On Delmon Young
Among Minnesota Twins fans, Delmon Youngâ€™s name has become shorthand for the frustration with Bill Smithâ€™s performance in two seasons as general manager. He and Brendan Harris were acquired in return for Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza. After a decent 2008 that was panned widely, he bottomed out early this season, with fans even calling for the team to trade him, but he is now beginning to show signs of his indisputable talent.
In 2008, Young hit .290/.336/.405 in 152 games. His rate stats were actually up from 2007, when he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting with Tampa. He was fairly consistent throughout the season, but his good numbers were overshadowed by a more troubling oneâ€”through the first 60 games of the season, Young hadnâ€™t hit a single home run. This, from a man who had hit 20 of them in 84 games as a 19-year-old at Double-A in 2005.
Actually, going into 2008, Young hadnâ€™t been hitting home runs for awhile. After posting a cumulative .527 slugging percentage between Double-A and Triple-A in 2005, his power numbers have dropped precipitously, in the minors and the majors:
Strikeouts have always been a problem. In 2007, his rookie season, Young whiffed 127 times and only walked 26. In the last decade, only 12 other players have had over 120 strikeouts and under 30 walks.
Last year, rumors from the Twins camp said that Young was an unwilling pupil. Perhaps as a result, and also because of the emergence of Denard Span and Jason Kubel, Young found himself the odd man out after a slow start to 2009. At the midway point of the season, heâ€™d made only 51 starts and was hitting .284/.304/.418, with 36 strikeouts, three walks, and two home runs.
It was at that point that the boos rained down the hardest. In the last two months, though, Young has put up some decent numbers at the plate, thereby earning himself more playing time. He was 10-35 in July and, so far, 22-81 in August, with five home runs.
Sensible voices have said it hundreds of times, but it bears repeating: Young is only 23 years oldâ€”younger than almost every player on the Twinsâ€™ Triple-A team in Rochester. Itâ€™s worth asking, then, if the last two months can be the beginning of a fresh start for Delmon Young.
First of all, since July 3, heâ€™s struck out 21 times in 113 at-bats, which is 18% of the time. That is in line with his career numbers, which are never very good, but are much lower than the first three months of the season, when he had a mark of 32%. Thatâ€™s a marked improvement over the course of the season. While itâ€™s not a marked improvement over his career numbers, it could at least be proof that heâ€™s listening to coaching.
Line drive percentage numbers arenâ€™t readily available as splits (or, at least, I donâ€™t know about them), but first-hand accounts point to harder hit balls, as do the results. On August 25, he had his first 4-hit game since last July.
Can he keep it up at the plate? One is often reminded that Young was named the minor league player of the year by Baseball America in 2005, and was the first overall pick in the draft two years before that. Thereâ€™s no question about his physical talent, but itâ€™s hard to divine a way forward by looking at the peripherals.
Young has never drawn walks, and he isnâ€™t doing so now. Even over the last two months, heâ€™s only walked four times in 118 PAs. Thereâ€™s still room, though, for him to develop into a solid hitter without walking much.
For that to happen, Young has to make a few basic changes to his approach at the plate. In 2009, a full 70% of the pitches heâ€™s seen have been strikes, compared to a league average of 62%. That is because heâ€™s swung at 59% of pitches, compared to a league average of 45%.
By swinging at fewer pitchesâ€”even ignoring, for the moment, whether or not the pitch is a strikeâ€”Young could force pitchers to throw him more pitches, increasing his chances to get a good ball to swing at.Â A good place to start: the first pitch, at which heâ€™s hacked a full 50% of the time, compared to a league average of 26%.
Of course, offense is not the whole picture, and thatâ€™s also part of the problem for Delmon Young. In 2008, he made 10 non-force outs on the basepaths, not counting times caught stealing. That is the second-worst number in all the American League, even though he was only 38th in times on base.
In the field, Young has become worse, if anything. With the Devil Rays in 2007, he posted a UZR of 2.8â€”a positive number. In 2008 for the Twins, mostly in left field, he was -16.4. So far this year, heâ€™s been worse than that. Inexplicably, even his arm has been markedly worse, as measured by Baseball Info Solutions.
How much of that can be attributed to a different stadium, different position, and less playing time? Not sure. It must, though, be at least a partial reflection of lowered confidence. For a young man whoâ€™s always been touted as a phenom, it must be deflating to get booed and benched as he has this season.
At At least offensively, though, the path is clear for Young. Take more pitches, especially the first offering. Heâ€™s been hitting for more power lately, and his track record certainly shows that heâ€™s capable of continuing to do so. On the basepaths and in the field, itâ€™s not as easy to explain the problems away. His range factor may be decreased as a result of playing next to Carlos Gomez and Denard Span, two fleet-footed center fielders.
Again, it must be repeatedÂâ€”Delmon Young is only turning 24 next month. Heâ€™s younger than David Price, Matt LaPorta, Jeff Samardzija, Adam Jones, Mat Gamel, Justin Masterton, and Jed Lowrie. With regular playing time, which heâ€™s been getting lately, and an open ear to Twins coaches, heâ€™s still much more likely than not to develop into an outstanding player.