Don’t Give Up On…Delmon Young?

Few players in recent memory have disappointed more than Delmon Young. The first overall pick in the 2003 draft hammered minor league pitching to the tune of .318/.363/.518, displaying top-shelf power while taking on pitchers several years his senior. His plate approach was raw (6.3 BB%). But Young was ranked as a top three prospect by Baseball America each season from 2004 to 2007, and he elicited Albert Belle comparisons for his ability to drive the ball.

Young got a cup of coffee with Tampa Bay back in 2006, with a .316/.336/.476 line in 131 plate appearances. He swung at positively everything (50.3 O-Swing%, 0.8 BB%), and his BABIP was .370. But even so, it’s impressive for a 20-year-old to manage an above-average big league performance with the lumber (.343 wOBA, 110 wRC+). Unfortunately, the righty batter showed little improvement over the next three seasons:

2007: .288/.316/.408, .315 wOBA, 91 wRC+
2008: .290/.336/.405, .324 wOBA, 99 wRC+
2009: .284/.308/.425, .312 wOBA, 90 wRC+

That weak hitting, coupled with clunky defense, made Young worth a combined -1.7 Wins Above Replacement. In 2010, the 24-year-old Twin is batting .274/.314/.474, with a wOBA (.338) and wRC+ (109) better than the league average for the first time since he debuted with the Rays. Is he finally making some progress? To an extent, yes.

Young remains an ultra-aggressive batter, swinging at far more pitches thrown outside of the strike zone than the big league average. After hacking at 39.8% of off-the-plate pitches from 2007-2009 (25% average during those seasons), Delmon is going after 38.8% of out-of-zone offerings in 2010 (28% MLB average). His walk rate is up, though we’re speaking in relative terms — Young is drawing ball four 6.7% of the time, compared to 4.2% from ’07 to ’09.

So, his plate approach still leaves much to be desired. But Young has made strides in terms of making contact and hitting for power. His contact rate on in-zone pitches was 85.1% from 2007-2009 (88% MLB average) and his overall contact rate was 75.1% (81% MLB average). He’s connecting 89.6% of the time when pitchers give him something over the plate this year, and 83.1% overall. Young’s whiff rate is down to 12.6% in 2010, after peaking at 23.3% last season.

Once dubbed an “intimidating presence” at the plate by Baseball America, Young rarely went deep or split the gaps in years past. After posting a .159 ISO in his big league stint in ’06, he had a .119 ISO in 2007, and a .115 ISO in 2008. Young improved somewhat in 2009 (.142 ISO), and he has a solid .200 ISO this season. The big difference? He has stopped chopping the ball into the dirt so often:

2007: 46.3 GB%, 32.6 FB%, 7.6 HR/FB%
2008: 55.2 GB%, 27.8 FB%, 7.6 HR/FB%
2009: 49.7 GB%, 34.1 FB%, 11.4 HR/FB%
2010: 45.3 GB%, 38.4 FB%, 11.5 HR/FB%

Fewer grounders and more fly balls — that’s clearly a good trade-off when it comes to hitting for power. It’s pretty hard to get an extra-base hit on a Baltimore Chop. The AL slugging percentage on grounders has ranged from .238 to .262 over the past three seasons. The AL slugging percentage on fly balls has been between .566 and .603. Young’s career slugging percentage on grounders is .274, and his career SLG% on fly balls is .610.

Fly balls do fall for hits on balls put in play less often than ground balls, which partially contributes to Young’s .270 BABIP on the season. But even with a higher fly ball rate, his expected BABIP (xBABIP) is .315. Chances are, Young finishes the season hitting closer to .290 than .270.

Overall, there’s reason to be cautiously optimistic about Delmon Young. He’s still getting himself out too often. However, he is starting to tap into the power that he displayed as a prized prospect. Young has a long way to go to ever be an offensive star, but he’s at least keeping his head above water after a few seasons of sub-replacement-level play.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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Daniel
Guest
Daniel

I don’t understand the reticence on noting Delmon’s offensive production. His OPS is almost .800 despite a BABIP that you note is 30 points below what should be expected. Assuming all those hits would be singles, that would suggest his “real” level of production is closer to an .860 OPS. I was also wondering what his xBABIP was in previous years; it seems like that shift in groundballs to fly-balls should have only provided a 20 point shift to his xBABIP.Yet, his BABIP had been consistently in the .345 range – did he regularly hit above his xBABIP?

I’m also confused by these comments on his swinging tendencies as central to his offensive production. What made him an exciting prospect was not that he walked a lot, or only swung at good pitches, but that he hit for excellent power and rarely struck out. As you note, his power plummeted over the past three years. Equally problematically, he began to have trouble making contact.

Since the middle of last year, however, Delmon’s power has been very good. Considering he’s 24, and hasn’t yet returned to his power numbers in the minors, there is reason to believe that his power numbers will at the very least remain at this level, and possibly spike even further. Meanwhile, his strikeout numbers have tumbled from decent to outstanding. I understand that those totals might seem strange, but considering he had a similar profile for years in the minor leagues, it seems more likely that he “re-remembered” whatever skill he had, than that this is an unsustainable growth. The (slight) increase in walks should be considered an unadulterated bonus.

Visnovsky
Member
Visnovsky

Up until late last year, he had actually been regressing as a player. Besides slugging, his speed and potential to play CF or RF were other key factors in his prospect ranking. In three years in the minor leagues, he stole 75 bases at a 77% success rate. In 2009, he stole 2 while getting caught 5 times. In 2007, he started 28 games in CF for the Devil Rays. Last year, he was rated horribly by defensive metrics as a LF. Obviously, last year was not a great year for him personally (his mother died). However, there were concerns he would not even be a replacement level player this year.

Daniel
Guest
Daniel

Absolutely. But this year, he has been excellent.

this guy
Guest
this guy

……says the guy who is ignoring a myriad of factors that effect his biased definition of performance.