Ken Rosenthal is one of the most respected baseball writers in the country, and rightfully so. His work for FoxSports.com is typically outstanding, and when it comes to mainstream baseball writers there are few that I respect more.
His latest column on Twins outfield Delmon Young misses the mark though, in my opinion.
That's because Rosenthal prefaces an otherwise fine (if formulaic) article about Young's development with this assertion: "This season he is arguably the Twins’ most valuable player — yes, even over catcher Joe Mauer — and a top MVP candidate in the American League."
Rosenthal's assessment of Young as an MVP candidate is clearly based mostly -- if not entirely -- upon the outfielder's RBI total. Yes, Young leads the Twins with 86 runs driven in. And yes, that production has been critical in a season where the Twins have seen their usual run-producing machine (Justin Morneau) sit on the shelf for six weeks and counting.
But Young's overall performance has been far from elite. He ranks fourth on his own team in OPS, with an .866 mark that is very good but hardly spectacular for a corner outfielder. His continued inability to draw walks has limited him to a relatively modest .349 on-base percentage despite his outstanding .317 batting average. His 15 home runs, while a career high, hardly paint him as a top-of-the-line power hitter.
His RBI total, buoyed by a clearly unsustainable .378 batting average with runners in scoring position, has allowed him to stand out on a club that has often had trouble coming up with big hits in key situations. But in the grand scheme of things, Young still only ranks sixth in the AL in RBI, and that's with his blistering production in July that has predictably teetered off already. Young has driven in only five runs in 16 August games after plating 30 in August, and yet somehow the Twins have managed to keep winning.
I don't mean to belittle Young's offensive progress. Despite his lack of meaningful strides in terms of plate discipline, Young has clearly developed into a more powerful force at the plate. He's not necessarily choosing better pitches to swing at, but he's been able to make better contact with pitches out of the zone, and that's a legitimate skill.
The biggest flaw in Young's game, however, is one that Rosenthal completely overlooks: his defense. Young is a disaster in left field, which has been costly this season as several of the team's fly ball pitchers have struggled. It is because of Young's ineptitude in the field (along with the fact that he plays a non-valuable position to begin with) that he ranks 37th in the American League in FanGraphs.com's Wins Above Replacement metric, which accounts for defense.
I'm not a person who believes that WAR is the be-all, end-all statistic by which to judge a player's value (Denard Span, for instance, ranks ahead of Young by this metric, which is silly), but that's stark. The damage Young does on defense cuts into his offensive value, which on its own would not put him in the MVP conversation.
Young has emerged this season as the competent right-handed bat the Twins have been looking for. He has certainly provided a lot of value to this club and should continue to do so down the stretch. There are several players on the Twins' roster, however, who have been more vital to the team's success, and there are easily more than a dozen players in the American League who have been more valuable.
Had Young's July hot streak carried forth all the way to the end of the season, there may have been some reasonable argument to be made for him being a "top MVP candidate" based on his offensive merits alone. As it stands, the inevitable cold spell seems to have fallen upon Young and his defensive warts have been as apparent as ever. He's still only 24 and can keep on improving, but at this point he's just a good player on a good team that belongs nowhere near the MVP conversation.