Delmon Young, Power, Discipline, and Age

In sports, age is a tricky thing. Consider Delmon Young‘s 2010 season. After three seasons of mediocrity at the plate and butchery in the field, Young finally put together a productive season for Minnesota. He slugged 21 HRs and posted a career high in OBP, SLG, wOBA, and WAR. And, because he was only 24, the belief was there was nowhere to go but up – or, at the least, to a respectable career similar to Carlos Lee’s.

Yet here we are, watching a 25-year-old Young struggle through one of the worst seasons imaginable for a top-prospect stud left-fielder entering what should be the prime of his career. Through two months and change, Young has only managed two home runs. Much like the rest of his Twins’ team, his batting line is in shambles. To date, his .246 batting average is a career low, as is his .272 on-base percentage, his .316 slugging percentage and his .264 wOBA.

Were Young 28 or 29 years old, none of this would surprise. Pundits across the internet would have declared him as regression candidate number one after posting a career-high isolated power score by 50 points despite moving to Target Field, one of the toughest home run parks in the league. Nothing else was different. The poor plate discipline was still there. The good contact numbers were still there. The high BABIP was still there. The only difference between Delmon Young prior to 2009 and Delmon Young in 2010 was more pop.

Such a gain certainly sounds significant. We must remember, though, how fickle power numbers can be. Perhaps one of the oddest findings in sabermetrics, at least to me, is how long it takes for power numbers to stick. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise, though – how often have we watched games and said to ourselves, “Oh, that’s a home run if we’re at home,” or watched as a ball floated out of the park only thanks to the jet stream.

Regardless, it was clear something else needed to change for Young to truly improve as a hitter. Even with his added power, he was nothing special for a questionably-gloved left fielder, producing a scant 1.8 WAR.

Delmon Young had walked 102 times in 2484 plate appearances entering this season. Now, he’s walked 109 times in 2644 plate appearances. For many players his age, they’ve spent two, maybe three years developing their skills against Major League opponents. Young is in his sixth season as a Major Leaguer and his fifth as a full-time starter. Old habits die hard, and Young hasn’t been in a situation to learn over the past five years. Instead, especially since his trade to the Twins, he’s been a starter on a contender, hardly in a position to overhaul his game.

So even though Young clearly isn’t this bad – his BABIP is 40 points below his career average and his ISO is 70 points below where it was even two years ago – the idea that Young turned a corner in 2010 may have been misguided. He’s still the same player he always was, and 2011 is just a showcase of when his fickle power leaves him.

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So, more of a Jeff Francoeur than a Carlos Lee type player?

Small Sample Goodness
Small Sample Goodness

I wish he were as good as Francoeur.