Saturday, December 8, 2012

Getting Younger, Well, Not Exactly

Michael Young
Today, the Philadelphia Phillies acquired Texas Rangers 3rd baseman Michael Young in exchange for right-handed pitcher Josh Lindblom and minor league reliever Lisalverto Bonilla. Supposedly, this deal was made 2-3 days ago, but the teams had to wait to make it official due to Young's no-trade clause. Today, Young waived the clause, after negotiating $1.2 million more on top of his contract, to compensate for the state tax difference between Texas and Pennsylvania. The Phillies have Young signed for 2013 but not beyond that. The Rangers seriously wanted Young gone, which is unsurprising given Young's recent complains concerning the loss of his starting job. The Rangers will pay $10 million of Young's $16 million salary for 2013 so he can play third base for the Phillies.

So, what are the Phillies getting in this deal? Is it the Michael Young who had 5 consecutive 200+ hit seasons, the comeback kid who compiled 213 hits as a 34 year old, or last season's -1.4 win player who seemed to have fall off the age curve cliff? Young has spent his entire career in Texas, and leaves the team as the franchise leader in hits, games played, and doubles. Fortunately for the Phillies, Citizens Bank Park and the Ballpark in Arlington are two of the most hitter friendly parks in Major League Baseball, thus Young shouldn't experience any drop off due to a park change. Young's career has been built on his ability to hit for average, but unfortunately, not much else. Young's .147 career ISO has more to do with his ability to hit doubles rather than any significant home run power, and he has a below average career BB% at 6.6% compared to the 2012 league average of 8.0%. On the other hand, Young consistently racks up the hits, and unless there is a significant drop off in swing speed or the ability to make contact with pitches in the zone, the hits should continue to come.

Young League Avg
Contact % 79.90% 85.90%
SwStr% 9.10% 7.10%
Z-Contact% 87.20% 89.80%
As you can see, even in his worst season in the big leagues, Young continued to make well above average contact, make better than average contact on pitches in the strike zone, and accumulate as many swinging strikes as the average player in 2012. So what went wrong? Young's 2012 season marked his lowest in terms of BB%, batting average on balls in play, and OPS+. Given Young's consistently below average BB% throughout his career, seeing him walk even less isn't something to worry about, but his .299 BABIP could be an issue. The low BABIP derived from his increased ground ball percentage coupled with an attrition in his fly ball percentage. If Young can get a bit more lift on the ball this year, Phillies fans shouldn't be surprised to see him return to some semblance of his 2011 self. It might be unreasonable to assume or even forecast Young's power to return, but getting the ball in the air more can lead to more extra-base hits.

Other than Young's on-field production, this move makes a lot of sense for the Phillies.  The Phillies have most of their payroll wrapped up in 4 players (Howard, Halladay, Lee, and Hamels), and while many thought Ruben Amaro would spend frivolously on free agents, instead he has adroitly acquired necessary parts via trades. In doing so, the Phillies retain the ability to make a move on the free agents who remain. This move opens up options for RAJ; allowing him to go after a corner outfielder like Cody Ross or Nick Swisher as well as top of the line bullpen help like Peter Moylan, Jon Rauch, or Mike Adams. In addition, it allows the Phillies to go after a high-risk high reward starting pitcher like Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jair Jurrjens, or John Lannan. Young isn't perfect, but he shouldn't be as bad as last season. Combining his skills at the plate with Kevin Frandsen's slightly above-averaged fielding will make for a viable option at third base, and a suitable replacement for the departing Placido Polanco, while waiting for prospect Cody Asche to mature.

The Rangers have a good young prospect in Mike Olt primed to take over the hot corner, which made Young expendable. Couple Young's age, diminishing production, and desire to start together and you get the perfect candidate for a trade. The Rangers picked up two relief pitchers from the Phillies. Josh Lindblom, who the Phillies received from Los Angeles in the trade that made Shane Victorino a Dodger, and all Lindblom did was finish dead last in wins amongst all Major League Relievers (-1.1). Lindblom's high BB/9 of 4.44, low GB% at 35.8%, and high HR/FB % of 15.7% show that he can't keep the ball in in the strike zone, but when he does, it has a tendency to fly out of the park. These stats show a pitcher who won't give up solo home runs, but instead will allow 2-run and 3-run home runs due to his propensity to allow base runners. While all of these are correctable, Lindblom now enters an even more home run friendly park, which doesn't bode well for the young righty.

Lisalverto Bonilla
The scouting report on Lisalverto Bonilla is that he has performed much better as a reliever than as a starter. Even since moving the bullpen Bonilla's FIP has fallen due to more strikeouts and fewer home runs. He still walks too many hitters, which means that if Rangers see an increase in home runs given up they will also see worse overall results from Bonilla. According to the scouting report at Phuture Phillies, Bonilla has a good fastball with great changeup, giving him a good pitch combination for a late inning reliever who can get out righties with regularity. At 22 years old, if Bonilla can put up similar numbers over twice the number of innings, he could become a full-time big leaguer by 2014.

Overall, from the Phillies side, this trade was slightly reassuring. Michael Young isn't the answer long-term, and he might not even be the full-time answer at third base this season, but given the abysmal market for third baseman this offseason, Amaro should feel proud of this move. He has many options as far as what to do next, but going after either Nick Swisher or Cody Ross seems logical. PECOTA expects Young to put up 1.2 wins next season, which would be worth about $9 million, 33% more than what the Phillies will pay Young in 2013. The Bill James projections also see a return to semi-normalcy for Young, predicting a .330 wOBA, 176 hits, and a .343 on base percentage.
My Grade: A- (Phillies now have an option at third, and didn't increase payroll, while the Rangers get a possible future set-up man and clear room for Mike Olt at 3rd)

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