Friday, June 05, 2009

The Young and the Listless

Since Joe Mauer's return to the Twins' lineup on May 1, we fans have been witness to an incredible hot streak -- easily the most impressive I've ever seen. Yet, on the opposite end of the spectrum, we've also seen one of the most brutal hitting droughts in memory. Over the course of this season, and over the past month or so especially, Delmon Young has been absolutely abysmal.

This post isn't a redux of the tired Young vs. Gomez argument, as Gomez hasn't exactly been a world-beater at the plate in his own right. But Young's at-bats as of late have been mind-bogglingly terrible, and the poor approach has been reflected in his results. Over the past calendar month, Young has gone 10-for-55 (.182) with zero extra-base hits, three walks and 24 strikeouts. He's grounded into three double plays during that span. It's hard to imagine a rougher stretch at the plate.

Particularly troubling is the absurdly high strikeout rate. Young has always been somewhat prone to striking out, with a 17.8 percent major-league K-rate entering 2009, but this season he's been whiffing at an astronomical rate. With 41 strikeouts in 125 plate appearances, Young's '09 strikeout rate stands at 32.8 percent, and over the past month it's been 40.7 percent.

With his inability to put the ball in play with any regularity, Young has been limited to a paltry .231 batting average despite being relatively lucky on balls in play (.342 BABIP). He's got only four hits in his past 41 at-bats and the strikeouts are piling up more than ever. Young looks completely lost at the plate and he's showing no signs of snapping out of it.

Of course, what must be noted is that the majority of those 41 at-bats have come after Young's return from a leave of absence due to his mother's death. Prior to his trip to California to be with his mother in her final days, Young was batting .277 with a 648 OPS and a 24.4 percent strikeout rate. Those aren't good numbers but they aren't disastrous either. Since returning to the team after his mother's passing, Young has hit .098 and has struck out 21 times in 42 plate appearances -- 50 percent! He's fanned multiple times in seven of those nine games.

Without question, losing a mother (particularly at the age of 23) can turn a person's life upside down and make it impossible to focus on anything, particularly playing a sport. As such, Young's current mega-slump is at least partially -- if not totally -- excusable and understandable. What's not excusable is that his name continues to be written into the lineup everyday while he digs himself into a deeper and deeper offensive hole. Young was held out of the starting lineup yesterday for only the third time in 11 games since his return.

I think it's a well documented fact that I'm not a big fan of Mr. Young, but he's not as bad as his recent numbers suggest. In watching him listlessly flail away at the plate, it's pretty clear that he's not really there mentally right now, which is totally understandable given his circumstances. He needs some time to get his head straight. A stint on the bench might work, but would also be tough to work out given that the Twins are already short on healthy outfielders. The better bet would be to place him on the disabled list for a while, although I don't know what the official rules are as far as using the disabled list for mental health issues. (Dontrelle Willis was DL'ed by the Tigers earlier this season for anxiety problems; perhaps the Twins could make a similar move?)

Whichever way they want to go about it, the Twins need to get Young out of the lineup for a while. And once he's got his mind right, he should return to his rightful spot as fourth outfielder.

13 comments:

John said...

While Young may not be a .200 OPS hitter, .650 with terrible defense is just execrable for a left fielder. He was below replacement level last season when you factor defense in- and that was with a .741 OPS. Now he's inarguably among the worst players in the Bigs.

That's all bad enough, but the real downer is just watching him play. Delmon Young is not a good baseball player. He has certain natural talents that got him to the Majors but it's not enough any more, and since he won't accept coaching and is unstable to boot, there is no real hope for the foreseeable future.

Bill Smith should just come out and say "we blew it" and then move on. The Twins can't afford to carry an albatross based on his former prospect status and trade cost. They are deep in the outfield anyway, both at the MLB and minor league levels. Don't waste what Mauer, Morneau, and co. are doing just in the vain hope Young will suddenly learn how to play.

He's not worth the roster spot.

Leslie said...

Delmon Young definitely has the talent, but it has not clicked here for whatever. I don't know if it's the coaching or he does not feel comfortable here. It's hard for me to imagine that he would lose it after coming here. He showed glimpses of what he can do in September of last year, but right now, nothing is working. Sometimes players don't fit in certain teams, and that might be the case.

Beth said...

I'll bring up this view: After a tragic event, it's better to be doing something than to be sitting. This is probably why he's still in the line-up. If he were sitting on the bench, he'd just be wallowing in the sorrow of his mother's death and the sorrow of not being able to play baseball, and things could possibly get worse.

Either way, though, I hope he's getting outside professional emotional help.

Anonymous said...

My partner lost her mom when she was 18. It pretty much changed everything for her. I don't think 23 is much different from 18 in that regard. I admit I yelled "Delmon Young sucks" from the stands at least once in the last month, but as Nick writes he probably does deserve a pass for this last spell.

Unfortunately as John writes he really wasn't good enough before all of this either.

Anybody think he would pass waivers?

Nick N. said...

John: You'll get no argument from me on that end. What I will say is that when Young is hitting .290, he's at least decent enough to warrant a spot on a big-league roster, though not as a starting player. Right now there's little doubt that he's one of the worst players in the league, though.

Beth: I see your point, but I guess I have a hard time with the notion that the construction of a major-league baseball roster should be based on therapeutic reasons. If Young needs to get his head right, he should be seeing a therapist or grief counselor, not playing regularly and dragging down a major-league team in which many people have a great deal invested.

Anon: No way Young would pass through waivers. Some team like Washington would almost certainly snatch him up.

lookatthosetwins said...

Ha, looks like you and Dave Cameron have the same idea.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/what-to-do-with-delmon/#comment-79444

Ben K said...

Nick,

I agree with the whole article, other than the point of Delmon being lucky. Yes he has a high BABIP, but look at his career BABIP:

2006: .374
2007: .343
2008: .341
2009: .347

For some reason the approach that Delmon has at the plate yields a higher percentage of hits for balls put in play.

Nick N. said...

Ben: I'm aware that Young has routinely posted high BABIP numbers (which I find kind of odd; it wouldn't seem that he's fast enough to take advantage of his high GB rates)... when I said "relatively lucky" I meant relative to the average player, not to his own personal history.

LATT: I did catch that article. Some pretty humorous (or sad) comparisons in there. A year ago, people were comparing Young to Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente. Now they're talking about how basically encompasses the worst aspects of every player in the league.

I particularly enjoyed this piece: To put that in context, Young’s current performance is equally as far away from replacement level as Justin Upton’s current performance… just in the other direction. If Young was going to continue to perform at this level going forward, replacing him with a random Triple-A outfielder would yield about the same return as replacing that random Triple-A outfielder with an All-Star.

Oh my.

Josh said...

I didn't think Young was out of options? So they should be able to send him to AAA without subjecting him to waivers. Which would be a good idea.

There are several problems with what is going on with Delmon Young right now. He's not accepting any coaching, which is ridiculous for a guy who is only 23 and had limited success in the majors. At the same time, the team is still trying to justify the trade and/or get some trade value for Young. Toss in the fact that there doesn't seem to be much ready in AAA to come up and hit right now...they're stuck a bit.

Ben K said...

Delmon is out of options as he signed a major league deal out of high school.

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