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Delmon Young’s Comparables


This bit is meant as a complement to Jordan Gorosh’s excellent post ‘Delmon Young: the Great Divider

There is clearly great debate over how good of a hitter Delmon Young actually is, independent of the discussion of his glove or his youth (and therefore likelihood of development). Some love the trade and view Young as a valuable run producer that should continue to lead the Tigers offense onward and upward for the next few years at least. Some, to put it mildly, don’t.

In an attempt to shine a little more light on this controversy, I decided to look at other players with a profile – at the plate – similar to Delmon Young and see if these are guys we would like to see roaming our outfield or not. We’re looking for guys with at least 2000 career plate appearances over the last 30 years that seem to be ‘like’ Delmon Young, at least given how he has played thus far in his career.

Follow me through the jump to see the breakdown…

The first characteristic is the walk rate: Young does not like the walk. Young’s walk rate this year is 4.7%, over his career it has been 4.2% – so I limited his potential comparables to other guys with a walk rate between 4% and 5%.  So we start with a pool of 56 batters.

The second characteristic is moderate power:  Delmon Young has a career ISO (extra bases per at-bat) of .137.  This year it’s only .108 but his 2010 ‘career year’ resulted in an ISO of .195.  That’s actually a huge swing, and an ISO as high as Young had in 2010 would give him very different comparables (i.e. stars) than using his career numbers as a baseline for comparison much less his 2011 power outage.  It is possible that Young’s power is developing, and that his ISO over the next 10 years will be closer to his 2010 than to his career through 2011, but that would be pure conjecture.  His ISO as a Tiger has been .133.  Not all that different from a career .137 – that may be his ‘real’ power – but I’ll include a fairly wide range of ISOs for comps: anybody within 25 points of .137 since while Young doesn’t look like a true ‘slugger’ he’s also clearly not a slap hitter a la Rey Sanchez.  That limits our comparables to a mere 25 guys.

The third characteristic is a pretty high batting average:  which for Delmon Young is currently sitting at .290 for his career.  Now, batting average is made up (statistically speaking) of two main components:  BABIP and strikeout rate.  Young, for as much as this is worth, tends to strike out a fair amount but compensate with a pretty good BABIP.  We can first look at Batting Average alone, since this is the ‘end product’ which helps the team score runs, and then further break it down to see if the guy is generating that batting average in the same way as Young.  My filter for BA is to be within 20 points of Young’s .290, up or down.  Now, he has no comps (based on power and patience) with an average more than 20 points higher – a .290 career average is really pretty good – so what we’re doing here is eliminating guys with low batting averages from the running.  If Young had a .250 career average we would not be having debates about his true value.  This leaves us with a short list of 13 players.

This isn’t exactly a misfits list, many have had long and productive careers. Take the inclusion of Steve Garvey with a grain of salt, however, since I limited the stats to post-1980 and Garvey did most of his damage in the 1970s. But, a lot of these guys are catchers and middle infielders – positions it tends to be more difficult to find a decent bat at. Young profiles a lot like Howie Kendrick, who has been perhaps the most important part of the Angels lineup in 2011 as they make a long shot run at the AL West.  Kendrick, though, plays second base and actually does it well.  Even Adam Jones, while an outfielder, plays center and plays it well – so he’s not an ideal comp (even though his profile at the plate may be similar).

The two best fits on this list, going by all five categories and the difficulty of their position defensively look to be Reed Johnson (currently playing for the Chicago Cubs) and the Royals’ Jeff Francouer.  Bill Buckner may also be a good fit, since if we ignore the BA breakdown in to strikeouts and BABIP his other characteristics are pretty close.  No one is a perfect fit, of course, but these are as close as we can get to observing Delmon Young’s production outside Delmon Young’s body.  Reed Johnson has a very similar bat in all respects, a glove only slightly better than average, but he started his career at 26 while all of Delmon Young’s major league games have been played before that point.  Still, he is considered to be a valuable part-time player nothing more.  Francoeur got a lot of negative press before his signing with the Royals (and after) but that signing has gone pretty well.  Francoeur doesn’t seem to have Young’s BABIP skills, but he does look to have a bit more power.   He’s still young, like Young, and might have his best years ahead of him (which Johnson probably does not).  The big difference, of course, would come back to defense:  Francoeur is generally considered to be an above average defensive outfielder while Young is not.

A pity, though, that we can’t rely on Young’s 2010 power surge to represent the ‘true Delmon Young’.  Who would we get if we looked for guys with few walks, a high average and an ISO close to .195?  George Bell and Robinson Cano… the kind of batters I think we can all agree that we wouldn’t mind seeing in the Tigers lineup.