Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Will Delmon Young Breakout?

"Delmon Young is in the shape of his life, looks 19, is figuring it out... A very bright man on the verge of The Breakout." -Peter Gammons, via Twitter.

Since the Twins acquired Delmon Young, fans and front office executives alike have been waiting for him to finally breakout. After a so-so rookie year in Tampa Bay, Young has regressed over the last two seasons, but has managed to string together enough hot streaks to keep people overly hopeful. Peter Gammons is a great reporter and I have nothing but respect for him, but forgive me for not buying into the "Delmon is ready to breakout" storyline as Spring Training gets underway.

Every spring the story is the same. Player X looks fantastic, came to camp in the best shape of his life, and is ready to have his best season yet. Remember two springs ago, when Boof Bonser reportedly arrived at camp having lost nearly thirty pounds in the off-season? There were stories all over the media about how Bonser's endurance would be much greater, and he was ready to break out.

That's why fans love spring training so much. Other than baseball returning after a few months out of the public eye, the spring brings hope for fan bases that have been tortured for years. One or two breakout candidates make the spring and first month of the season interesting for those fans of teams who likely won't compete anytime soon.

Unfortunately, almost every "He's in great shape!" story ends up being forgotten in May when Player X is struggling just like he has over the last few years. Obviously, as a Twins fan, I'm hoping Delmon Young does figure things out and reaches even 80% of what people had believed he would become. However, Young has given me very little reason to believe he's on the verge of a breakout.

In 2008, Young's first season with Minnesota, he hit .290/.336/.405 with 10 home runs and 14 steals in 152 games. Fans always felt like Young had been solid that year, because he hit .290 as a 22-year old. Of course, batting average is a fairly worthless statistic, and in Young's case can be very misleading. A .336 on base percentage isn't horrible, but considering how strong left field is offensively across the league, it's still pretty bad. His .405 slugging was absolutely abysmal, and his defense was even worse, which is why his 2008 season was considered a major disappointment.

Last year, Young hit .284/.308/.425. He was the worst offensive AND defensive left fielder in baseball last season for anyone who received 300 at bats or more. The fact that his on base percentage dropped almost 10% when most hitters see theirs improve as they get older is worrisome. His slugging did increase by about 5%, but even at .425 he's still got a long ways to go to become an effective starter on the offensive side of the ball.

Defensively, Young has a fantastic arm, but even without UZR people would know Young is awful at tracking fly balls. He takes terrible routes to the balls, and he often mistimes his jump so he makes semi-routine plays into doubles or triples. The scouting reports suggested Young would be a plus defender because of his above-average speed and amazing arm, but that clearly hasn't been the case yet.

Young did hit well during the second half last season, including a torrid final two weeks that helped carry the Twins into the playoffs. Until Young can put together a full season of above average play, though, I won't buy into the fact that he's turned the corner. He's been among the worst players in baseball over the last two years, and the only reason he's being given time and chances to succeed is because he's a former #1 overall pick and the Twins gave up an absolutely boatload of talent to bring him here.

Young continues to hit too many balls on the ground, and unless he can drastically change his swing mechanics to help him get more lift on the ball he's going to continue to lack the game power most left fielders in this league have. It's unfortunate, because Young likely has more batting practice power than just about anyone in baseball, but until he proves he can get the job done in games he's simply a liability to a team that has World Series aspirations.

I hope I am monumentally wrong about Young, but facts are facts and to this point Young has shown very little to hint at a sudden breakout, and the fact that someone is predicting Young to have a breakout season during Spring Training hardly makes me optimistic. My prediction for Young's line this coming season is a .287/.327/.440, which is an improvement over the last two seasons. Unfortunately, that's still pretty poor for a left fielder, and the fact that Young gives away over 25 runs a year in left field defensively, he's simply not a starting caliber player. Hopefully Gardy notices this before it's too late.