Breakout party: Delmon Young

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Is 2009 the year Delmon Young’s raw athletic ability translates into a top-notch fantasy performance? (Icon/SMI)

Delmon Young is a guy who has seemingly been around for years (at least in my mind) and always seems to disappoint the fantasy owner who drafts him. Looking at the records, though, Young has only played two full seasons, was still just 22 years old this past year, and doesn’t actually post numbers that are all that terrible:

+------+-----+------------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM       | AB  | BA    | HR | RBI | R  | SB |
+------+-----+------------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+
| 2007 |  21 | Devil Rays | 645 | 0.288 | 13 |  93 | 65 | 10 |
| 2008 |  22 | Twins      | 575 | 0.290 | 10 |  69 | 80 | 14 |
+------+-----+------------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+

He’s actually been pretty consistent, but fantasy owners always seem to be looking for more. He has been hyped as such a fantastic raw talent, I doubt it would surprise some people to see him explode for 30 homers and 30 steals one of these years. While some owners have soured on him, almost every league will have at least one owner willing to draft Young hoping for that explosion. Will 2009 be the year we finally see it, though?

Power

+------+-----+------------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM       | AB  | HR | tHR | HR/FB | tHR/FB | nHR/FB | RAW | OF FB% |
+------+-----+------------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+
| 2006 |  20 | Devil Rays | 126 |  3 |   3 |    11 |     11 |     11 | 3.7 |     26 |
| 2007 |  21 | Devil Rays | 645 | 13 |  16 |     8 |     10 |     10 | 1.3 |     30 |
| 2008 |  22 | Twins      | 575 | 10 |  10 |     8 |      8 |      6 | 0.8 |     27 |
+------+-----+------------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+

If you’re new to THT Fantasy Focus and are unfamiliar with True Home Runs (tHR) or any of the other stats I’m using, check out our quick reference guide. These stats provide a much clearer picture of a player’s talent, so it’s well worth taking a couple of minutes to learn them.

That big breakout has been expected ever since Young had scouts drooling over him in high school, earning him the number one selection in the 2003 amateur draft. Upon drafting him, then-Devil Rays scouting director Cam Bonifay had this to say:

[Young] is one of the finest power hitters our scouts have evaluated, not only this year but over the years. He’s the kind of guy that you don’t get out of your seat and go buy a hot dog when you know he’s coming to the plate. You want to stay there and watch him hit. He lights up your eyes.”

Young went on to hit 25 homers in Low-A, and then followed up with 20 homers (in just 330 at-bats) in Double-A as a 19 year-old. That’s incredible stuff, but Young has never been able to duplicate that success as he has been promoted to the higher levels. He has always been young for his level, though (and honestly, still is), so it remains entirely possible that he finally catches up with his potential as he moves up the age curve.

True Home Runs, though, thinks Young’s power numbers have been right about where they should be. In fact, this past year, his Park Neutral HR/FB (nHR/FB) was actually two points below his actual HR/FB and down four points from his 2007 nHR/FB. The Metrodome seemed to help him, as he might have only hit 6 or 7 home runs as a Ray this year. Simply put, it’s not as if Young has lots of power and he’s just been getting unlucky.

That isn’t to say, however, that he won’t finally have that breakout. True Home Runs doesn’t factor in age or progression; it simply attempts to neutralize luck. So if Young adds some muscle, improves his swing, or simply ages “quickly,” he very well could see a breakout next year. It would also help if he started hitting more fly balls. He’ll never become an elite power hitter without doing that.

So while Young’s 2009 tHR projection should be higher than his 2008 level, it won’t be incredibly higher since he really hasn’t been unlucky. What you’ve seen of Young up until now is all him. This differs from a player like James Loney who was both unlucky and is on the upswing age-wise. Young only has the latter working for him.

