Projection Series: DH/LF Delmon Young


You know what the deal is by now. I’m projecting the Tigers starting lineup and pitching rotation for the upcoming 2012 season. Let’s see how Delmon Young is going to fare in his first full season in a Detroit Tigers uniform.

Aggregate projection
554 PA 17 HR 76 RBI 4.5 BB% 16.1 K% .155 ISO .313 BABIP .284/.320/.439 .749 OPS -8 Fielding .6 WAR

Why he may exceed projection
Delmon Young is the ultimate lightning rod between SABR and traditional fan. I like to refer to him as Elmon, because he has no “D”. Mr. Young came over to the Tigers in a late August 2011 trade, for right hander Lester Oliveros and big left hander Cole Nelson. In 40 regular season games , Young posted a .274/.298/.458 line, which is downright weird. It took him an incredible 21 games to take his first walk. He popped 8 HR during the regular season, and another 5 in the playoffs, giving him an remarkable 13 in ~200 AB’s. As a former top prospect, and number one overall pick for Tampa, Da Meat Hook’s little brother supposedly could do it all. However, he has yet to reach the potential scouts drooled over. Last year though, he showed that when healthy, the possibility of 25 HR is still within reach.

Aside from last year, Young had never hit below .284 for a full season, so it’s likely that his average has a small rebound from 2011. In addition, he did show some pop in the last two months, that may well carry over to 2012. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit 20+ HR, and if he hits somewhere in the .280 range, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, who both sport .400+ OBP’s, will provide Young with so many RBI opportunities in the #5 spot, it should prove nearly impossible for him not to drive in 90+ runs. Delmon’s fielding is a polarizing topic among fans, never considered even average, he’s actually improved in successive years from -19, -14, and -10 UZR, to a respectable -2.8 last season. I didn’t get to watch him enough in Minnesota to say whether or not he’s improved with the glove, but I believe UZR is a bit broken in this case. He’s nowhere near an average fielder. With that being said, UZR data can fluctuate in small samples, and his -14 UZR/150 is about where I’d peg him. Hopefully, he will only play ~50 games in the field, and some of his terrible defense will be neutralized by the DH position.

Why he may do worse than projection
For someone who has received so much love around the Detroit area for his playoff performance, it is important to understand that a sample size of 30 AB has absolutely no predictive value. This notion is proven by statistics that do have predictive value, otherwise known as FIO. Bradley Woodrum over at fangraphs has come up with a method of determining fielding independent offense, similar to fielding independent defense. The ingredients are ones that I have talked about before: BB%, K%, HR%, SB/PA, and BABIP. Delmon does not walk, but all of his other statistics in this case are about league average, besides SB of course. I would also like to add my own personal statistics into the mix when discussing this particular hitter: SWSTR%, the amount of times a hitter swings and misses, o-swing%, the amount of times a hitter swings at a ball out of the strike zone, and swing%, the amount of times that a batter swings at a pitched ball. These statistics tell the story of plate discipline. If a hitter has poor discipline, they have less of a chance of getting on base, and therefore creating runs for their team. Sadly enough for Mr. Young, he’s actually improved in some of these categories, which makes his current results that much worse. Here is how he fared last season for hitters with 400+PA (203 hitters total): SWSTR% (10.4) 157th, o-zone% (41.2) 195th, swing% (55.2) 13th most. What’s that mean? It means that he swings and misses very often, swings at balls out of the strike zone extremely often, and swings the bat more times than a 24 hour windmill. The best example of this total lack of plate discipline is his paltry 5 walks in 178 regular season plate appearances in a Tiger uniform and his 4.2% career walk rate puts him at 318th out of 332 qualified hitters since he started in 2007. These numbers tell us Delmon has absolutely no freaking clue what is coming out of the pitchers hand and no command of the strike zone. Luckily, he has such good hand-eye coordination that he manages to get a hit every once in awhile. If Elmon can’t gain semblance of a plate discipline this season, he may post a ~.700 OPS, which would make him essentially the equivalent to a weak hitting 2B or a Juan Pierre caliber OF, which is code for useless.

My projection
Taking all of this into account, I actually believe this will be a decent year for Young, in terms of counting stats. While I don’t believe in things like lineup protection and contract years, he knows that after being placed on waivers last season, he’s going to have to perform admirably this year, in order to get a multi year contract. At just 26, he’s on the right side of the age curve. However, at ~3000 PA, players typically are who they are. Sure, a lot of his plate appearances came when he was 22, 23, or 24 years old, when some players may have been developing in the minors. However, he has not changed his approach at the plate, so it’s difficult for me to say that those PA’s should be discounted.

In terms of actual value to the Tigers, Elmon is incredibly overrated, especially if he is playing the field. For reference, even 2010, his career year where he knocked 21 HR and had 121 RBI, while putting up an .826 OPS, he only accumulated 1.8 WAR. The average regular puts up 2. In 729 games, which amounts to 4.5 full seasons, he has posted a total of 1.6 WAR, .9 of which were in his rookie campaign. Honestly, I think that’s probably overstating his value. Just for reference, Brett Lawrie posted 2.7 WAR in 43 games, and Desmond Jennings 2.4 WAR in 63 last season. Once again, for anyone who has had 1500 PA since 2007, the first year he was a regular, Young ranks only ahead of Ken Griffey Jr, Jermaine Dye, Jose Guillen, Julio Lugo, and Corey Patterson. Most of the guys around him in this category no longer have a job. His defense is probably even worse than metrics indicate, because he has to play so deep and he s so slow afoot that numerous short fly balls fall in front of him, most of these, others would catch with ease. So, if we’re counting at home, he’s put up 2.8 WAR in 750 of his plate appearances, and the other 2200, he’s been worth -1.2. He’s essentially a replacement player, one that the organization is paying 6MM dollars, and will be hitting behind two of the best five hitters in baseball. He will have ample opportunities to pad his counting stats, and hopefully another organization falls in love with them. I see a .280/.310/.430 line, pretty similar to the projection, with very shiny numbers in terms of RBI and runs scored. Hitting between Fielder, Avila, and Peralta has its perks. He should knock in 100 with his eyes closed and hopefully after this season, the Tigers will look for a permanent, more multi skilled, replacement in LF, and maybe even receive draft pick compensation if they offer him arbitration this offseason.