Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Yankees work Delmon Young away

Delmon Young had one of those spring training that makes on-lookers’ eyes pop. In 48 Grapefruit League at-bats, Young tagged three home runs and hit three most doubles for good measure. At his Star Tribune blog this spring, LaVelle Neal raved about the laser show Young was producing in the Florida sunshine:
“Looks like Young has decided to pull the ball more this year. He's stronger from the waist up and look very confident after a good season in 2010. He's a litte bit of a Albert Belle look to him this year. That means baseballs could be in trouble
A substantial portion of Young’s success last year came from being able to pull the ball with more authority. In fact, he had a 260-point increase over his two previous seasons when hitting the ball to left field. Part of that power boost was due to his improvement on handling pitches inside:

Well-Hit Average (Swing-Inside)
League Average
(via MyInsideEdge.com)

Of course, looking to pull the ball when it is not thrown inside is counterintuitive.

Presumably, the New York Yankees likely have a well-funded advanced scouting department and have watched Young this past season and in spring as he continues to turn on inside pitches with authority. Naturally, in their first game with a young pitcher on the mound in Ivan Nova, the Yankees’ game plan was designed to attack Young outside.

In their first encounter in the second inning, Nova stayed away from the big right-hander and got Young to chase a pitch above the zone and pop it up to Nick Swisher in right:

In their second match-up, Nova, down 3-1 in the count, was forced to go back in the zone but still got Young to weakly tap the ball towards third base. Unfortunately for the Yankee pitcher, Young’s swunt (swinging bunt) was hit a tad too so for Alex Rodriguez to field:

In their final meeting, with the Twins down by a run but threatening to collect after Justin Morneau led off the top of the sixth with a single, Young was in position to do some damage. Nova managed to slip a fastball inside that Young fouled off. Wisely, the next pitch was a changeup just outside of the zone. Young, perhaps intent on pulling the ball, turned over on the off-speed and bounced it to Derek Jeter to start the six-four-three twin killing:

Because of his success last season on pitches inside in addition to his spring display of power, opposing teams’ scouting departments will likely use his asset against him. As long as Young remains pull-happy, pitchers will continue to feed him pitches on the outer-half of the zone until he proves that he is able to rope that ball into the opposite field.

While I am specifically singling out Young for falling into this trap, up-and-down the lineup, the Twins were victims to trying to turn on all of Nova’s pitches away. For example, during his epic 10-pitch at-bat in the fourth inning with Jim Thome acting as the potential tying run on second base, instead of changing his approach after watching Nova nine other pitches in the same location, Jason Kubel pulled a fastball down-and-away to second base. Mauer turned over three of Nova’s offerings that were low and away. For someone like Mauer who is used to going with the pitch, this may be an indication that he still is not close to his midseason form.

With short porches to the corners, the Yankees will always have a natural tendency to pitch opponents away. For the Twins’ offense in the rest of this series, the key will be to focus less on the proximity of those walls and to simply go with the pitch. 


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