Monday, June 08, 2009

What the Hell Happened to Delmon Young? (Part 2 - The Big Problem?)

Yesterday we reviewed Delmon Young’s professional career, of which Twins fans are mostly ignorant or dismissive. In summary, he was off-the-charts promising, even compared to Twins prospects like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. If you asked baseball wonks to project those three players as 21-year-olds, there is no doubt which one they would’ve preferred. Hands down it would’ve been Young. When the Twins traded for him, he was an ideal acquisition.

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. (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:

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.


TwinsFanc1981 said...

Davey G said...

Mr. Geek, these posts have been worth the two-week wait. I don't want to get ahead of where you might be going (so feel free to answer later) but from what you're writing, I'm guessing it's not 100% that Delmon would pass through waivers to get to AAA.

What I'd like to know is if there's ever been a case where:
1. Team A works out a deal with worst-in-the-league Team B to have them put in a waiver claim on Team A's out-of-options player (eg. Delmon) to prevent other clubs from taking him.
2. Team B assigns the player to their minors.
3. Team B then trades the player back to Team A, and A can now keep the player in the minors. The trade involves a sweetener for Team B of course.

There's probably a flaw in my process here in #2 or 3. Or maybe it's against the spirit of waivers and it's forbidden.

Elisa said...

Thanks for the continuation!

Nathan said...

Young always seems a tad late... I really have to wonder if he needs to consider doing the Denard Span offseason lasick surgery. The man has the bat speed, so the only think I can guess is that he isn't picking up pitches as quickly as most major leaguers..

Sam said...

I keep coming back to Delmon's opposite field home run against Mariano Rivera on 8/12/08.

Yeah, maybe left it out a bit and/or maybe Delmon was a little late on it but regardless, I've seen dozens of right handed power hitters try and fail to do the exact same thing.

Cherry-picking his stats from 2008: He hit .304/.348/.456 from May 16th to September 23rd.

Jack Ungerleider said...

It's one thing to be a free swinger, it's another to be a bad ball hitter (see Puckett, Kirby and Berra, Yogi for more on that.)

With respect to the trade, I'm going to accept what I think is the obvious reasoning. The Twins needed a right handed bat and at the time an outfielder. They had a pitcher with a lot of potential that was having "issues" with the organization. But Garza alone doesn't get you Young one for one. So the make it a bigger deal and swap shortstops as well. In this case trying to get a little more power out of the infield.

In both cases (Garza and Young) you have young players that are having trouble in their current organization and the hope is a "change of scenery" will help solve those problems. In one case it did, in the other not so much. So now it looks like a bad deal.

(Oh and how many people here thought Bartlett would turn into a All-Star worthy shortstop at the time? Yeah, that's what I thought. ;-)

ubelmann said...

In summary, he was off-the-charts promising, even compared to Twins prospects like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. If you asked baseball wonks to project those three players as 21-year-olds, there is no doubt which one they would’ve preferred. Hands down it would’ve been Young. When the Twins traded for him, he was an ideal acquisition.

That's just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Even if you suppose that Delmon was the better hitter--despite his obvious lack of plate discipline--the difference in defensive value between a GG-caliber catcher and an average-at-best corner outfielder is gigantic. At most, it would have been a toss-up between Mauer and Delmon, and to say that Delmon would have been the "hands-down" favorite is spectacularly ridiculous. And if you'd like a present-day example, you don't have to look farther than comparing the hype for Travis Snider to the hype for Matt Wieters--and Wieters is even a couple of years older than Snider, but is still considered the far more promising prospect. (And using Delmon's RF metrics to defend is defensive abilities is focusing too much on a tiny set of data. Not to mention that if you're average in a corner spot at age 21, you're probably not getting any better--fielding abilities peak much earlier than hitting abilities.)

I know that no one suspected Delmon to be this bad, but I think that people projecting him to be a perennial All-Star as of the 2007-8 offseason were out of their minds. To be a perennial All-Star at a corner outfield spot, you have to be one of the top few hitters in the league--a nearly flawless hitter--and I don't think that Delmon displayed that kind of promise once we saw him against major league pitching. And it's not like this is total hindsight, because at the time of the trade, I wrote about how this was a really risky move, hoping that Delmon's bat would develop, because it seemed like he had no idea what he was doing at the plate, and there was a really long way to go between where he is now and what he might have become, and he had no defensive skills to fall back on.

John said...

Not to mention Young was universally known to be a head case. How can that not be a factor in a player's development? Even Young's biggest supporters recognized at the time of the trade that he had a ways to go developmentally. Yet, he refuses coaching and lacks the temperament necessary to make those adjustments.

My guess is that Young doesn't like baseball. It happens in sports, in this case perhaps due to the overbearing father factor. Maybe deep down he doesn't really want to succeed.

David Wintheiser said...


TG is exactly right -- you're using your knowledge of the past season-and-a-third to inform your analysis of Young at the time he was acquired.

Go back and look: Young's defensive numbers and rep in right field were nearly identical to Michael Cuddyer's, as TG notes.

Even more to the point, people seem to be holding Young to a different level of comparison than they're holding other players. Case in point: yes, Delmon Young doesn't compare to Justin Morneau in 2009. But Morneau didn't have his breakout season until he was 25 -- at 23, Morneau played a half-season and put up an OPS+ of 121; good, but not overwhelming.

Your own analysis at the time of the trade suggests that Young would be a reasonable comp to Carl Crawford over the next few years. If that analysis is accurate, I think the Twins would benefit. Why chuck that potential benefit by grousing over issues that probably aren't that significant, in the longer term?

TT said...

I think Young has the same problem many young hitters do, he struggles to hit breaking balls.

I also think it is pretty silly that people who are excited about players like Danny Valencia, who is a year older than Delmon Young and just reached AA ball, are giving up on Young.

Here is Cuddyer's line at age 24 .245 .325 .431.

Here is Young's line last year, at age 22:
.290 .336 .405

The only thing Young clearly lacks is some fan's patience.

BeefMaster said...

Go back and look: Young's defensive numbers and rep in right field were nearly identical to Michael Cuddyer's, as TG notes.

True, but Cuddyer isn't anything more than an average outfielder - he has a great arm but mediocre (and that may be charitable) range. If Delmon is as valuable as a right fielder at 21 as a converted infielder is at 29, that's not adding a ton of value.

tborg said...

David W,

come on. You provide no evidence to support your view that Ubelmann used Young's time with the Twins to support his view that Mauer was at least equally valuable at age 21. The point was that Mauer's defense at a prime position and his selectivity at the plate makes up any difference in raw offensive numbers at that age. How does comparison to Cuddyer's defense and a comparison to Carl Crawford address the value of Young and Mauer at age 21?

John said...

Here's the problem with advising "patience" with regard to Young: after this year he'll already have 3 years of service time. What good does it do the Twins if Young's productivity mostly comes after he's gone?

Young's ultimate future is really not the issue. If he can't help the Twins relatively soon, he has no value.

Jitter said...

@Jack Ungerleider

Acutally, Bartlett is the part of the Delmon trade that has always gnawed at me. I did see him growing into an All-Star caliber shortstop, and I'm not ashamed to admit my wife helped me see it.

TT said...

You aren't going to get full value from any top player if you don't sign them beyond the six years you get before they become free agents. The question with Young is whether he breaks out in the next couple years. If he does, then you either sign him to a long term contract or deal him to somebody who does.

Chiasmus said...

The home run that Morneau just hit against the A's was a perfect example of your point about him. Pitch was at his eyeballs and he hit it out of the park to center field.