Thursday, June 16, 2011

Is Delmon Young on the verge of breaking out?

It was less than two weeks ago in this space that I chronicled Delmon Young’s swing, which had become slower, and that his timing was all sorts of messed up.  
According to observations from FSN analyst Roy Smalley Young was putting too much of his weight on his front foot, leaving him to hit with just his hands. This left him unable to drive the ball in the manner in which he did just a year ago. His power numbers confirmed this as he was slugging .257 as recently as June 5.
With the problem identified, it would only be a matter of time before Young would respond and make the necessary adjustments. Because he had been reportedly standoffish about his mechanics, that “matter of time” could have been weeks or months before corrections would be made. Surprisingly, it did not take him long to incorporate a new approach at the plate.
After returning home from the latest road trip, Young unveiled a new set-up in his stance. It is minor but - after going 8-for-16 with a double and a home run in the Rangers series - it has become obvious that the small change has quickly yielded some positive results for the left fielder.
Let’s take a look at Young’s new starting point:
On the left you see Young’s pre-Rangers series hand set-up. Young is holding the bat at a 45-degree angle with his hands at shoulder level. Meanwhile, during the Rangers series, Young made a slight adjustment to his set position, raising his hands almost above his head while holding the bat nearly parallel to the ground.
What does raising their hands do for a hitter?
When Toronto's Jose Bautista overhauled his swing, one of the more critical changes he made was raising the level of his hands. Frankie Piliere, a former scout with the Texas Rangers, explained why this aspect of his swing improved his power:
“Overall, it appears he has made an effort to get his top hand more involved and get his hands moving through the zone quicker in general. To do that, he has put his hands in a higher position and is creating much more leverage. Rather than low and close to his body, we now see him with his hands not just higher but also further away from his body. So, before he even begins his swing, he is in a stronger, loaded position with his hands back.
So the new hand placement above his helmet provides Young not only with a better timing mechanism, allowing him to get his hands and hips synched more readily, but from that location Young is in a position to leverage his top hand better in his swing. This, in theory, should translate to an increase in power.
If we compare the two swings in the video from the side, we see that while Young eventually brings his hands to almost the same load position but, unlike the clip from earlier in the season, Young can generate more power with his hands starting at a higher point: 
June 11, 2011 - vs Texas Rangers

May 31, 2011 - at Detroit Tigers
Getting his hands through the zone quicker also means better plate coverage on the inner-half. One of his biggest flaws at the beginning of the year was his inability to pull pitches. However as of late he has echoed the hard-hittin’ version of himself from 2010, the one who drove the ball into right field with authority. Re-awaking that could mean some immediate offensive contributions for the surging team.
Of course, this doesn’t smooth over the holes in the other aspects of his game.
Although Young has made the adaptation in his mechanical approach that could set off a potential big streak for him, there are also other factors - such as his plate discipline - that may keep him from taking off. Young’s 2010 vast improvement was aided by a reduction in the frequency of strikeouts. So far this year, Young has reverted back to his pre-2010 tendencies. At 25-years-old with nearly 2,500 plate appearances under his belt, this part of his game is unlikely to go away.
It is quite a quandary for the Twins at this juncture. On one hand, you have a young, right-handed power source that, if the past few at bats are any indications of things to come, could be a big factor in lifting the team back into AL Central contention. On the other hand, he has demonstrated lackadaisical play in the field, been vocal about his displeasure for DH-ing (a position he is best suited for) and the Twins have a versatile outfielder in Ben Revere who offers speed and defensive upgrade.
Either way, if Young can add a few more extra base hits to the ledger over the next couple of weeks, he could be a very valuable asset to the Twins – be it as a middle-of-the-lineup contributor or as a potential trading chip.