Thursday, June 11, 2009

What the Hell Happened to Delmon Young (Part 4 - The Future)

So what does the future hold for the Twins, their fans and Delmon Young?

Well, for Twins fans, it hopefully includes watching and/or taping the MLB Network (channel 733 in Mpls) today (Friday) at 2PM. That's when "We Are Young" the documentary about Delmon's and Dmitri's family airs. It was on a few months ago, but I completely missed it. I'm looking forward to seeing if it gives any insights. My DVR is set.

You might also want to check out this excellent article in the New York Times by ex-player Doug Glanville about the Young family. He completely relates to older brother Dmitri and gives some further insight on some of the dynamics. He also praises the documentary.

Beyond that? Prepare for a very slow hard road back for Young and the Twins. I listed the traps the Twins and Delmon find themselves in yesterday. And today we find an utter lack of quick solutions.

Solution 1: Send him to the minors
Yesterday we listed why we can't - that stupid contract - and I was asked in the comments just how sure I am that there are no options left. The answer is pretty damn sure. Seth Stohs and I talked about this ad nauseum over the offseason, and he had a source within the Twins confirm that Young had no options left.

That raises the question as to why the Twins had Young sign a 'split' contract during the offseason, which dictates different salaries for time in the majors versus time in the minors. And I still don't know the answer to that.

It was also suggested that the Twins find some way of finagling Young down to the minors, possibly using an DL move. That's a great solution, in a deus ex machina kind of way. But as I mentioned yesterday, it's also a very short term solution, and he needs more than a quick tune-up. There's no evidence he ever mastered Triple-A, and a short trip there isn't going to make much difference. And of course, all of those methods require a player's consent, and there's no indication that Young is open to returning to Triple-A. Especially, I suppose, given that split contract.

Solution 2: Trade him
And get what, exactly?

The Twins apparently went down this road this offseason and couldn't find any value. Since then, Young has performed worse, played less, and grown more expensive. So what exactly do you think you're going to get for him?

Solution 3: Move him to right field
It doesn't necessarily help his offensive development to play right field, but at least you don't need to factor in the atrocious defense when deciding how much he plays. But right now both Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel are SIGNIFICANTLY more valuable than Young, though I suppose it would be fine starting Young over Kubel versus southpaws.

Could you trade one of them? Sure, but why the hell would you? We're not talking about a game or two dropoff, like we are when we compare him to the equally overmatched Carlos Gomez. You're giving away 200-300 points of OPS right now substituting Young for Cuddyer or Kubel. That's just nuts.

Solution 4: Play him everyday
This was my solution as little as a couple of weeks ago. The problem is that this too has been tried. He had 600+ plate appearances. None of them are going to do any good if he keeps clutching the "look pa, just arms" approach he has at the plate. If anything all those plate appearances seem to reinforce that his approach is valid. Which makes you want to...

Solution 5: Bench him
By going into the season with a crowded outfield, the Twins left themselves this option. So far the times to play Young are determined on the matchup or whether or not at-bats are being distributed fairly. That's noble, but I'd advocate more Skinnerian method. When Young starts getting serious about modifying his plate approach, you reward him with plate appearances. Until then, we'll play with 24 guys.

(And Nick, before you ask, no, this doesn't mean I'm advocating playing Gomez full time. He NEEDS instruction in Rochester. We are ruining this kid with our short-term fixation. I'm starting to get truly angry as I seem him flop around at the plate like a boated carp. His OBP this month is .259. It's become borderline cruel.

Bring up Morales to DH and move Kubel to LF. Or anything else, really. Talk about something that needs to be a priority. Untracking Gomez from becoming the most talented fourth outfielder in the league needs to be a priority.)

Is that a little harsh? Sure. Maybe even spiteful. But this is what I mean when I say fixing Young needs to be a priority. I don't particularly care if he provides much benefit for the next few months, or even early into next year. The focus needs to be in getting those quick wrists to put up a respectable corner-outfieldish 850 OPS late next year and grow from there.

And I have no problem waiting for that turnaround to happen. If it doesn't, he can spend the next 3.5 years getting a couple of hundred at-bats versus lefties. Gawd knows with fairly pathetic offensive totals arbitration won't make him expensive. And if he does turn things around, we'll figure out where to play him in the field, or whether it then makes sense to move someone else.

That is what I mean when I say we're talking about a very slow hard road back. That's all the more reason to get started now.


You know what is NOT going to be a very slow hard road? This weekend's trip to Wrigley. On the contrary, it's going to go way too fast.

To all of you Twins fans who are already there, you can rest assured that at 1:20 I will be eating my heart out of pure jealousy. I'm not ruling out tears. A sunny Friday afternoon game at Wrigley watching the Twins - this is what I think of when I think of heaven. Except the players are all dressed in glowing white robes. And nobody is throwing up on my feet.

