Friday, June 03, 2011

Behind Delmon's mechanical malfunction

When Justin Morneau was sidelined with his season-ending concussion, the 2010 Twins could have been on the brink of folding.  With their leading hitter gone from the lineup, they could have easily slunk into the middle of the pack of the AL Central. Fortunately, players like Delmon Young were there to step up in his absence.

This season, with the world crumbing around them, Young wilted like the rest of the offense.

The expectations for Young heading into 2011 were lofty considering what was interpreted as his breakout season. However, instead of taking another step forward, Young regressed heavily at the plate. Prior to Thursday night’s game his .504 OPS is the second-lowest among outfielders with a minimum of 120 plate appearances. Clearly something is not right.

Fox Sports North analyst Roy Smalley believes he knows exactly where Young has gone astray. Recently Smalley told columnist Jim Souhan that:
“Young has too much weight on his front foot, leaving him to hit with only his hands, like a hacker with a reverse-pivot golf swing.
Smalley might be the best person to offer an assessment of Young’s problems. After all, night in and night out at Target Field Smalley has the perfect vantage point of Young’s swing from the first base camera well. Let’s take a look at a pair of clips from Smalley’s angle:

If you look at his 2010 swing (the above clip from a home run Young hit against the Blue Jays in the Rogers Centre) you see very succinct mechanics from his upper body and his lower half. He loads his hands slightly but brings them forward extremely quick through the hitting zone and in sync with his hip rotation.

In contrast to that sweet swing, his 2011 swing (the below clip from his lone home run of the 2011 season in Arizona) you see a timing differential between his hip rotation and his hands. The back hip start turning and then you see his hands follow. Part of this is due to the fact that you can see him drop his bat slightly before bringing it forward, leading to a longer loop in his swing and giving him drag in his mechanics.

The effect that this has is that it (A) decreases his power and (B) significantly slows his bat speed down.

The decrease in power is pretty evident when you peruse his statistics. Across the board, his power numbers (slugging, isolated power, etc) have declined sharply. Meanwhile, the signs of a slower bat are apparent when you consider his struggles against fastballs this year. Last year, according to Inside Edge’s data, Young held a .334 well-hit average against fastballs. Before that he had a .324 well-hit average in ’09 and a .302 well-hit average in ’08. This season his well-hit average on fastballs has fallen to a paltry .217.

What’s more is that Young continually seems late on fastballs. His batted ball spray chart on fastballs confirms this notion that he is not able to drive the hard stuff up the middle or to left field as well as he did in 2010:

Attempting to identify the root cause is nothing but pure speculation from here on out but the issue could possibly be attributed to his oblique injury that sidelined him for a spell  or it could be the results of his off-season efforts to pull the ball more and bulk up on his upper body. As LaVelle Neal wrote during spring training:

“Looks like Young has decided to pull the ball more this year. He's stronger from the waist up and look[s] very confident after a good season in 2010. He's a little bit of a Albert Belle look to him this year. That means baseballs could be in trouble.”

Rather than using the well-timed mechanics he had in 2011 he may be trying to muscle the ball more and, as Smalley pointed out, has disengaged from his lower-half.

Young has taken plenty of flak for his mechanics in the past yet he is rumored to be pretty reluctant to talk about them. A year ago, Souhan spoke with Ron Gardenhire during Young’s hot streak. Naturally the columnist asked the manager if there were any adjustments that Young made to account for this power stroke. Gardenhire replied:

"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."

As Nick Nelson stated recently at TwinsCentric, Young’s act may be wearing thin with the club. Meanwhile,’s Buster Olney reported that some baseball executives think that Young is very likely on the trade block.  But in order for the Twins to get anything in return Young needs to turn things around. The question is how do you fix a guy that doesn’t think he is doing anything wrong?


Reminder: Tonight the TwinsCentric group and FSN/KFAN’s Lindsey Guentzal are hosting a Twins Viewing Party at Smalley’s 87 Club. Festivities will start before the 7 PM game including food/drink specials and prizes (Twins tickets, DiamondCentric shirts, etc). The event will support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Minnesota so please come out, have a few beers and know you are contributing to a good cause.  

Also, Game Six shirts have been printed and are now available at DiamondCentric for $17 through the weekend. Get yours today!