Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Delmon Young and the Inside Pitch

On May 1st, Delmon Young was staring at a .222/.292/.381 batting line. This was hardly the anticipated results after finishing the final two months of 2009 in which he batted .305/.327/.513 with 9 home runs. Judging from his batted ball numbers, he was looking more like the pre-August 2009 version – one in which his groundballs were chewing up more than 50% of the total pitches put into play. If you were looking for signs of progress, Young managed to coax 8 walks to his 7 strikeouts, a significant different from the prior year in which he walked just twice and struck out 15 times in the season’s first month.

Since May 1st, however, Delmon Young is on a 52-for-150 tear (.347) slashing 20 extra base hits including 6 home runs and 14 doubles. Additionally, he tied his base-on-ball total from a year ago on May 22nd and broke it the following afternoon, demonstrating that patience can be a virtue.

Clearly, just based upon the manner in which he is launching the ball, Young has regained the ability to drive the ball, swatting more line drives around the ball field:

Line Drive%

With this squared-up contact, Young marched his offensive numbers northward and to the point where he is the team’s third-best contributor, with an argument for the second-best, while batting seventh regularly. Regarding his current hot streak, Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan relayed some Ron Gardenhire insight:

"He's [Young] learned to click on the ball better now, and jerk the crap out of it, and look for pitches in situations, so I think it's just the maturity process of more at-bats and figuring out what you can do and can't do."

Yes, he’s clearly “jerking the crap out of it” this year:





While he’s showing no greater tendency to pull the ball this year than his 2009 campaign, he’s definitely hitting it with greater vigor, as the 260-plus point uptick in his slugging percentage would suggest. This is a product of handling inside pitches better this year. Using data, we see that Young’s well-hit average on pitches inside has risen steadily since 2008:

WHA (Sw. In)
League Average

Souhan asked if the manager thought it was something mechanical that kept Young from turning on the inside pitch, to which Gardenhire responded:

"I think it was his approach. You have to make adjustments in your approach sometimes. There were a few mechanical things he's had to work on. He'll tell you, 'No,' but we all know different."

Anyone who has been privy to any amount of Twins games in the past three seasons could tell you that Young has made some adaptation to his mechanics. I highlighted just a small portion of them in December. My findings showed that Young’s ability to pull the ball with venom correlated with his mechanical changes:

From the first of that month to the conclusion of the season, Young was a different hitter in the batter’s box. No, the plate discipline did not improve - he still couldn’t buy a walk in Chinatown – but suddenly the ball left his bat with a bit more zest. It no longer trickled off of the lumber towards third base all yippy-skippy.  It charged off the grain on a mission. He slugged over .700 when pulling the ball after hitting a ho-hum .444 on pitches he yanked prior to that.

Most likely, it is a result of both mechanical adjustments and a refined approach at the plate that has allowed Young to turn on pitches with such force. Either way, this development, beginning back in ’09, has given indications that the 24-year-old Young is on-track to reaching the vaunted projections bestowed upon him when the Twins acquired him in 2007.