Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What the Hell Happened to Delmon Young (Part 3 - Traps)

When Delmon Young came to the Twins, in many ways, it looked like a match made in heaven. He was right-handed, projected to have power, young and (maybe most importantly) cheap.

Instead he’s been a multi-car crash. On Tuesday we reviewed one of the more popular reasons why – his free-swinging ways. But there are other factors that have led to this trap that he and the Twins are in, some of which are his fault, some of which are the Twins, and one of which can be traced back to a truly awful decision by a man with whom neither party is currently associated.

Trap 1: The Twins moved Young to left field.

Never has it been so apparent to so many the difference between a right fielder and a left fielder as with Delmon Young. Right field would be perfect for Young, or as perfect as any position is going to be. In the Metrodome, right field is small and the attribute most necessary is a strong arm. Young played right field with Tampa Bay for a year and Baseball Prospectus’s fielding metrics listed him as average. With the Metrodome's dimensions, 'average' is a realistic prediction.

But in left field he’s been borderline brutal. Left field in the Metrodome is huge and requires a player with exceptional range. Young's loping run doesn't suffice. Furthermore, Young struggles reading the ball off the bat in left field. His routes are tentative and circuitous. Various defensive metrics indicate his defense gave up about 20 runs more there than the average left-fielder would last year.

It is so painful to watch that it actually makes fans angry. We can’t quite believe he’s that bad out there. But the evidence, both objective and subjective, is overwhelming. He is exactly that bad out there.

Would things be different if he were in right field? Probably. He’s got the range and arm that current incumbent Michael Cuddyer has. And last year’s numbers - .290, 10 HR, 14 SB - would be somewhat acceptable considering they were coming from a 22-year-old with some upside. But because he is such an enormous liability in left field, his defense erases any goodwill his offense (and age) might contribute.

And barring injuries, that’s not gonna change. Michael Cuddyer’s contract goes through this year and next, with a team option for 2011. Ditto Jason Kubel. Assuming they both stick around (and the Twins love to pick up short-term options) Young wouldn’t have a shot at right field until 2012, which is also the last year before he’s officially granted free agency.

If you’re looking for a reason to criticize the acquisition of Young, this is the safest place to start. Twins scouts, prior to pulling the trigger on this deal, needed to communicate just how dismal Young’s defensive range was. Of all the ways that the Twins and Young are trapped, this one is the most unforgivable.

Trap 2: Young’s Attitude/Coachability

I am purposely going to tread carefully here, because so little is concrete about Young’s supposed attitude and stubbornness. We know about the bat-throwing episode. We know about the screaming match at the end of 2007 with the Rays. We know that Ron Gardenhire recently said that Young isn't open to suggestions about his swing. And we know that in a Twins fan poll about Young’s demeanor on the field, it would be a two-horse race between “joyless” and “sullen”.

Last year the Twins, out of necessity mostly, tried the carrot, investing 623 plate appearances in Young. This year, there is decidedly more stick involved, with Young being the odd man out more often than any other outfielder. There isn’t much evidence that either has been effective.

But at some point, fear needs to start being a motivating factor, because if Delmon isn’t afraid, he should be. On this team he is a fourth outfielder who is losing at-bats. Barring an injury, that doesn't look likely to change. Perhaps it is in the back of his (or his father’s, or his agent’s) mind that he could be moved to a less competitive team that can afford to invest at-bats in a future payout.

But there is almost no incentive on the Twins side to make that happen. They'll get pennies on the dollar. And they hold his rights for another 3.5 years. They also control his playing time. And thus, they pretty much control how much he’s going to make in arbitration. Remember how we couldn’t get Luis Rivas to go away because he never good enough to be expensive, and always promising and young enough to gamble on?

That’s Young’s fairly dismal future right now. 3 ½ years of fans booing, teammates avoiding eye contact, and Young's financial advisor wondering where that eight-figure (or maybe nine) guaranteed contract went.

And the REALLY sad part for him is that he's likely past the point where he has any control over it. His playing time is no longer a result of how willing he is to adjust his batting stance. That train has left the station. Now his at-bats are dependent on how effective Carlos Gomez becomes at recognizing pitches, and how healthy everyone else stays. Of all the ways that the Twins and Young are trapped, this one is the most nauseating.

Trap 3: He isn’t one of us.
I went into this a little in yesterday’s sidebar. There have been protests, and it just makes me more belligerent and self-righteous on the subject, which isn't good. So I’ll expand just a little and then leave it alone.

