Friday, July 23, 2010

Delmon Young's RISPy Business

In 2006, the Twins’ backup catcher Mike Redmond encouraged his teammates to “smell” the RBIs. This year, Delmon Young is upping the ante and apparently using all five senses. In fact, considering his league-best .419 batting average with runners in scoring position (RISP) he may be using a sixth or possibly even seventh sense during those all-important run-producing situations.

Because Young has made wholesale improvements to his mechanics, which has led to better overall contact, his numbers have steadily risen. Undoubtedly, this has made him a better all-around offensive contributor. Given the opportunity to hit with runners on base frequently, the Twins’ left fielder has delivered repeatedly in 2010. Young has come to the plate with 257 runners on base and has driven in 23% of those runners – the highest rate in the American League.

While Young was good in RISP situations (hitting .313 with 49 RBI) in ’09, he wasn’t otherworldly like he has been this year. Using the pitch f/x tool found at, we can scrutinize what has made Young such an RBI monster: 

Delmon Young with RISP:
Ball In Play%
Line Drive%

Simply avoiding strikeouts has been a major upgrade in his game. The other key component to achieving an RBI that goes hand-in-hand with the first point is that he has been his ability to put the ball in play. Additionally, you can see that Young is driving the ball better with an increased line drive rate as well.  

Last night’s at-bat in the first inning with two outs and the bases drunk with Twins was a microcosm of what has made Young so successful this year. With the count 3-2, Kevin Millwood threw Delmon Young a slider and Young drove the pitch to the left-center field gap to clear the bases. A year ago, the results may have been wildly different for two reasons.

First, with two-strikes against him, Young was essentially a dead-man walking in ‘09.

In 45% of his total plate appearances that advanced to the two-strike stage, he eventually struck out. This season, his battle tendencies have improved dramatically. When in the hole by two-strikes, Young has struck out in just 29% of those matchups, well-below the league average of 35%. As you can see from the chart above, Young has been even more prudent in avoiding strikeouts in those critical RBI situations – dropping his K-rate from 22.7% to 9.2%.

Secondly, the mere appearance of a slider would have stopped Young cold in ‘09.

For whatever reason, whenever a pitcher threw him a wrinkle last year, Young was useless. Often, pitches would break over the left-handed batter’s box and Young would flail helplessly at it. His slugging percentage on sliders was at a lowly .245 while his well-hit average was down to .160. This season, like almost every other pitch type, Young is mashing it as evidence by his .447 slugging percentage and .247 well-hit average. This development is noteworthy as pitchers thoroughly enjoy throwing Young sliders on a regular basis when runners are in scoring position.  

Yes, Young still eschews walks, swings at everything directed at him and, because of the laws of regression, his RISP average will likely slink back down towards his overall batting average. Nevertheless, this production has been a primary reason the team has remained competitive during a time when the team’s previously thought of run-producers have been MIA. Without question, with his improved capabilities, Young is deserving of a move to the fifth spot in the lineup where he will have a greater number of RBI opportunities presented to him.