The Voice of Reason and I will be flying in (way too) early on Saturday and we have tickets with two other friends for the bleachers on Saturday afternoon. We'll be playing in Wrigleyville following the game (and possibly before, depending on whether there is batting practice or not). If you bump in to me, feel free to do two things:
1) Buy TVOR a beer and
2) Promise me you won't talk to me about Delmon Young. I'm done with that subject for awhile.

Finally, if you haven't already, I'd encourage you to sign up for the Twins Geek Twitter. I'll admit I have been very inconsistent in updating it, but I'm really hoping to have a blow-by-blow account of the Chicago trip, and at the very least we'll update the various watering holes we are visiting.

I gotta say, I am really excited about turning Wrigleyville into Twins Territory. Let's do this right, people.

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.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Sidebar: Delmon Young vs. Joe Mauer

GREAT comments the last couple of days. I'm being challenged on lots of stuff, and that's fantastic, because I'm exploring this stuff myself. As I look forward to the next part of this series I really want to explore the idea that Twins fans perception of Young is skewed because he "isn't one of us", meaning we didn't watch the Twins draft him or his meteoric rise through the lower minors.

Which brings me to Ubelmann's impassioned plea to knock off the Mauer-Young comparisons. I had written the first paragraph below, and that got Ubelmann a little riled up.....

"In summary, [Young] 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.

OK, I'll play. I may be be wrong, and I'm too tired to do any heavy lifting, so rather than write up tonight's next part, I want do the following: I'll look up Mauer and Young's seasons at 20 and 21 on I'll compare them, and then I'll also throw out what said about both players, just so we have an objective voice that was writing without hindsight. You know what? Just so we have another credible source, I'll also summarize what Baseball Prospectus said. Let's see what memories this drudges up...

Their Year at 20
Young spent most of the year in AAA, served that suspension, and was promoted to the majors where he posted an 815 OPS in the last month. This is the year he started striking out a lot more and walking a lot less. Rotowire says

"The Devil Rays expect to start the season with Young as their everyday right fielder and No. 3 hitter. With his power, speed and defense, he's a legitimate ROY candidate."

BP said:

"Young doesn't walk a whole lot, but boy howdy can he hit."

Then they praised how he did as a 20-year-old while cautioning that he'll need to learn some plate discipline to become another Vladamir Guerrero.

Mauer spent half of his 20 year in High A and half in Double A. Like Young, he had about an OPS in the lower 800s, a high average, little power - but he had a great eye.

Rotowire wrote:

"Mauer will be given every chance to win the starting job at catcher after the trade of A.J. Pierzynski. The 2002 No. 1 overall draft pick has lived up the hype so far in his minor league career and was named by several organizations as the 2003 minor league player of the year. After hitting .335 at high Single-A Ft. Myers, he hit .341 at Double-A with a .431 OBA. The Twins feel he's ready to make the jump to a starting job in the majors at just 21 due to remarkable maturity and astonishing ability to handle a pitching staff for his age. Combine that with strong defensive skills and he should stick in the big leagues even if his bat is slow to come around. The one worry for Mauer has been a lack of power (just five homers all of last year), but that should come as he ages. As a local product, he'll also face extensive media hype and frequent comparisons to Mark Prior (who was the second pick in 2002). Expect a solid batting average in his first season, but low power totals. Still, he's a top Rookie of the Year candidate and a must-have on any keeper list."

Unfortunately, I can't tell you what BP said. Did I not get the 2004 book? I can't find it in my bookcase. Sorry.

What strikes me most about the priase is how similar they are. Top player in the minors and ROY candidates. Mauer's defense is gushed about, but Young isn't viewed as a defensive liability. Both have some concerns (Mauer - power, Young - discipline and attitude). Mauer is viewed as a decent bet to stay in the majors because of his defense, it's not even a question that Young will stay. Mauer is also not viewed as an impact player offensively because of the lack of power, at least not necessarily right away. I'd call it a push.

Their Year at 21
This was the year Young played full time in Tampa Bay basically did what we've seen him do every year - hit for a decent average, little power and a lot of strikouts. I think it's worth noting that Baseball Prospectus listed his defense in right field as being just one run worse than average there, though he was worse than that when he (shudder) played center field. Rotowire talked about how he didn't have a great year, finished second in ROY voting, but had the talent to make that vote look silly in a couple of years. BP talked mostly about the trade, and brought up his issues, but compared him to Vladamir Guerrero for the second time in two years:

"Yes Young's moody, yes he's overly aggressive at the plate, yes his power hasn't come as expected, but he's also still just 22 and regarded by scouts as one of the best young hitters around. Rays officials are hoping against hope that he fails to live up to PECOTA's Vladimir Guerrero comp (a comparison scouts have made as well) as he heads north to the land of 10,000 lakes."

