Monday, October 10, 2011

Why the Twins Won't Regret Trading Delmon Young

Since the Major League Baseball playoffs began it seems, the talking heads on TBS and ESPN and MLB Network and whatever other channels show highlights these days have been raving about what a great acquisition Delmon Young has been. It's amazing how a good showing over a 5-game series can have more of an impact on these talking-heads opinions than, say, I don't know, five full season's worth of at-bats?

First, let's look at these "expert" claims that Young was a great acquisition. After hitting .266/.305/.357 (.662 OPS) in 84 games with the Twins this season, it was clear that the team had no reason to bring Young back next season. For comparison's sake, Nick Punto is a career .249/.325/.327 hitter, which is a .652 OPS. Getting that kind of production from a slick-fielding middle infielder would still be slightly below average; getting it from a defensive liability in a corner OF position is a net negative for the team.

Now, after the trade, Young hit .278/.298/.458 for Detroit in 40 games. That's an improved .756 OPS, and it actually was above average in a down year for offense. The average American League left-fielder hit .251/.311/.393 this past season, which is an OPS of just .704. Young was just under 8% better than the league average outfielder after the trade. So, yes, I suppose the acquisition was a solid move for the short-term. That said, his defense in left field went from ranking slightly above average at the time of the trade (3.5 UZR/150) to below average by the end year (-3.7 UZR/150) means his defense was atrocious in Detroit, which makes his above average offense less valuable. Young's combined line between Minnesota and Detroit was .268/.302/.393, which means he was still below-average offensively over the full season, and his defense also rated below average. So what does all that mean?

It means that despite Young's big home runs in the American League Division Series, he's not a good bet long-term. He's not even a good bet for next season, which is why I'm glad he's doing well in the playoffs. That should result in Detroit spending far more money than they should on Delmon, and hopefully they try to lock him up long-term. Young's making $7MM this season and has one more year of arbitration, so while the Twins would have released him to avoid paying the money, Detroit pretty clearly will not. They could go to arbitration with Young, basically giving him a 1-year deal while they see what they have, which would probably cost them about $10MM. If they want to lock him up long-term, it'd probably still cost about $10MM a year, just for a 4 or 5 year period instead of 1. The long-term deal would be ideal for us Twins fans, because of Young's track record.

Everyone loves to talk about how "young" (no pun intended) Delmon is, and as far as "time on earth" is concerned, yes, Young is "young." But as far as Major League experience is concerned, Delmon is a seasoned veteran. He has basically six full seasons to his name, and despite being a #1 overall pick and having loads of raw power, Young's plate discipline remains among the league's worst. His career .288/.321/.428 line in almost 3,000 at bats is a great baseline for what can be expected of Young in the future. Once a player has that many at bats, it's very rare to see them break-out and have a monster season, at least since they cracked down on the use of steroids. Young hasn't gradually improved each season, so expecting him to outperform his numbers from 2011 by a large margin is silly. Sure, there's a chance Young could match his performance during the last 40 games of the season, as his OPS in Detroit wasn't that much higher than his career mark. Regardless, at this point, Young is basically who he's been for the last 6+ seasons. A free-swinging defensive liability with some pop.

Young's defense has also been poor over the course of his career, as his average UZR/150 for his career in LF is -14.0. That means if he plays 150 games next year, and hits .288/.321/.428 with a -14.0 UZR/150, he'll likely be about 2 runs below average if the offensive drought from left fielder across the league continues. If the league average left-fielder improves next season, Young would be even less valuable.

The Twins may not have gotten two future major league players when they traded Young, and it might be difficult as Twins fans to see Young thriving against the Yankees after struggling against them as a Twin, but the fact remains Bill Smith and company deserve a lot of credit for cutting bait on Young when they could, getting some value back, and even better, they sent his average offense and below average defense to a division rival. Even if Cole Nelson and Lester Olivares become nothing more than organizational depth, this Delmon trade may be the best move Bill Smith makes during his entire tenure as GM. For once, addition by subtraction is actually true.