Michael Young #10 of the Texas Rangers slides into third base against the Seattle Mariners at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
There's been some ... concern about the Texas Rangers. Weaknesses have been ... perceived. Deficiencies ... noted.
Especially in the Rangers' lineup, as a great number of Rangers are hitting worse than they hit last year.
And Josh Hamilton's been hitting, since May, like a shortstop.
It's all true. Something else that's true: the Texas Rangers lead the American League in scoring and they've got the second-best road OPS in the American League. As disappointing as some individual Rangers have been, they're thriving at the plate because even their disappointing hitters have been pretty good. Essentially, the Rangers rarely have any zeroes in their lineup.
Except for one: Michael Young.
A Short History Lesson:
2007: Michael Young signs new contract extension that begins in 2009 and will pay him $80 million through 2013. Statistically minded observers are agog.
2009: Young earns spot on All-Star team for sixth straight year.
2011: With Adrian Beltre signed to play third base, Young expresses great displeasure, threatens hunger strike, quotes his hero Derek Bell, etc. Eventually mollified by a surfeit of playing time, Young leads the American League with 213 hits and his hailed for his inspirational leadership.
2012: With July nearly in the books, Young is batting .270/.299/.346 on his (apparent) way to the worst season of his career.
If Ron Washington is worried, he's not showing it; Washington has written Young's name into the lineup for each of the last 28 games. Usually as the Rangers' designated hitter.
Which leads to a couple of questions:
1. Does Washington have any good alternative?
Not really. The Rangers' bench is weak, with the only depth in the outfield: Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, David Murphy, and Craig Gentry. You could certainly argue that all of those guys are better hitters than Young, regardless of who's pitching, so all four should be in the lineup almost every game.
2. Is Young likely to improve?
He almost has to, right? From 2009 through '11, Young batted .313/.361/.476; not brilliant, but good enough for a 118 OPS+. Young's walks are down this season, and he's hitting more ground balls and fewer fly balls than usual. But his line-drive rate is right in line with his career rate, and part of his problem is simple: The hits just haven't been falling.
The Rangers do have the luxury of a five-game lead in the American League West, which gives the manager some leeway to work through some things. But if Young doesn't get it together, Washington will need to make a tough decision at some point, whether in September or October. And the Texas Rangers might have to eat $16 million next year.