retires with a .300 career batting average and 2,375 career hits. (Greg Nelson/SI)
Michael Young played in the wrong era. He was a hit machine with a high average. He was universally praised as a team leader and good clubhouse presence. He was passable in rudimentary defensive statistics such as fielding percentage and assists.
After playing 13 big league seasons with the Rangers and one final encore split between the Phillies and Dodgers, Young will retire rather than accept an offer to keep playing. The Rangers announced the news Thursday evening.
Young’s legacy is complicated by its timing. Had he played two or three decades ago, his career would have been hailed as great and almost Hall of Fame caliber. After all, he retires with a .300 batting average, 2,375 hits, seven All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove and at least 100 games’ experience playing each of the four infield positions, and as having served as de facto team captain in Texas. He helped the franchise to its first two World Series appearances, in 2010 and '11.
Instead, Young became a lightning rod for sabermetric derision for all the things he wasn’t. (He didn’t help his cause when he told USA Today last spring, “In my opinion, I think stats are always overblown.”) He began his career in 2000, the height of the Steroid Era in which power numbers were inflated, rendering his high-average, moderate-power (an average of 14 homers per full big league season) offensive skills as seemingly inferior by comparison, especially since he played home games in hitter-friendly Texas. Similarly, Young averaged just 44 walks per season at a time when patience at the plate and on-base percentage were attributes growing in popularity.
He also played at a time when many statistical analysts were devaluing the unquantifiable impact of leadership and when defensive performance was becoming more quantifiable. Although the merit of those fielding metrics remains debatable, it was universal that Young fared poorly when evaluated by the Fielding Bible or with Ultimate Zone Rating. For instance, he won the 2008 AL Gold Glove at shortstop -- his 11 errors were the fewest among league shortstops who logged at least 100 games -- while costing his team four runs, according to the Fielding Bible, which ranked 26th in the majors that year. Other seasons had much higher totals of runs cost. In his defense, however, he was regularly moving around to accommodate others.
Young’s final season followed a contentious winter in which Texas -- the franchise for whom he is the all-time leader in games, hits, doubles, triples and runs -- traded him to the Phillies. Young was more than just a very good Ranger, though, with his accolades extending beyond the franchise leaderboard to the league leaderboard. His six 200-hit seasons are tied for second-most in the majors since 2000, trailing only Ichiro Suzuki and matching Derek Jeter. Young’s big league-leading 213 hits in 2011 were one of only seven 200-hit seasons in the majors over the last three seasons. His durability was commendable, too, with 11 seasons of 145 or more games since 2002, a total also exceeded only by Suzuki.
A proper summary of Young’s career is to call him a throwback, one whose success would have been more appreciated in a bygone era. He had his flaws as a player, mostly defensively, and may have had only one above-average tool -- hitting for average -- but he did it very well and for a long while. That, and his good character, made him a player of real value, no matter what his WAR says.