Mauer missed almost the whole year because of that damn knee injury. He did very well in the 100 or so at-bats he had. Rotowire said:

"Mauer was regarded as the top prospect in baseball before the 2004 season began and won the starting job at catcher. In just his second major league game the 2002 No. 1 overall draft pick tore cartilage in his left knee. After surgery he returned in June but problems with the knee landed him on the DL again six weeks later and he wasn't able to play the rest of the season. ...While the Twins say they expect Mauer to be able to catch again there is some doubt since he had soreness in the knee even into last fall. The Twins would like to keep him behind the plate because he's got strong defensive skills and an uncanny ability to handle a pitching staff at a young age. No matter where he plays, Mauer has strong plate discipline which should lead to a .300 batting average with modest power. If his knee is healthy, he should quickly become one of the AL's top catchers."

BP was more worried. Here's a good chunk of their review of his year:

"The Twins are telling everyone that there's no problem, and if you smoke enough oregano, you might completely believe it. Don't listen, because their actions tell you they're worried. Why else pick up both Mike Redmond and Corky Miller this winter? Even if or when Mauer is healed up, there's still the issue of his size, since he's probably the biggest catcher in the league behind the perpetually fragile Sandy Alomar. It's time to accept that Bunyanesque catchers aren't meant for long and healthy careers."

Geez, I'd forgotten all about the 6' 5" nonsense that BP spewed for years. And how it scared the hell out of us when he hurt that knee.

That, to me, favors Delmon Young. Yes, Mauer's defense added value to him, but there were questions throughout his minor league career whether he would stay behind the plate because of his size. There were questions about his power, even up through this last offseason where BP was comparing his career path to that of Jason Kendall.

So back to the "Wrong. Wrong. Wrong." paragraph I wrote:

"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."

Was Young "hands-down" a pick over Mauer? Probably not hands down. There were probably plenty of scouts that would've liked the catcher.

But Young would've initiated his equal share of drooling and was off-the-charts promising. He was also right-handed and projected to be another Vladamir Guererro. He truly was an ideal acquisition. So I'd go with "Right. Wrong. Right."

And I'll tell you another thing this little exercise has convinced me of. That we as a community, even incredibly analytical, fairly objective, sharp guys like Ubelmann, are completely undervaluing the talent that Young has demonstrated because it was with another organization. In this weekend's GameDay Chatter on the Twins Extra Innings show (On KSTP 1500 following Sunday's game) there will be a paragraph that says:

I can’t help but wonder, if Young had come up through the Twins minor leagues whether he might have been treated differently by the organization and fans. Would the Twins have asked their #1 overall pick to switch defensive positions? Would fans have been more patient with his lack of power if they had heard about him dominating Double-A as a 19-year-old? Would Gardy have hinted about trading Young if Delmon finished second in Rookie of the Year voting while he was on Gardy's team?

We waited for Mauer and Morneau despite all the concerns because we had been weened on their minor league exploits for years. And Young hasn't received that same consideration, either from the bloggers, the fans, or the organization, because we didn't get those weekly updates over several years.

And I'll go a step further. Developing this talent should be a priority. The Twins risk making another Big-Papi-sized mistake here. And this time, we'll have nobody to blame but ourselves, because the evidence of abundant talent is literally smacking us upside the head if we only care to open our eyes.

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.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

What the Hell Happened to Delmon Young? (Part 1 - The Promise)

Do you want to believe in Delmon Young? It's not hard if you look backwards a little.

Young appeared on most Twins fans' radars in November of 2007, when he was acquired as part of a six-player trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. But he had a history filled with promise with which we might not be acquainted, or now find easy to overlook. There are all kinds of sites that track players with daily updates for their careers. On of my favorites is, which gave yearly overviews of his progress. So let's review his record and use rotowire as another objective source.

2003 – Young was the first overall draft choice by the Devil Rays and signed a major league contract (which becomes very important) in September. The Rays debuted him in the fairly advanced Arizona Fall League, and Rotowire summarized the excitement about this kid:

“It's tough to make your pro debut in the Arizona Fall League, but that's what Young did, and he pulled off the near-impossible -- making [Rays GM] Chuck LaMar look like a genius. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft hit .417/.451/.625 in his first 15 games against pro pitching and had scouts drooling, comparing him to a young Albert Belle minus the attitude.”

Yeah, I'm gonna bold some stuff. And how much do you love the Albert Belle comparison given some of Young's later anger-management issues?

2004 – As an 18-year-old, Young played a whole season in High A-ball and dominated the league, batting .320, hitting 25 home runs, stealing 21 bases, and knocking in 115 runs. He struck out quite a bit (120 K) but he also walked 53 times and sported an impressive .386 OBP. Rotowire and the rest of the league were suitably impressed:

“Young will be the best prospect in all of the minors when the 2005 season opens—unless Tampa Bay decides to start him as their right fielder. That sounds ludicrous, but in this organization it could happen.”