There is no way the Twins ask their first overall pick to switch positions. There is no way Gardy lobbies to trade away his ROY candidate. And Twins fans, who waited for their golden boy for years, are probably far more patient of his struggles, and far more critical of the team for the lack of progress.

In short, there’s more of a spirit of shared responsibility in the mess. And there’s a lot more focus on the enormous long-term benefit of getting Young straightened out, and a lot less focus on whether investing time in him costs the Twins a game or two this year.

Unfortunately, at this point, I don’t think any of that is likely. Both sides are trapped on their side of the fence. This trap is just plain disheartening, because it was certainly the most avoidable.

Trap 4: That stupid major league contract.

Who in gawd’s name gives a 17-year-old kid a major league contract that dictates that he must complete with his minor league career by the time he’s 21 years old?. Hedley – I mean, Chuck - LaMar, the disastrous former GM of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, that’s who. And both the Twins and Young are paying for that.

Young, as we saw on Monday, never mastered Triple-A. He might very well be stalled because of the habits he developed in Double-A. And the best incentive to modify them – a possible promotion to the majors – wasn’t possible because he had to be in the majors by a certain time anyway.

It also blocks the Twins and Young from their best option at this point. If the Twins want to send Young to AAA, he needs to clear waivers, and that will never happen. (I’ll be completely honest here – I’m not sure if that can be any different if Young somehow agreed to allow it. I don’t think so, but feel free to correct me.)

Are there various machinations that could get him to Triple-A, like a DL stint for some unspecified emotional disorder? Probably, but we’re not talking about someone needing a 4-week refresher. Young’s stats in AAA are completely different than his stats from AA. And they’re remarkably similar to his stats in the majors. That stint is likely only effective if he’s willing to change some things, and frankly that might be the case at the major league level, too. A trip to Rochester needs to be an extended trip, or it’s more of the same.

And it’s all because some ding-a-ling gave a 17-year-old a major league deal. Oh, and he gave it to him with about 3 weeks left in the season of the first year, so the first of four options was essentially comped. And then, in the second season, despite Young dominating the High-A league, they kept him there the full year. Why not call him up to Double-A that year? For that matter, why debut him in the Arizona Fall League? Good lord. I'm rubbing my temples with one hand and typing with the other. This trap is easily the most frustrating.

So that’s where we are. A promising difference-maker is stuck in a fourth outfielder role for the next several years, trapped in at least four different ways. So where do we go? That’s the final piece of the series. And to be honest, I have no idea what it will say.


ubelmann said...

I think there's something to be said for the Twins treating Delmon differently than if he'd been theirs all along, but at the same time, Garza and Bartlett had attitude problems and while they weren't #1 overall picks, they weren't handled in a manner commensurate with their talent. I think there's a good chance that had the Twins drafted Delmon, they would have been completely willing to trade him away, especially if the bat-tossing incident happens under their watch. So if the Twins were really treating him as if he'd come up through their system, I think he probably wouldn't be with the Twins right now.

Anyway, it was nice to see someone take a look at Delmon. Ultimately I think you're a little too defensive of him, but certainly there are some people out there who are too dismissive of him. He could still turn out to be a decent hitter, but we'll probably have to wait a while for that to happen.

Jitter said...

What are the odds Bill Smith says, "Gardy, I know you love Cuddyer, but I'm shipping him out for whatever pitching I can get to give Delmon a chance in right. Cuddy looks past his peak and Delmon is a rotting corpse in left right now. I'm the GM. Deal with it."

Or does Smith generally have the same mindset as Gardy on these things? Just curious what those in the know... know.

BeefMaster said...

There is no way the Twins ask their first overall pick to switch positions.

Well, they did it to the #9 overall pick - Cuddyer was drafted as a shortstop and has played every position but that one, pitcher, and catcher since making the majors, including stints as the regular starter at third base, second base, and right field. He was basically a Brendan Harris who also played outfield in '04 and '05.

John said...

Baseball is a game of adjustments and Young isn't good at making them. I'm not sure the situation is much more complicated than that. Can't adjust to left field, can't adjust to pitchers getting him to chase out of the zone. Everyone agrees its painful to watch, and everyone wants to see him turn it around.

This installment by TG is a good one, save his continued and emotional sojourn over Young's allegedly unfair treatment. It's a bad situation and the only way out is for Young to just start playing better.

Anonymous said...

i really wonder if it is some sort of eye problem. maybe they are getting worse every year. he can't judge a ball and can't read a pitch. have his eyes been checked?

a problem that i have noticed with his swing is a lot of times he is not pivoting on his backside and bringing his hips through. his swing is all arms sometimes. he also the way he wraps his hands around the bat could be slowing his swing down. another thing is that he keeps that bat too high and too far behind his head in his stance. usually not a problem, but for someone that has problems pulling the ball, that should be one of the changes.

