Point: Delmon Young Makes Tigers Worse


I know he hit a homer in his first Tiger at-bat today, and I saw him actually make a catch (I was surprised, but I suppose these things occasionally happen) but I do not like this acquisition of Delmon Young. In fact, I hate it so much that I feel it deserves a genuine rant.

The Twins simply gave up on Young, much like the Rays did a few years back and chucked him in the nearest receptacle. So I must ask… what is Dave Dombrowski doing picking through the Twins’ trash? Was the steep price he paid for Doug Fister enough to convert him to a freegan lifestyle?

We’ve been hearing for as long as Delmon Young has played baseball (possibly even before was drafted) that he was a star-to-be. I don’t buy that, but at least at the start of the 2011 season you could make that case – since Young was coming of the best season of his career at age 24. This year he’s back to being something pretty close to awful, and a year older, and the argument that he is about to become something is wearing a little thin.

I’m sure Young has some redeeming qualities and there must be some silver lining to all this, but you won’t find any of that here – Christopher Czar should be taking that responsibility with a ‘counterpoint’ a bit later.

So, let’s get a couple of things out of the way:

first, contrary to the opinion of our own Christopher Czar the fact is that Young’s 2010 was nothing like an MVP-caliber season. It was the best season of his career, but that is because his career to that point had been a massive disappointment from the former number one overall pick. By baseball-reference count Young was good for 1.7 WAR last year, according to fangraphs a slightly better 1.8 – that’s nothing more than mediocre. He did hit .298 with 21 homers and 112 RBI, but he never walked and played some atrocious defense while playing an offense-first position.

Before his 2011 struggles, you might have been inclined to write off everything before 2010 as developmental years not representative of Young’s true talent. Put this year and last together, and Young has posted a .769 OPS. That’s a bit better than the massively disappointing .738 OPS from Young’s first four seasons in the major leagues, but not all that much to get excited about. That improvement may very well be for real since it is pretty much all due to a higher home run rate, could be he’s gotten a bit stronger. But it isn’t enough, since Young was a below-replacement level player his first four seasons according to both fangraphs and baseball-reference. In fact, according to baseball-reference he was below replacement level each and every one of those first four seasons. The reason is that Delmon Young has played terrible defense, with a career dWAR of either -4.6 or -4.3 wins depending on which source you use, and while he has done some nice things with his bat it hasn’t been nearly enough to compensate. For a frame of reference, over the past 5 years the admittedly defensively-challenged Magglio Ordonez has had a mere -1.6 dWAR implying that as bad as Ordonez is in the field Young is three times worse. According to BR he has been good for a cumulative 0.1 WAR over 689 major league games. There is a reason that Alex Rios got claimed while Delmon Young slid through waivers unmolested, despite his much smaller salary commitment.

It may very well be the case that the Tigers gave up next to nothing to get Young, Cole Nelson is a non-prospect but the PTBNL could be anyone. Even assuming it turns out to be a non-prospect to be named later (NPTBNL?) I don’t think the Tigers come out ahead here. I’m usually in favor of trading mid-season for guys with a track record who have been mired in a slump, somebody like Ian Stewart instead of somebody who has probably been playing better than anyone had a right to expect, like 2009’s Aubrey Huff and Jarrod Washburn or 2011’s Doug Fister. But I don’t think Delmon Young fits that category, if he does nothing but return to form (what Leland would call ‘the book’ would suggest) he simply doesn’t have any value. The Twins knew that, the Rays knew that and these are two organizations known for strong player development and evaluation. Why can’t the Tigers brass see it? What I find chilling is that he may be the kind of player Jim Leyland likes… he hacks, doesn’t walk, and puts up a high enough batting average and enough RBI to make him forget that he isn’t doing anything else competently.

And to those of you who would say ‘why not?’, that’s my answer. Delmon Young may stick here in Detroit, not by playing well but by giving certain individuals the impression that he’s playing well. Granted, with Boesch hurt and Ordonez playing his way to an early retirement the Tigers outfield leaves something to be desired. Still, I’m sure better options could have been had than Replacement Level Young either internally or externally. If Dombrowski hadn’t seen fit to dump Casper Wells on the Mariners in his effort to clone Brad Penny, we would have had our answer sitting in the dugout sipping Gatorade. He’s no superman, but Wells knows how to play defense and has more pure power than Young. What’s more, Wells has more WAR in 265 PAs this year and last than Young had in his oh-so impressive 2010 campaign, and far more than Young has over his 6 major league seasons. Andy Dirks would have been a decent option too, especially because he could effectively platoon with Magglio Ordonez who doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. Ryan Raburn has gotten a lot of crap here and elsewhere for his bad 2011 campaign (though he hit a dinger tonight too), but his 2011 OPS is barely below Young’s and his 2011 BR WAR total is the same. Over his career, Raburn has a higher OPS, better defensive numbers and vastly more WAR. If you have to give an outfield spot to a defensively suspect underachiever, why not use your own? I would have been happier with Rhymes at second (another guy who can take a walk and play some defense) and Raburn back in the outfield – as terrible as he is he has a better glove than Young, well actually better legs but that doesn’t sound right.

What I anticipate is that we’re going to see a repeat of Young’s 2008 and 2009 Twins campaigns over the next couple of seasons in Detroit – a player with an average bat and an awful glove that overall gives no more value than Don !@#$% Kelly. They’re going to hold onto him, play him every day, feed him cash and pretend he doesn’t stink while Tigers fans sit back and pray he quote-unquote “develops”.