Was Michael Young the Most Underrated Player of His Era?

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Was Michael Young the Most Underrated Player of His Era?
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

After 14 big league seasons Michael Young has officially called it a career as the infielder announced his retirement Thursday afternoon.

The 37-year-old was not the player he was during his prime last season, but he was still a versatile infielder with a decent bat. He reportedly had "three good offers" on the table that he turned down in favor of spending more time with his family.

Young will be remembered for his time with the Texas Rangers, but he was actually drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the fifth round of the 1997 MLB draft. The Rangers acquired him in a deadline deal three years later, shipping starter Esteban Loaiza, who was 5-6 with a 5.37 ERA at the time of the deal, to the Blue Jays in return.

That wound up being an absolute steal for the Rangers, as Young tops the Rangers' record books in games (1,823), at-bats (7,399), hits (2,230), runs (1,085), total bases (3,286), doubles (415) and triples (55).

Brian Kersey/Associated Press

After spending the first two seasons of his career as a second baseman, he moved to shortstop after the Rangers acquired Alfonso Soriano. It was at that position that he established himself as one of the best pure hitters in the game, and one of the most productive shortstops of his era.

Those numbers are impressive, but somewhat dwarfed by his contemporaries.

Unfortunately, he played in an era where the shortstop position became one with a number of prodigious power hitters, led by the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada and Nomar Garciaparra.

At the same time, it's worth noting that Rodriguez and Tejada have both been solidly linked to PEDs, and Garciaparra is at least rumored to have used.

Despite that disadvantage, Young still stacks up favorably with the other shortstops of his era and actually holds his own against the best of all-time at the position.

The following is a look at Young's career numbers, as well as where he ranks among his contemporaries (2000-2013) and among all shortstops with at least 750 games played at the position:

Michael Young's Career Stats
BA OBP SLG OPS H 2B HR RBI R
Career Stats .300 .346 .441 .787 2,375 441 185 1,030 1,137
Contemporary SS Rank 3rd 6th 6th 6th 2nd 2nd 4th 2nd 3rd
All-Time SS Rank 12th 39th 17th 19th 15th 13th 16th 18th 30th

Baseball Reference

Many view OPS as the best gauge of a players all-around offensive contributions, as it incorporates both on-base skills and extra-base hitting ability.

Young's career mark of .787 is nearly identical to that of Cal Ripken (.788) and is better than the likes of Robin Young (.772) and Alan Trammell (.767).

Peter Southwick/Associated Press
Tigers SS Alan Trammell

In fact, Young actually bests Trammell nearly across the board, as he had more hits, doubles, RBI and a better career average while hitting an identical number of home runs.

Trammell has spent 13 seasons on the Hall of Fame ballot, receiving as much as 36.8 percent of the vote, and Young deserves similar support when he first hits the ballot five years from now.

At his best, Young was a lock for 200 hits—he has eclipsed that mark five straight seasons from 2003 through 2007 and a total of six times in his 12 full big league seasons. He led the league in that category twice, and also captured the AL batting title in 2005 when he hit .331.

He was a seven-time All-Star and twice finished in the top 10 in MVP voting, and he did it while remaining the consummate professional through numerous position changes.

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He spent the first two years of his career as a second baseman before being moved to shortstop. Then after winning the AL Gold Glove at shortstop in 2008 he was moved to third base to open things up for highly-regarded prospect Elvis Andrus.

Then when the team signed Adrian Beltre prior to the 2011 season, he was asked to step into a utility role. Despite shuffling between first base, second base, third base and DH, he still managed to put together one his best seasons that year, posting career bests with a .338 average and 106 RBI.

He may have never been viewed as a superstar, and he's likely not headed for Cooperstown, but Michael Young was better than many people give him credit for.

He may well have been the most underrated player of his era.

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