Now, that acquisition looks like a disaster. Forget what the Twins gave up. Young has sunk from future (and practically imminent) all-star to a fourth outfielder, and a bad fourth outfielder at that. He sports a high batting average but mediocre on-base skills and almost no power. He’s Jason Tyner – except without the defensive value.
What happened? The conceptual wisdom is that Young’s primary problem is that he will swing at almost anything. Well, maybe not everything. But if the ball is inside, low or (most especially) high, Young is likely swinging. Young is a swinger.
Inside-Edge.com (sorry, it’s a subscription site, but well worth the money) shows that if pitchers are silly enough to throw the ball in the strike zone, Young can hit it. InsideEdge paints virtually his entire strike zone as ‘hot', and most of it falls within his ‘power zone’. You find similar layouts for Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. You do NOT find similar layouts for players like Michael Cuddyer or Joe Crede. Their zone is a mixture of hot and cold. Again, Young profiles like a superstar.
But Young chases a lot of pitches. He swings at more than 50% of pitches that are either low or inside. And he swings at over 70% of pitches that are high. InsideEdge tracks how often he chases pitches early in the count, with two strikes, or pitches that aren’t even close, and in all cases he’s about 50-70% more likely to swing than your average major league player. He’s got a swinging problem.
Unfortunately, it’s not totally clear that is his problem this year. Again, according to InsideEdge’s tracking, Young has improved this year in most of their ‘chasing’ metrics, but he is striking out more than ever and walking less than ever. Note that he’s still not good, or even close to average, but their metrics indicate that where Young is struggling this year is more about producing solid contact. This current slump might just that: a slump.
Interestingly, it’s also not clear that Young does any better those months where he is pickier at the plate. You might expect that his batting average improves in those months where he takes more walks and strikes out less. But if you crunch the numbers, the opposite is true – the less he walks, and the more he strikes out, it is slightly more likely that his batting average improves.*
And finally, it’s worth noting that there is another Twin who, according to InsideEdge, is every bit the free swinger that Delmon Young is, and it's not who you think. It’s Justin Morneau, who is actually more likely to chase high or inside pitches than Young. The difference is that when Morneau hits those pitches, they stay hit. (I was personally so shocked by this that it made me wonder about the accuracy of their data. I’ve reviewed it multiple ways over a couple of years. It’s consistent.) If you’re looking for what a free swinger can do when they learn to hit the ball, Morneau is a heck of an example.
It is clear that Young is a free swinger, but it isn't as clear that is the main problem he faces offensively. What is clear is that several other significant factors have contributed to his fall from grace. We'll get into that in the next post.
*This result surprised me, as did a lot of what I found in researching this story. Here's the comparison of Young's BB/K ratio compared to the batting average and OPS every month since the beginning of 2007:
Month BB/SO AVG OPS
2007-4 15.0% 0.257 0.672
2007-5 40.9% 0.247 0.707
2007-6 10.5% 0.310 0.762
2007-7 30.0% 0.343 0.806
2007-8 16.7% 0.298 0.715
2007-9 9.1% 0.268 0.674
2008-4 31.6% 0.255 0.604
2008-5 68.8% 0.264 0.697
2008-6 18.8% 0.321 0.817
2008-7 11.1% 0.330 0.813
2008-8 47.1% 0.245 0.707
2008-9 26.3% 0.330 0.823
2009-4 13.3% 0.241 0.591
2009-5 13.6% 0.236 0.524
The correlation between BB/SO and AVG is -.22, which is obviously negative. The correlation between BB/SO and OPS is .040, which is close to random.