Here's one thing we know about Michael Young: He's having arguably the worst season of his Major League career. Here's another thing we know about Michael Young: He's not coming out of manager Ron Washington's lineup. Young has started 126 of the Rangers' 134 games this season, and three of the eight absences were due to a brief paternity leave. The bulk of his starts (61) have come at designated hitter, with 34 starts at first base, 16 at third, 12 at second and three at short.
This is Young's batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage line this season: .267/.299/.350. He has a .648 OPS, the worst of his career. This, for the sake of comparison, is the average line for American League DHs this season: .261/.332/.440. So the average DH has a .772 OPS. Young, of course, has value beyond the DH role, as his glove plays at any infield position. And he's also the unquestioned veteran leader of a clubhouse praised for its chemistry. But at what point do the statistics outweigh the stability? At what point must leadership come with lumber? These are the kind of questions being posed to Washington these days, and he swats them down swiftly. Is there pressure to take Young out of the lineup? "No pressure at all," Washington said the other day. "Why? Who am I going to replace him with?" At this the skipper pulled out his lineup card and pointed to the list of bench players. Somebody offered the name of Mike Olt -- the highly touted first-base prospect who reached the big leagues a month ago after tearing it up at Double-A Frisco. The fans, Washington was reminded, tend to gravitate toward a young up-and-comer like Olt when a 35-year-old like Young (and here the last name appears ironic) is reduced to a singles-hitting shadow of his former self. "Fans want to gravitate toward a young up-and-comer," Washington said, "and the fans want to win, too." And Washington, whose Rangers are still in first place in the American League West (albeit with the A's making a late charge), believes that the Rangers are in their best position to win with Young's name on that lineup card. "Intangibles," Washington said. "He leads even when things are not right [for him personally]. That's what leaders do. If you didn't look at his numbers, you wouldn't know Michael Young is struggling. That's how he handles himself. He comes every day with the same tempo, same attitude, cheers on his teammates every night and busts his [tail] every night." Without question, Young's lack of extra-base pop is jarring. You can make the argument that he's ill situated for the sixth spot in the loaded Texas lineup. But managers know their personnel, and this seems to be a situation in which it might be best to defer to the man who has filled out the lineup cards for the last two AL champions. Because as much as those of us on the outside can look at the stats and scoff at the notion of "intangibles," there are a couple dozen men in that locker room who don't scoff at it at all. And as the season hits its most pivotal stretch -- and the Rangers look toward a potential AL three-peat, with the hope of a new result in the World Series -- there is certainly something to be said for the experience and unwavering intensity Young brings to the table. "The two attributes any hitter has to have are confidence and mental toughness, no matter what's going on mechanically or anything else," Young said. "If you have those two things, you're going to find a way to get out of anything." Young hasn't found his way out of this season-long skid, and he's the first to admit he's had to make more mechanical adjustments than usual. "My swing is usually pretty solid, fundamentally sound," he said. "Because of that, a lot of times, I just kind of dismiss mechanical stuff and move on to my mental adjustment to the next at-bat and the next pitch. In this situation there was some mechanical stuff I had to work on. I got into a couple of bad habits. I've learned some valuable lessons." Young notes that his bat speed is his biggest attribute, and the dip in power production might be an indication that his speed has slipped. He did, however, homer in Monday's 8-4 win over the Royals. Remember that Young is only a year removed from an .854 OPS and an eighth-place finish in the MVP voting. When he struggled at the outset of the 2011 postseason and Washington was clobbered with questions about dropping him out of the cleanup spot, Young responded by batting .302 with a .916 OPS from Game 4 of the AL Championship Series onward. In other words, while the sample size has piled up considerably this season, Young has earned himself a good deal of leeway. And although Olt, who is batting .143 with a .436 OPS in very limited opportunity to this point, is a tantalizing talent, he is still very much an unknown quantity at this level. So Young is staying in the lineup. But should he stay in the sixth spot? After all, the average AL sixth hitter is batting .253/.318/.422. Young's slugging percentage, in particular, pales in comparison. David Murphy (.515 SLG) and Mitch Moreland (.510 SLG) would both seem more attractive options from a run-production standpoint. As it stands, Young functions more as a table-setter for those two. "I'm a big believer that numbers don't tell the whole story in any season," Young said. "You can find ways to improve no matter what your stat line says. I want to finish this season a better player than I was last year." There are no easy ways to handle a respected veteran leader when his numbers decline. Mistreat him and you run the risk of poisoning your clubhouse. Stick with him too long, and you run the risk of poisoning your output. Washington is bullish in his belief in Young. The good news for Washington and for the Rangers is that Young has a history of proving he's worth believing in.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.