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What's wrong with Michael Young?

7/24/2012

Sometimes the end of the line comes a bit early for not only fantasy owners, but real teams. I was reminded of this when the Seattle Mariners sent Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Yankees on Monday night, getting shockingly little for a once-great player with a terrific career. Nobody has more base hits since the start of the 2002 season than Ichiro, but the only thing he's doing to help fantasy owners these days is stealing the occasional base. You know who is second in base hits over the past 10-plus seasons?

Texas Rangers infielder Michael Young is hitting a hollow .271 this season with three home runs, 39 RBIs and two stolen bases. Not that we expected a ton of power or any speed, but Young is a lot more fun to own when he's contending for a batting title. This season, Young is not contending for a batting title. It just seems to me Ichiro's downward spiral is a bit more well-known, while Young continues to languish as the two-time defending American League champions' No. 5 hitter.

Suzuki is owned in 98.8 percent of ESPN standard leagues, but at least he's among the top 50 outfielders on the ESPN Player Rater (though barely) thanks to the stolen bases. Young is owned in 94 percent of leagues. He's 28th among first basemen and third basemen on the Player Rater (the fact the depth at those positions matches up there is interesting, no?), checking in worse than these luminaries: Chris Johnson, Todd Frazier, Kendrys Morales and Garrett Jones. He is just ahead of New York Mets outfielder Lucas Duda, who just got demoted to Triple-A.

In general, the reasons to like Young over the years have been for the consistency, durability and a strong batting average with run production from an infielder, with varying positions. Young is a career .302 hitter. I hadn't really thought about him this season, but like Ichiro and his terrific career numbers, that tells us nothing today. Young recently was given a vote of confidence by Rangers management, and I'm sure they'd never sit the guy, but look at the past three months.

Young hit .326 in April with two of the three home runs he has today, both of the stolen bases and 13 of the 39 RBIs. Since May 1, he's hitting .253 and providing no other helpful statistic to the Rangers or fantasy owners. I get the feeling that even if the Rangers had a better option they wouldn't use it, but fantasy owners should be moving on. I realize the guy nearly won the AL batting title last season and it's disappointing to part ways with an eighth-round pick in ESPN average live drafts, but do you want to win? Young isn't helping.

Yep, last year Young hit .338 with 213 hits and knocked in 106 runs. He's currently on pace for five home runs, 67 RBIs and three stolen bases. Awesome.

I don't own Young in any leagues, but I am relying on outfielder Josh Hamilton in a few, and his recent struggles have been well-documented. Hamilton is hitting .198 since June 1, and team president Nolan Ryan has apparently noticed, pointing out how many at-bats the slugger wastes. Hey, at least Hamilton is supplying power, and his owners feel like a monster game, week or month could be right around the corner. With Young, it's difficult to see a similar path. Watching him in Monday's win over the Boston Red Sox, in which he contributed a single in four at-bats, it dawned on me that Young seems to do this just about every game. He doesn't go hitless for a week but every night is another 1-for-4.

In truth, Young has played in 92 games this season and gone hitless in merely 27 of them. That's a strong rate, but like innings eaters among the pitchers, it's not really as good as it sounds. Since May 1, he has only three games since May 1 with three base hits. He also had three such games in April. Last season, Young had 25 games with three or more hits. Young still gets enough base hits to tie for 42nd in baseball, but look at who's tied with him. David Ortiz is hitting .316 with 23 home runs. Carlos Ruiz is a catcher hitting .346 with 14 home runs. Young is 17th in baseball in at-bats, but the other fellows with unexciting batting averages contribute in other statistical categories: Ichiro and Jose Reyes steal bases; J.J. Hardy and Hunter Pence have power. Young and the much-maligned Jeff Francoeur are the only two players in the top 40 in at-bats with a sub-1 Offensive Wins Above Replacement and in this case, more at-bats is a bad thing for your fantasy team.

Some things are tough to explain. Why was Young so good in 2011 but so average now? Why is he hitting a poor .246 with a .587 OPS against right-handed pitching, when last year he was at .330 and .838? Why is Young batting only .250 in home games? How come he can no longer hit a fastball? The batting average on balls in play has dropped some but basically this is, like Ichiro to some degree, a guy fantasy owners relied on for batting average and enjoyed his comfy spot in the batting order, but now things have changed because the bat speed is not the same. Sometimes there's just no warning.