If Delmon Young Is Broken, Can He Be Fixed?

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If Delmon Young Is Broken, Can He Be Fixed?
(Photo by Scott A. Schneider/Getty Images)

Despite beating the Rays and Matt Garza on Sunday, the Twins probably wish he had been their starter.

While both Garza and the man he was traded for, Delmon Young, have been less than their teams may have hoped for, it is clear who got the best end of this deal.

A big part of the reason that the Twins wish they had never made the deal is their need for a solid middle infielder and the performance of Jason Bartlett(1.3 UZR, 31.2 VORP good for third best in baseball).

Still, there is time for the Twins to recoup their losses, right?

Delmon Young is a heartbeat away from becoming the player who flew through the minors and got second in ROY voting, and he's still just 23, plenty of time.

Well, maybe.

It is unclear what kind of defender Young can be. His arm is strong and he has posted a positive UZR as recently as 2007 with the Rays. However, in his days with the Twins, he posted a -16.4 UZR last year and is well on his way to a similar mark this year, -6.7 through about 1/3 of the season.

Paired with Carlos Gomez and Denard Span, both plus defenders in center and right respectively, Young is an acceptable fielder. Gomez has the range to cover the gap for Young if need be, but that presumes that his bat is worth having in the lineup.

Right now, that isn't the case.

Young's 2008 season was profoundly disappointing to Twins fans, who thought they were getting a great hitter who would be an extra base hitting machine. 

What they got was a marginally better player than the one who left Tampa. The problem is that the team and fans alike wanted more.

Young's OPS+ of 102 means he is a profoundly average hitter. From 2007 to 2008 he hit fewer home runs and knocked in fewer runs, but also walked more and struck out less. Overall, he slugged at about the same rate in fewer games.

All in all, Young wasn't bad, he just wasn't the player the Twins wanted.

This season, its a whole different situation.

Before delving into Young's issues this season, I want to take a brief moment to talk about Young's family issues. As was widely reported, Young's mother succumbed to her two year battle with cancer in early May. Young is about 18 months older than I am, and I know full well that if I experienced the same loss, ineffective wouldn't even begin to cover my mental state.

I hope for Delmon's sake, and for the sake of the team, that the Twins have made sure he's getting the support he needs. I have no doubt that some of Young's struggles stem from this issue, but there are other problems at work here.

Young's OPS+ for the season to date: 52, Nick Punto's is worse at 39, but Young is much closer to that mark than his OF mates Michael Cuddyer(134) or Denard Span(112). Even Carlos Gomez is hitting better(60) and his value is primarily defensive.

Part of the reason Young seems to be doing so poorly is his astronomical K-rate. In just 32 games, he has gone down on strikes 37 times; he actually has more strike outs than total bases(30). He isn't just getting out more than he was last year, he's nearly always going down on strikes.

Since missing four days while attending his mother's funeral, Young has gone 3-28, with 13 strike outs.

Can Young snap out of his funk?

If he does, it won't be easy. His BABIP is .352, higher than the league average, so it isn't just a case of bad luck.

On the plus side, he's actually showing some improvement in pitch recognition. His O-Swing and Z-Swing percentages are moving in the right direction, up for O-Swing and down for Z-Swing, and swinging at marginally fewer pitches overall.

He isn't making contact on as many pitches as he did previously, which explains why he's striking out a lot more.

Part of the issue with Delmon is going to be expectations.

Is he going to hit .320 with 15 home runs? No, there's no reason to believe that he'll set season highs this season.

Could he get back to career averages? Quite possibly, he's identifying balls and strikes better, but just hasn't translated that to an improvement in overall hitting.

At this point, Young needs to be seeing about 10,000 pitches per day. If he had options left, going to AAA would be perfect, but there is no way he'd make it through waivers. The Twins will definitely trot him out every day while Michael Cuddyer nurses a finger injury.

After that point, when the outfield carousel must spin once again, the Twins will have a hard decision to make. Carlos Gomez is outhitting Young and blows him away in the field, making him the sounder play in the short term.

However, if Young's issues will only be solved by game action, the Twins may have to decide whether they are committed enough to his continued development to give him the AB's necessary for him to start hitting the ball again.

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