Frustrated Twins fans want to know: Is this the real Delmon Young?

Delmon Young steps on the plate in front of Texas Rangers catcher Mike Napoli after hitting a two-run home run during the sixth inning of Thursday's Game 5.
REUTERS/Mike Segar
Delmon Young steps on the plate in front of Texas Rangers catcher Mike Napoli after hitting a two-run home run during the sixth inning of Thursday’s Game 5.

As if a 99-loss season wasn’t depressing enough for Twins fans, now there’s this: Delmon Young has five homers in eight playoff games for the Tigers after hitting a grand total of four homers in 84 regular season games for the Twins.

Young wore out his welcome in Minnesota with mediocre hitting, horrendous defense and a questionable work ethic, and when the Twins traded him to the Tigers in mid-August for minor leaguers Cole Nelson and Lester Oliveros, there was anything but a massive public outcry against the move.

Judging from the e-mails in my inbox, the comments on my blog, and the replies to my Twitter feed that has changed dramatically during the past two weeks, with each Young homer forcing more and more frustrated fans out of the woodwork wondering how the Twins could have possibly given up on him.

I don’t blame anyone for being disheartened as they watch Young do for the Tigers what he so rarely did for the Twins, particularly after suffering through one of the worst seasons in team history, but it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that eight games are still only eight games and lots of crazy stuff happens in the playoffs every year.

Remember when Mark Lemke was terrorizing the Twins with a .417 batting average in the 1991 World Series? Or how about when Adam Kennedy knocked the Twins out of the 2002 ALCS with a three-homer Game 5? Or what about last October, when Cody Ross’ heroics propelled the Giants to a championship?

None of those guys were more than role players before their postseason breakouts, and none of those guys were more than role players afterward. They simply got hot for a brief time on a very big stage.

Young isn’t Lemke or Kennedy or even Ross, and it wouldn’t be shocking if he went on to become an impact hitter beyond this postseason, but five homers in eight games should hardly change anyone’s long-term view of his potential, and ultimately the Twins could no longer justify waiting around for the increasingly unlikely chance he’d eventually see the light.

They overpaid to get Young from the Rays, misguidedly giving up Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett, and then played him nearly every day for three-and-a-half seasons hoping for the promise he showed as a former No. 1 overall pick to shine through.

Instead, he produced a measly .324 on-base percentage and .429 slugging percentage in nearly 2,000 trips to the plate, averaging just 12 homers per 500 at-bats while giving back runs in bunches defensively, and failed to build on his breakout 2010 season by taking several huge steps backward this year.

Young got plenty of chances to live up to the hype in Minnesota and, for the most part, failed, and with just one season remaining until he’s eligible for free agency and a $6 million to 7 million salary due via the arbitration process in 2012, the Twins decided it was time to cut bait.

Perhaps he’ll blossom in Detroit like David Ortiz blossomed in Boston, but far more likely is that Young will continue to be a good but not great hitter who shows occasional glimpses of something more while providing mediocre all-around value, thanks to the many flaws in his game.

As the Tigers caught fire down the stretch with Young as their No. 3 hitter, there was lots of half-baked analysis about how hitting in front of perennial MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera supposedly led to more hittable pitches and a better overall performance for Young. However, his .756 OPS in 40 regular season games for the Tigers was nearly identical to his .753 OPS in 497 regular season games for the Twins, and neither mark is particularly strong for a defensively challenged left fielder.

If anything, Young’s playoff explosion might actually be good news for the Twins if it persuades the AL Central rival Tigers to make a sizable long-term commitment in a poor defensive corner outfielder with a lower career OPS than guys like Orlando Hudson, Bobby Kielty, J.J. Hardy, Placido Polanco, Ronnie Belliard, Lyle Overbay and Juan Rivera, among many other non-stars.

Wins Above Replacement is an increasingly popular metric that attempts to quantify a player’s contributions offensively and defensively into one number representing the amount of wins they were worth, compared with a readily available player at their position.

Since he joined the Twins in 2008, the only player in all of baseball with more plate appearances and a lower Wins Above Replacement total than Young is Yuniesky Betancourt.

Even in 2010, his lone quality season in four years with the Twins, he was merely a good but not great hitter whose putrid defense wiped away much of his offensive value. That year there were 64 total corner outfielders, first basemen and designated hitters with at least 500 plate appearances and Young ranked 46th in on-base percentage, 23rd in slugging percentage and 27th in OPS. And in the three surrounding seasons Young slugged .401.

If you thought the Twins were foolish to give up on Young in August, that’s one thing, but don’t let a good two-week stretch drastically sway your opinion about a player who’s been mediocre for six seasons and 3,000 plate appearances.

Weird stuff happens in the playoffs, and there’s no reason to focus on Young’s last eight games when there were 750 other games before that. Or maybe just change the channel when he’s up, to save the aggravation.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Byron & Karyl Rice on 10/14/2011 - 12:57 pm.

    Aaron,

    I heard that not long after he went to Detriot, Delmon was taking batting practice and they asked him why he always hit the top half of the ball. Delmon responded that he had been taught to do that. Detriot now has him hitting the bottom half of the ball and that is why he is driving the ball more.

    Point made in your article that time will tell. If Delmon does turn into another Ortiz, then I think we need to examine our Tom Kelly – “everyone hits line drives” approach. We don’t field as well as we say we field, and maybe we need to modify our approach to hitting.

  2. Submitted by Fred Haeusler on 10/14/2011 - 12:59 pm.

    If a=b, and b=c, then a=c. It wasn’t that we overpaid to get Young, it is that in essence we traded an everyday player and a starting pitcher for 2 minor leaguers. That is horrendously misguided.

  3. Submitted by Beth Welshons on 10/14/2011 - 05:47 pm.

    I don’t care how many homers he hits…I’m glad he’s gone.

  4. Submitted by Gonzalez Gonzalez on 10/14/2011 - 11:55 pm.

    The Tigers did a great job in identifying the type of player Young is–namely a player who might not produce good overall season stat lines but turns it on in high leverage situations where he can see the finish line.

    Young’s stats in medium and high leverage situations in 2010 (MED: .373 on base .597 SLG/.971 OPS HI: .380 on base/.486 SLG/ .886 OPS)…. and his Sep/Oct 2009 stats: .364 on base/.544 slug/.907OPS) are telling.

    It seems hard to say with a straight face that hitting in the three hole in front of Miggy instead of whatever AAA caliber bats the Twins had at the back of their order didn’t help Delmon. The OPS and historically low on base #’s with Detroit may be the same, but he drove in as many runs in 40 games in Detroit as he did in 84 with the Twins in 2011.

    It probably didn’t make sense to retain Delmon based on his long term track record, and Young’s inability to produce consistently despite showing episodic flashes of talent suggests makeup concerns. But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Delmon turn it on offensively in key situations. The Tigers did a savvy job of looking beyond a cursory review of his stat page in identifying Young as an outstanding hitter in clutch situations and someone who could propel their offense in the short term.

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