Contact

+------+-----+------------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM       | AB  | BA    | tBA   | CT% | BABIP | mBABIP | LD% | BIP/HR | BIP/tHR |
+------+-----+------------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| 2006 |  20 | Devil Rays | 126 | 0.317 | 0.294 |  81 | 0.374 |  0.344 |  26 |     34 |      34 |
| 2007 |  21 | Devil Rays | 645 | 0.288 | 0.297 |  80 | 0.343 |  0.348 |  21 |     40 |      32 |
| 2008 |  22 | Twins      | 575 | 0.290 | 0.293 |  82 | 0.341 |  0.344 |  17 |     47 |      47 |
+------+-----+------------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+

Young has a very unique blend of contact skills. Before I make too many comments, though, check out his plate discipline stats as well:

+------+-----+------------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM       | AB  | CT% | JUDGMENT X | A/P  | BAT CONTROL | BAD BALL |
+------+-----+------------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| 2006 |  20 | Devil Rays | 126 |  81 |         91 | 2.32 |          88 |       54 |
| 2007 |  21 | Devil Rays | 645 |  80 |        100 | 1.79 |          85 |       51 |
| 2008 |  22 | Twins      | 575 |  82 |        101 | 1.41 |          86 |       57 |
+------+-----+------------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+

His Aggressiveness/Passivity is reminiscent of Vladimir Guerrero, who likes to swing at essentially everything. Unlike Vlad, though, Young makes more mistakes in judgment to begin with and can’t make up for it with an outstanding ability to hit balls out the zone (Bad Ball). In fact, he only reached a league average level this year.

Still, he manages to keep his contact rate at a respectable (league average) level due to being solid (though unspectacular) with his Judgment, Bat Control, and Bad Ball hitting, in addition to the fact that being too aggressive is better than too passive (as far as contact rate goes, anyway).

Added to this rare mix of super aggressive, moderate contact skill is an excellent ability to hit the ball with authority when he does make contact. His BABIP is consistently over .340, and being so young, Marcel only sees improvement. A repeat of the 17 percent line drive rate could hurt him, though, so keep an eye on that in the early going. Luckily, a bounce-back is more likely than a repeat.

Overall, Young’s true batting average talent seems to be right around .295. His True Batting Averages have matched his actual batting averages over the past two years, and more of the same should be expected in 2009. Of course, Young has significant upside here if he can ever become more like Vlad in some plate discipline category, be it Judgment, Bat Control, or Bad Ball Hitting.

Speed

+------+-----+------------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+-----------+-------------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM       | AB  | SB | SBA | SBO%  | SBA% | SB% | FAN SPEED | FAN BALLOTS |
+------+-----+------------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+-----------+-------------+
| 2006 |  20 | Devil Rays | 126 |  2 |   4 | 0.237 |   13 |  50 |       N/A |         N/A |
| 2007 |  21 | Devil Rays | 645 | 10 |  13 | 0.238 |    8 |  77 |        57 |          31 |
| 2008 |  22 | Twins      | 575 | 14 |  19 | 0.257 |   12 |  74 |        57 |          29 |
+------+-----+------------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+-----------+-------------+

While Young has always been praised for his athleticism, scouts rarely claimed he had much better than average speed. Tango’s Fan Scouting Report grades seem to confirm this. While Young positively contributes with steals, he isn’t a beast by any means and probably never will be.

He attempts to steal often enough that pitchers have to watch him, but he isn’t any Carlos Beltran when it comes to how successful those attempts are. He stays a little above average and is successful enough not to hurt his team, but unless his speed improves as he ages or his instincts somehow get a little better (or the sample size we’re looking at isn’t indicative of his actual talent level), I don’t see too much stolen base upside for Young. I see him topping out at 20 one of these years.

Concluding thoughts

To recap, while Young does have breakout potential, I’d much prefer a guy like Loney whose “breakout” is more certain because his true talent level was masked in 2008.

Young is a young guy who is a good athlete and a scout favorite—and has breakout potential on this basis—but improved numbers in 2009 will have to come from legitimate skill growth or good fortune. A guy like Loney may only need to see some regression for his 2009 numbers to top those from 2008. As a pure percentage play—holding all else constant—I’m taking the “Loney” group over the “Delmon” group on Draft Day.

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