There was a time, back in 2006, when Delmon Young was known as much for his temper as his talent. In April of that year, while in still the minors, he tossed his bat toward an umpire and struck him after disagreeing with a call. He served a 50 game suspension for his actions, starting the season in an embarrassing manner. Unfortunately, his actions followed a season in which terrific numbers in Double-A and Triple-A brought him the label of best prospect in baseball. It was not the way he wanted to follow up such a good showing the year before, but Young recovered from the incident, served his suspension, and made it to the big club in Tampa Bay by the end of the year. He followed his brief stint that year by playing every game with the Rays in 2007, batting .288.
After 2007, the Rays traded him to the Twins as part of a six player deal and Young’s progress stalled. He still hit for nice average his first two seasons with Minnesota, but he rarely walked and his lack of power made that average a hollow number. His career stagnation brought whispers of bust, as often happens to former number 1 overall draft picks that take a while to develop. But, starting back in June, as David Golebiewski noticed, Young was starting to turn a corner.
Young hit .434 in 26 games during July. That high average included 12 doubles and 6 homers and gave him a robust .736 slugging percentage for the month. He also knocked in 30 runs in that stretch and kept moving up the Twins batting order, producing at an important time for the team with Justin Morneau recovering from a concussion.
As David noted in his article linked above, Young’s BABIP sat well below his career average throughout the first couple of months of the season and he was due a bounce that would probably bring his batting average up as the year progressed. Well, the expected rebound occurred, and Young has done it by hacking at, and making contact with, nearly everything thrown his way.
During his hot July, Young only walked twice, and one of those was intentional. In fact, since June 1- about the time his season turned around- he has only drawn two unintentional walks. That’s a stretch of 53 games with Young smacking balls all over the place as nearly his only means of reaching base. Young had actually began the season drawing more walks than his career average, but the low BABIP and only a little more power than his norm still had him playing at a similar level early on.
The main change for Delmon Young, and surely the cause for his success since the beginning of June, has come in his contact rate.
Sure, he’s hitting balls on the ground a little less (43.8% instead of his career 48.9%) in 2010, but some of those extra balls in the air are catalogued at Fangraphs as infield flies, so it’s not a staggering improvement. Similarly, his line drive percentage is in line with what he’s always posted. So, the big change appears to be in how well he’s putting the bat on the ball.
There’s no doubt his contact in the zone is improved and a cause for his success in 2010, as he’s hitting 89.2% of those pitches. Young is swinging at pitches outside of the zone about as much as he always has (41.5% of the time). But, the key is he’s making contact with them at a far higher clip than he’s used to. After making contact on pitches off the plate only about half the time for his career, Young has improved to 75.2% this year.
More contact on those bad balls he’s swinging at has his strikeouts down and average up. Young has supplemented the boost in average with a corresponding boost in power. That adds up to a big step forward at age 24 for a player that’s always had loads of promise. The challenge will be sustaining this higher batting average and increase in extra base hits for the long haul.
I’m not sure the way to do that is to refuse walks and swing at nearly every pitch thrown his way, but it’s seems to be working right now.