" HOFer scores a 100, making Young slightly above the likely HOF threshold.


Against Michael Young and the Hall of Fame:

 Hall of Famers typically fall into two distinct categories, longevity guys and dominant guys. Longevity guys are guys who played a very long time and stayed consistent for long enough that they reached milestone numbers that earned them enshrinement. Examples would be guys like Al Kaline, Paul Molitor, Don Sutton, etc.. Craig Biggio will fall into this category when he gets elected. The other category is guys who maybe did not play as long, but instead were dominant for a short period of time, guys who led the league in many different categories during their run of dominance. Ralph Kiner, Roberto Clemente, Kirby Puckett and Hal Newhouser fit more into this category. (Obviously the third category is people who were consistently dominant for a long period of time, but those guys (Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial) belong in a class all by themselves).

Young does not really fit into either category. Young was consistent for his career certainly, but he was not dominant. He led the league in hits twice and won a batting title, but otherwise he was never a league leader in any category. He was a seven time all-star but never finished top 5 in MVP voting and only finished in the top ten twice.

Likewise, while he was consistent, his 14 year career was not long enough for him to earn any of the milestone numbers necessary for HOF enshrinement. 2375 career hits is a great number, but to be HOF worthy as a mostly singles hitter, a player should be quite a bit closer to the magic number of 3000. Young's 185 home runs is good, and is enhanced by the fact that he was an infielder, but is still well short of what he would have needed to get attention as a power hitter. 2-3 more good seasons from Young would put him closer to 2900 hits and maybe 220 home runs, numbers that would certainly merit heavy, heavy consideration. As it stands his offensive numbers are not quite heady enough to be worth HOF consideration.

Defensively, while he was versatile, Young was a pretty bad fielder. Defensive metrics have him as a -11.5 WAR defensively for his career, which pushes his overall WAR down to a 24.1, nowhere near what most HOFers have.

Michael Young's closest statistical comparison (according to baseball-reference) is Ray Durham, a fine second baseman who got exactly zero votes for the HOF last ballot. Now, I am pretty sure anyone who knows these two players knows that Young is certainly the better of the two, but it is still telling that statistically they are somewhat similar.

I do not always consider this a huge factor in my HOF considerations, but Young was a bad postseason hitter. In 157 plate appearances, Young slashed .238/.261/.364 with only 3 home runs and 19 RBI's. He hit .255, 45 points off his career batting average, in his teams two World Series appearances. Again, usually I only use play-off numbers if they are either really good or really bad, and in this case Young never did much to help his team out come play-off time.

Verdict:

Young was a terrific player and one of the better pure hitters of the 2000's. The Texas Rangers will always remember him as one of the best hitters to come through their franchise, and as an integral part of two teams that made it to the World Series. However, his career numbers, lack of dominance, and poor fielding leave Young short of what it takes to be a baseball HOFer.

Prediction:

I think Young will get votes. I think he will be on the ballot for a few years, earning somewhere around 10-12 percent of the vote (this is a wild guess) before eventually falling off the ballot. And I think if that is the case the Hall will have got it right. Congratulations on a great career Michael Young, and I wish you all the best with your wife and kids, and potentially a second career in baseball in the future (He seems like he'd make a good coach?)