Thearon W. Henderson
In decline and out of Arlington, Michael Young could be in for a rough 2013
The Phillies have a gaping hole at third base, and the free agent market was nearly empty at that position before players even began to sign with new teams. Now that Jeff Keppinger has signed for three years and Kevin Youkilis is deciding between the Yankees and Indians, Philadelphia is now in a spot where they are trading for the Rangers' Michael Young.
Young hasn't been a regular third baseman the last two years, as the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre before the 2011 season. Instead, he's bounced all around the diamond, filling in on days off (or when Beltre was injured) at the hot corner, but spending most of his time as a designated hitter and first baseman, with a little bit of second base thrown in as well. This isn't your standard utility-player fare, as Young has played 159 and 156 games the last two seasons.
Things went well enough in his first go-round as an everyday utility guy, with Young hitting .338/.380/.474. Look beyond the batting average, though, and there were some warning signs. His Isolated Power slipped to rates that befit a middle infielder more than a DH or first baseman, and his glove, never great, wasn't getting any better in his mid-30s. Still, you take this kind of campaign from Young while you still can, regardless of whether it was in part boosted by a lofty batting average on balls in play (.367, career .334) and hitter-friendly home park.
This past season didn't go nearly as well. His BABIP cratered to .299, his power slipped even further, with Young posting his first ever sub-.100 Isolated Power, and his defense was once again poor. He posted an odd reverse-split by performing better on the road than at home, but his road numbers weren't particularly thrilling, either, leaving him with an empty .277 batting average attached to a .312 on-base percentage and .370 slugging. Remember: Young was primarily a first baseman and designated hitter with those numbers, putting him in the same territory as Casey Kotchman and James Loney, but without the exceptional defense.
Given all that, it's not a surprise the Rangers would attempt to move him with someone interested, and that's where Philly comes in. To be fair, the Phillies don't want Young at first or DH -- they'll use him at third, where offensive requirements are lower. A slight bounce back campaign would make him a decent bat at the position, where your average National League third basemen put up a .270/.333/.433 line in 2012. Young might still have that in him -- if he can get his batting average on balls in play back even halfway to his career rates, he's already most of the way there without any other change.
He'll have problems getting there, though. While Young didn't hit well in Arlington in 2012, historically, he's benefited from the park immensely. Over the last three seasons, Young has hit .308/.353/.464 at home, and .290/.329/.396 on the road. For his career, his OPS is 112 points higher in Texas than it is outside of it. This isn't a surprise, as the Rangers play in a park that benefits right-handed hitters significantly. According to Stat Corner, over the last three seasons, Texas has boosted run production for right-handed hitters by 19 percent, thanks to increases in singles, doubles, triples, homers, and even a reduction in strikeouts.
Citizen's Bank Park is not so kind to the right-handed man. The stadium has a reputation as a hitter's park, but it's not entirely fair. The only thing it actually does -- and it is significant, but it's one thing -- is to boost home runs for left-handed hitters. Now, it does that thing a whole lot -- it's a better park for left-handed home run hitters than Arlington, even with the dry, extreme heat of the summer to help out in Texas. But that's it.
For right-handed hitters, it's actually a tough place to play. Singles, doubles, and triples get a slight reduction, and home runs see the largest decrease. Because the park takes away from the offense of right-handers, pitchers are able to challenge hitters a bit more, leading to worse-than-average strikeout rates for righties. All told, it adds up to Citizen's Bank reducing the offense of right-handed hitters by around seven percent compared to a neutral park.
That kind of dip would be noticeable, but not a killer, for a hitter coming from a neutral environment. However, Young was in a park that boosted offense for right-handers, on average, by roughly a quarter more than what Philly's stadium does. It's almost lucky that he didn't benefit from Arlington in 2012, as the drop won't seem as severe. But it significantly reduces his chances of ever having another pre-2012 season, as the expected baselines for a right-hander in Philly are significantly different than those of one in Texas. And that's without taking the natural decline that comes with age into consideration.
For the Phillies, it's maybe not as depressing as it sounds. Better options would cost more in resources, and they needed a third baseman they could rely on to take the field and produce at a respectable level. They might get lucky, and have Young produce enough with the bat to somewhat off-set what is sure to be poor defense. The real winner here, though, is the Rangers, who have now freed up a roster spot and multiple positions that they can now plug new or pre-existing players into, likely improving their team in the short- and long-run.