“We talked to Delmon Young and at this point, we were very thankful for the things they have done for us but we have to make some business decisions as well”
That was Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski on Delmon Young (and Jose Valverde) as reported by the Detroit News in late October. With Victor Martinez due to return from injury there was no spot on the team left for Young – and he certainly wasn’t going to fill the everyday right field void – so the logical move was to part ways. Many of us cheered when Young’s contract expired; he was a $6 million designated hitter that ended the year with a .707 OPS. Sure, he came on strong in the ALCS, but four strong games don’t make up for 150+ replacement level ones.
But, while cutting the Delmon Young cord was the right thing to do at the time, he wouldn’t be the worst player in the world to serve as a platoon left fielder. Obviously the thought of bringing Delmon back to the team sounds ridiculous at first – and he certainly carries more than a few drawbacks – but the math works out on this being an OK move.
Young isn’t a good hitter overall. He’s had a good year or two at the plate, but his career has thus far resulted in a 96 wRC+ (with the last two more like 90 wRC+). That’s solidly below average which just doesn’t work for a guy who’s either a DH or a tremendous liability in the field. But, he’s been quite good at hitting left-handed pitching. Last year he had an .833 OPS (125 wRC+) versus lefties which pretty well matches his .824 OPS career mark. If we could have certain assurances – namely that he would (almost) never face a right-handed pitcher – then this idea could actually work out, despite his terrible defensive abilities.
His career .352 wOBA versus lefties (which, again, is slightly worse than he hit against southpaws even last year) would translate to an offensive value of roughly 4.5 runs above average (in 162 plate appearances, roughly 40 games’ worth). He’s been a really bad outfielder – he’s credited with -50.6 runs in 4630 innings in left field by UZR – but if he only played 285 innings in those 40 games (hopefully a bit less, as he’d be replaced defensively late in games), then he’d “only” cost the team 3.1 runs (using his career UZR rate) below average. Adding in his career base running abilities (-0.3 runs), a left field positional adjustment (-1.8 runs), and a playing time adjustment (+5.4 runs), he’d end up being worth 4.7 runs (above replacement) to the Tigers. The decimals here represent a sense of false accuracy – there’s going to be plenty of variation around these numbers – but in a pure 40-game platoon – Delmon Young could conceivably add a half a win to the Tigers’ in 2013.
That’s not a staggering total, but that’s basically league average production. And things could be much worse than league average. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that the Tigers go this route, but, if they did, it might not be as horribly awful as it would seem.
So the numbers say this could be a decent move, but here are a few reasons why it could (would) be very bad.
First of all the money would have to be right. I’m not sure what Delmon Young thinks he’s worth, but if he were to actually be a 0.5 WAR platoon player he should be paid no more than $2.5 million (and hopefully less than that). That would represent more than a 50% pay cut for him, so it’s probably not an offer he would immediately jump at, and yet it still feels like an overpay.
Secondly, Jim Leyland is probably not to be trusted with Delmon Young. The Tigers’ manager hit him fifth all season long which is a strong indication that he thinks Young is a much better hitter and player than he really is. And if everything went according to plan (that is to say, Delmon was hitting lefties at his career rate) then Young might have something like a .307/.341/.483 slash line going (that’s his career line versus lefties). If that was his season line, would Leyland be tempted into playing him every day? Probably. And would that ruin the whole thing? Certainly. They would need to go into the year expecting to see numbers like that, and not flinch once they saw them. Maybe they would need to work a clause into his contract whereby he’s automatically cut if he hits against righties more than 10% of the time.
Thirdly, the Tigers probably aren’t looking for an all-bat solution here. The 0.5 WAR total is probably the range they’ll get (maybe 1 WAR), but I’m sure they’d rather sacrifice some hitting potential to get a player with defensive abilities that are at least average. Ideally you’d also like an additional element like speed that could make the player useful off the bench as well, and that’s not Young. It would be tough to justify a roster spot for a part-time outfielder that can’t pinch run and can’t even really pinch hit (you’d only really want him in for Dirks or Alex Avila and only when a lefty is on the mound).
So yeah. Re-signing Delmon Young TO BE AN OUTFIELDER does sound like a ridiculous move (and to be sure, I’d ridicule it), but it may not actually be as crazy of a move as it sounds. It might actually turn out to be quite reasonable.