2005 – Rotowire was right about that “best in all of the minors” thing. As a 19-year-old Young made Double-A look easier than High-A. He was promoted to Triple-A while he was still just nineteen years old, because in 330 at-bats he had hit .336 with 20 home runs and 25 stolen bases. He still had some problems with the strikeouts (66 K) but also drew some walks (25) and got on base regardless (again, a .386 OBP).

In Triple-A, things didn’t go as well. The power disappeared with just 6 home runs in 228 at-bats. The average (.285) and stolen bases (7) declined too. Maybe most alarming was that he was no longer walking enough (just 4) to counteract all the strikeouts (33). On the other hand, you’re talking about a nineteen-year-old promoted midseason to Triple-A. It would’ve been surprising if he didn’t struggle. Rotowire summarized the season:

“The Minor League Player of the Year put up great numbers at Double-A, but wasn't dominant in his brief stint at Triple-A -- not that he stunk, either, but the stat line shows Young very likely could use some additional seasoning at Triple-A. That's where Young will start the 2006 season; how quickly he comes up will depend both on his bat and on who's doing what at the big league level. The new Rays management team won't mind not calling up Young until after Opening Day of 2007 in order to put off his arbitration payday as long as possible; it'll be up to Young to show them that patience isn't a virtue in his case.”

Note that most of the summary talks about when he'll be called up. That would be overshadowed by an incident in his last minor league season.

2006 - Young started the year in Triple-A and drew national attention when he was suspended for 50 games for flipping a bat at an umpire after a called third strike. That may have delayed his arrival in the majors, but he was still called up and handed a full time role on the Rays in late August. He would not find himself in the minors again.

And, in fact, he couldn’t. Because Rotowire was wrong about the Rays management team not wanting to call up Young until after Opening Day of 2007. Since Young had signed a major league contract, his three ‘option years’ had already been used. (That's unlike most ballplayers, who don’t start using them until they are added to the 40-man roster.) They had been used in 2004, 2005 and now 2006. Young was going to be on a major league roster one way or the other in 2007.

Which, in retrospect, was a pretty big problem, because Young was pretty clearly not ready for that promotion. The hubbub over the suspension and the emphasis on Young’s arrival to the majors overlooked that his performance in AAA hadn’t really improved. Here are Young’s final Triple-A stats from the two years:

570 AB, .303 BA, 14 HR, 29 SB, 98 K, 19 BB.

Just viewing those stats, without all the history and publicity, the analysis would be that Young is a speedy, light-hitting, high-average guy who might struggle in the majors because he has trouble telling a ball from a strike. Instead, mostly the concern about him was the suspension:

“Young lost two months of last season when he was suspended for flipping his bat at an umpire in a Triple-A game. With that, he still put up great numbers at Durham and decent stats in his September stint with the Rays. More importantly, he showed tiny signs that he knew he'd crossed the line and had to reel in his temper. The Devil Rays expect to start the season with Young as their everyday right fielder and No. 3 hitter. With his power, speed and defense, he's a legitimate ROY candidate.”

2007 – Young didn’t win the Rookie of the Year, but he finished in second. He put up stats that are almost duplicates of those he put up with the Twins a year later, meaning he hit for a decent average (.288), not much power (13 HR), stole some bases (10 SB), but had no idea what a strike zone was (127K vs 26BB). For a 21-year-old, those aren’t bad numbers, provided he builds on them, as rotowire noted:

“Young came close to a .300/100-RBI season, a rare achievement for a rookie, especially for one who did not turn 22 until September. He'll certainly start the spring as the Twins' everyday right fielder. However, Young does need to work on plate discipline. … He did not win Rookie of the Year honors in 2007, but Young has the upside to make the resulting vote look like an utter embarrassment in a few years.”

Which brings us back to what looked like an astute trade. The Twins were searching for a young high-upside right-handed bat to plug between Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. They were able to acquire a 22-year-old who:
1. Was the first overall draft pick in 2003 as a 17-year-old
2. The best prospect in the minors in 2004 as an 18-year-old
3. The Minor League Player of the Year in 2005 as a 19-year-old
4. Made his major league debut in 2006 as a 20-year-old and
5. Finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2007 as a 21-year-old.

Let’s make some blunt comparisons. Mauer was the first overall pick, but he didn’t hit like Young did in the minors. Morneau never had the minor league acclaim that Young did, nor did he put up anything close to ROY numbers in his first two years. There is nobody else on the Twins roster with Young’s pedigree. He was a thoroughbred like no other, and had just been traded to a contending team to fill the lineup void between a batting champion and an MVP.

It was easy to believe.

Next we'll look at the fall of Young and what contributed to it before we look at what the future holds for Young and the Twins.