With another home run to the deepest part of the park this afternoon, Delmon Young has now homered in four straight games bringing his season total to 10 and pushing him ahead of leadoff man Austin Jackson for third on the team (behind, of course, Cabrera and Fielder). During that four game span, he finally dragged his slugging percentage over .400 and his OPS over .700 for the season. That’s just what this team needs.
When we expected this Tigers team to score a lot of runs and hit a lot of balls out of the park, it wasn’t just because we all expected Cabrera and Fielder to hit 50 apiece and duel for the MVP. We all expected 15-25 home runs out of guys like Boesch, Cabrera, Avila, Peralta and – of course – Delmon Young. Boesch and Young now look to come in on the low end of that scale, while Peralta, Avila and especially Raburn look to be lucky to hit double digits. Obviously the Tigers are not a speed team, or what you would call a ‘patient’ team and I’d say that the team desperately needs another power threat. Jackson and Berry have been doing a good job in providing RBI opportunities for Cabrera and Fielder, but they desperately need somebody, anybody to step up to drive those two big bats in (and not with ground balls through the gap). Can Young become that power threat? Last year (for the Tigers) he did hit 13 bombs in 49 games…
Delmon Young is a big dude, and he is more than capable of hitting the ball hard. As a prospect, he looked like he would become a premier power-hitter – in 2005 he hit 26 home runs in 136 games in the minors at age 19, which got him the number 1 spot on BAs prospect rankings. He also stole 32 bases in 2005, so clearly he has bulked up a bit since then. Unfortunately, Young hasn’t shown such home run proclivity for any extended period in the majors – averaging about 1 home run every 10 games. The Twins gave up on him in 2011 after 84 games and 4 homers and shipped him over here. In his best offensive season (2010) he hit only 21 home runs for the Twins and that total production was still only good for an .826 OPS and 1.5 WAR.
This is something I and others have written about before: ALL of Delmon Young’s value is tied up in home runs. He doesn’t steal bases anymore (he has literally ZERO steals in a Tigers uniform). He doesn’t play good defense – costing his teams more than a win a year in the field according to BR and others. He does not walk – only 14 of them in 489 plate appearances as a Tiger. The batter most similar to Young according to Baseball Reference is Jeff Francoeur – another famous non-walker. But… Jeff Francoeur has been a plus defender so Young is clearly worse than Frenchy. There are hitters who can add a lot of value without home runs or steals (like Wade Boggs or Tony Gwynn). But Delmon doesn’t have enough of a BABIP tool or a strikeout tool to really impress with the batting average – though his .268 this year and last is acceptable. So… home runs up – Young is a valuable player. Home runs down – Young is dead weight.
We need Delmon to hit home runs – and now that he finally looks to have started doing that I’ll stop calling for him to be canned and replaced with another DH. The issue isn’t a physical one – Young is not Don Kelly or Ramon Santiago. It’s an issue of technique – Young generates far too many ground balls for a guy with his pure power potential (and lack of speed) and too few fly balls. He has made a bit of progress in that direction, with a GB rate 6 points below his career average of 47.7% – but most of those non-ground balls have been line drives (and he’s been a bit unlucky this year by xBABIP with that high line drive rate) and infield flies. His HR/FB rate of 10.3% isn’t too shabby nothing like Prince Fielders career 19.9% and could stand to be improved. Perhaps part of the problem is that Delmon Young swings at too many pitchers pitches that he can’t really drive. If that’s the case, I’m not sure we should have much hope. So lets hope, instead, that it isn’t.