When listening to Terry Collins wax poetic about Eric Young, Jr., it almost seems as if he’s a freshman in high school offering soliloquies on his first crush. Whereas parents and friends often squash the fervor of young love, it’ll hopefully be general manager Sandy Alderson who regulates Collins’ infatuation with Young, Jr.
To put it plainly – Eric Young, Jr. is a fourth outfielder who turns 29 in May. He’s someone who has one plus tool (speed) and whose defensive value is minimal.
While talking about Young, Jr., though, Terry Collins sees a prototypical leadoff hitter who “rescued” the team in 2013. He speaks of someone who has speed, and who scores when he gets on base. He drones on about his strong defense even though the numbers state otherwise. He hopes that Young, Jr. will be able to post an on base percentage of .350 – something he’s done only once in his career, and thinks that OBP can be attained with more bunting.
There are lots of things wrong with the above paragraph, so let’s take them one at a time.
- The whole notion of “leadoff hitter” is flawed. The player who bats first in the lineup is guaranteed to lead off an inning a grand total of one time per game. Yes, he’s at the top of the lineup, and someone like Rickey Henderson can set the tone. However, Eric Young, Jr. (with a career OBP of .325 and no power) does not belong at the top of the lineup.
- Eric Young, Jr. is not a good defensive player. Fangraphs has him rated as a negative defensively, and it’s easy to see why. He gets poor jumps on fly balls, takes bad routes, and has a weak arm. His speed masks some of those deficiencies, but can’t hide the fact that he isn’t a good outfielder.
- Asking someone to bunt in an effort to increase their on base percentage 25 to 30 points is foolish: In some very rare cases, it makes sense to bunt. In most cases, bunting can be translated to “giving outs away.” If Eric Young, Jr. wants to reach base more, he should be focused on hitting the ball on the ground at a higher rate, not bunting.
Most importantly, Collins’ obsession with Eric Young, Jr. could lead to Juan Lagares being buried on the bench or in Triple-A. The decision, though, will ultimately be made by Sandy Alderson, whose sanity will hopefully prevail.
Defensively, Juan Lagares is one of the best center fielders in all of baseball. With his defensive value alone, Lagares will likely blow what Young, Jr. provides on both sides of the ball away. In 2013, Eric Young, Jr. had a triple slash of .249/.310/.336 compared to Juan Lagares’ triple slash of .242/.281/.352.
To put it simply – Eric Young, Jr’s negligibly better offensive production when compared with that of Lagares should not lead to him starting while a defensive difference maker like Lagares sits on the bench or rots in the minors.