Friday, May 14, 2010

A different Delmon

As Delmon Young tore through pitching August onwards in 2009, the only accoutrement he was missing was a toned down approach at the plate: He drew just five walks in nearly 200 plate appearances. He was launching the ball all over the field but was still susceptible to hacking at it with total disregard for human life.  Of course, this was business-as-usual for Young, as he has been a low-walk, high-strikeout individual since, presumably, his inception.

Even though he completed the first month of the 2010 season with a less-than-stellar showing, posting a .222/.292/.381 batting line in 72 plate appearances, there were positives to dwell on. For instance, the undercurrent of that substandard line was 7 walks, a large quantity for someone who drew only 12 in 416 plate appearances in 2009. Then, the April showers gave way to May flowers as Young went ballistic on the baseball, hitting .419/.438/.677 in his 32 plate appearances and dropping line drives at a 21 percent clip.

Could this be the season Young final produces at his potential? There are several signs that it might:

Via Inside Edge

Over the course of his three years in a Twins uniform, Young has clearly trimmed his tenacity towards stray pitches. In the past, he’s been a non-discriminating free-swinger, leading to just 47 free passes in 2008-2009. To this point, he’s withheld the lumber on those pitches that would normally elude him. Although he is still hacking at out-of-zone pitches at a rate higher than average, he’s increased his contact on the less-than-choice offerings, driving the ball rather than missing it altogether.

Non-Competitive Chase%

Young has also improved in his ability to refrain from swinging at non-competitive pitches (like those that are cruising at 32,000 feet). These are offerings that have just as much of a likelihood of smacking against the limestone backstop as they do the catcher’s mitt. In his first season as a Twin, Young swung at 36 percent of those types of pitches, the second-highest in baseball behind teammate Carlos Gomez. In the following season, despite whittling it down to 35 percent, he led all of baseball in this dubious honor. So far this season, Young has kept his overzealous tendencies in check, chasing after 22 percent of non-competitive pitches. Again, keeping his bat cemented to his shoulder leads to more walks and/or better pitches to drive as he slips into hitter’s counts.

K% in PA that reach two-strikes

In addition to his embargo on laughable pitches, Young has shown signs of life in otherwise terminal counts. After laying down and striking out in 45 percent of his plate appearances that bled into two-strike territory in 2009, the left fielder has struck out in just 26 percent of plate appearances that has reached two strikes in 2010 (much better than the league’s 35 percent average).  This battle tendency is part of the reason Young has been able to trim his strikeout rate in half.
If he can maintain this pace without relapsing for the season’s duration, Young could eventually reach that teeming potential that has been associated with him since his draft day. People often forget that at 24 years old, Young is at an age that most prospects begin to find their way into the majors. Admittedly, he’s demonstrated little in the way of plate discipline up to this point, but at the same time, he’s been give little opportunity to let it develop as he has been accelerated through the minor league system. Understandably, the season is still in its infancy so there is plenty of baseball remaining for things to go awry – after all, Young has not shown that he can sustain such discipline over an entire season – yet these are all strong indicators that he has progressed at the plate.