Nick N. said...

There is no way the Twins ask their first overall pick to switch positions. There is no way Gardy lobbies to trade away his ROY candidate. And Twins fans, who waited for their golden boy for years, are probably far more patient of his struggles, and far more critical of the team for the lack of progress.

You continue to fall back on this line of reasoning but I just don't think there's any evidence to support it, John. It's been mentioned before by commenters today and yesterday, but if anything the Twins have treated young players brought in from other organizations more favorably than their own top prospects.

In spite of being a raw 22-year-old without much of a major-league track record, the Twins handed Carlos Gomez the starting center field job and leadoff spot out of spring training last year (over homegrown prospect and first-round pick Denard Span, mind you) and played him pretty much everyday for the entire year in spite of the fact that he looked overmatched. Young also came over and was an everyday play despite not performing very well.

Compare that to Michael Cuddyer, or Jason Kubel. They were homegrown very good hitting prospects who had a pretty tough time finding their way into the everyday lineup. Jason Bartlett wasn't drafted by the Twins but spent significant time in their minor-league system and had a hell of a time catching on as a regular in the majors despite repeatedly proving his dominance in Triple-A. I can think of very few homegrown prospects that the Twins have shown the type of steadfast support they've shown to Young.

Also, where are you getting this notion that the Twins wouldn't have their top prospects switch positions? They only have one home-drafted No. 1 overall pick, who of course they'd never move from catcher, so I guess it's impossible to counter your specific point, but the Twins moved Span from center to left and have moved Cuddyer all over the field. Span and Cuddyer were both first-round picks.

I'll buy the other traps you put forth, but this one just doesn't hold water.

Anyway, see you in Chicago.

David Wintheiser said...

i really wonder if it is some sort of eye problem. maybe they are getting worse every year. he can't judge a ball and can't read a pitch. have his eyes been checked?

Actually, what I'd like to see is a home/road split on Young's defensive metrics, because most people who talk about his tentativeness in left are doing so after seeing him play in the Metrodome, which is known to be a tough park for picking up the ball off the bat.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if his defense in left suddenly jumps from abysmal to average (or better) next season.

TT said...

Are you sure Young does not have any options left? I don't think playing in the AFL counts as an option. The rosters expand to 40 players at the beginning of September.

I do think signing any player you just drafted to a major league contract is foolish and a HS player is just ridiculous. But what were the alternatives?

TT said...

Delmon Young was signed to a split contract this year with one amount if he plays in the major leagues and a lower amount if he sent to the minors. That's awfully strange if he doesn't have any options left.

Anonymous said...

Nick kinda said this above, but...

"There is no way the Twins ask their first overall pick to switch positions. "

Denard Span plays left field half the time, doesn't he?

Anonymous said...

"There is no way the Twins ask their first overall pick to switch positions."

As mentioned above, first-rounders Cuddyer were both moved. And while it's true their first-overall pick Mauer has never been moved, there's been nonstop speculation about it -- and he's a gold glover!

" There is no way Gardy lobbies to trade away his ROY candidate."

Garza was minor league player of the year, wasn't he? And while the timing wasn't quite right for him to be ROY he was at that level as a prospect -- and he was traded.

"And Twins fans, who waited for their golden boy for years, are probably far more patient of his struggles, and far more critical of the team for the lack of progress."

If Mauer hit and fielded like Young, I think he'd be much more vilified than Young has been, not less. He's won two batting titles, played the second most games of any catcher last year -- and there's been nonstop background carping about his lack of power, his empty singles hitting, and his lack of durability. Even the Strib writers laid into him at times. Imagine if instead of being the best fielder at his position, he was, literally, the worst? And he struck out a third of his at bats with no power or average, resisted coaching, and got steadily worse? You don't think Twins fans and media would be bursting with outrage the Twins wasted the number one pick in the draft on a useless jerk? They'd be livid! YOung they just roll their eyes and grumble, and hope he'll get better, BECAUSE he's the new guy. If he were the hometown golden boy they invested their hopes in and he stunk this bad he'd be totally vilified.

sean said...

I think Delmon might have an option left, since he's only used three (2004-2006).

However, the club only has five years from the day a player signs to option him unconditionally to the minors. Delmon was signed September 8, 2003 so the problem isn't lack of options but the time limit has passed. So, now, the Twins must have his consent to send him to the minors. If he consents, he would then be sent down on a revocable waiver it seems.