Is Delmon Young Actually Swinging at Strikes?

It’s not a new thing for someone who writes about baseball to point out both that (a) Delmon Young was, for a number of years, one of the very top prospects in the entire minor leagues, and also that (b) he is not now, some number of years later, one of the very top players in the entire major leagues — is, in fact, only slightly better than replacement level over the course of 3,200-plus major-league plate appearances (or, roughly five full seasons’ worth of baseball).

It’s because of Young’s pedigree, however, that someone who writes about baseball (like the present author, for example) is always wondering if the second thing might be about to change. I am, certainly, more willing to regard a stretch of particularly good play from Young as more legitimately promising — as more a harbinger of likely future success — than, say, similar stretch of play from Willie Bloomquist.

All of which is why when Delmon Young homers in four consecutive games (as he has done in his last four, consecutively) one wonders if, perhaps, Delmon Young, Disappointment is on the verge of becoming Delmon Young, All-Time Baseball Great — or, at the very least, Delmon Young, League-Average Player.

Turns out, it’s also the sort of thing that the Detroit Free Press’s Shawn Windsor wonders, as well. Windsor, of course, has the advantage of being able to ask Delmon Young’s manager about such developments. In this case, Windsor did do that. And the difference, according to Leyland, between this version of Delmon Young and the other version is that this one is more selective.

Regard, blockquoted text:

“When Delmon is in a good groove he is swinging at strikes, and when he’s in a bad groove he is swinging at balls,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

Indeed, there’s no question that one of the major impediments between Young and stardom (or even competence) has been his inability to discern a ball from a strike.

Per our PITCHf/x data, Young has swung at slightly more than 40% of pitches outside of the strike zone since 2007, while the league-average O-Swing% has typically sat around 27-29%. Young has usually been among the bottom 5% of qualified batters in this regard.

It follows then that, if Young is hitting better, that perhaps one of the reasons is because he’s identifying pitches more ably.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be the case.

Here, for example, are the pitches at which Young has offered during his four-game homer streak (courtesy Texas Leaguers):

And here, now, are the pitches taken by Young over that same stretch:

Given the relatively few pitches Young has seen over just the four-game sample, it’s actually possible just to count those at which he has swung — versus those he’s taken — outside of the zone.

Doing so, one finds that — depending on the how literal we’re being about the strike zone — that Young has swung at about eight or nine pitches out of the zone, and that he’s taken about 10 or 12 pitches. That is, at best, then, a four-game O-Swing% of 40% exactly — and, at worst, of 47.4%.

This, of course, is not to suggest that Young’s success is entirely random; that’s not a thing we can know. There are certain, unnamed players who possess what would be considered entirely miserable approaches, if said unnamed players weren’t also leading the majors in home runs. Whatever the reason for Young’s recent homer streak, however, the ability to tell a ball from a strike does not appear to be the cause.

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26 Responses to “Is Delmon Young Actually Swinging at Strikes?”

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  1. Jeff Moss says:

    Why did Delmon Young get hot this week? The Tigers faced lefties almost all week against KC and MIN.

    Young can still hit LHP. His OPS is around .860 vs. LHP this year and under .600 against RHP I believe.

    He is a platoon player. And because his defense stinks and he might only face a couple of LHP a week, he has very little value to the Tigers.

    His struggles batting behind Fielder and Cabrera are one of the main reasons the Tigers struggled in the first half.

    He just isn’t a good baseball player.

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    • Terry Foster's Wife says:

      Hey, Jeff.

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    • J6takish says:

      Tiger fans may be the most close minded fanbase as in regards to sabremetrics. Talking about platoon splits, you may as well write your articles in Greek

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      • Nathan says:

        Dude, don’t lump us all together. We aren’t all of the “ZOMG BRANDON INGE IS TEH BEST@!!!12@” ilk. Some of us actually like real analysis.

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      • J6takish says:

        Can’t we just trade Quintin Berry for Cano straight up?

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      • Out of Delmon’s four HRs in this little spurt, two were vs lefty starters and two were vs righty relievers.

        In other words, his platoon splits clearly explain the recent streak. /sarcasm

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      • byron says:

        No, clearly, the, uh, let’s say, the Reds, no wait, the Pirates! are the most close-minded fanbase to sabrmetrics. Because, they, like, use RBIs and Wins all the time. Clearly more than other fanbases.

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      • Pacoheadley says:

        Hey now, I’m a Tigers fan and… Wait, you are pretty much right, most of our fans are against the saber stats.

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      • asdfasdf says:

        Fuck you

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    • the fume says:

      Peralta, Young, Raburn have all struggled to different degrees and are one of the the main detractions from this year vs. last year. I think it’s as simple as balls that were home runs last year are being caught at the warning track this year. Encouraging that this seems to be changing for Delmon, hopefully it does for Peralta (looking up) and Raburn (not so much yet) as well.

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      • hey, lay off peralta says:

        I think last year was definitely an aberration for Peralta. He hadn’t played that well since 2005, I think. He is roughly a league average player this year. Not that bad. The same applies to Avila.

        The real blame is on Young, Boesch, and Raburn.

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      • the fume says:

        It’s become apparent over the last couple weeks that Avila has had knee troubles since last September. Supposedly he’s gotten the good word from the docs that pushing off of it when he hits isn’t going to do it any more damage, it’s just going to hurt a bunch, but I don’t think he has the opportunity to be 100% until next season at the earliest.

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    • Polka says:

      A-fing men to that!
      Trade him, or bench him…

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  2. Bob Loblaw says:

    Ok, Delmon Young, cool, whatever.

    But how does this affect Colby Lewis?

    I need to know. I’m asking for a friend.

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    • Watch Out Man says:

      Nice try! You are just looking for something to plagiarize on your law blog!

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  3. Neil says:

    Delmon has a really bad approach at the plate. It’s not really much of a question. He’s always been able to square up the ball for a couple weeks at a time, though. He did it in the playoffs last year. Since May 31 he’s got 7HRs and is hitting .300. His OBP duirng that time is .306. I wish you could capitalize numbers because a .300/.306/.479 line (since then) points to an unwillingness or inability to recognize when pitches are outside the zone. If he gets a fastball in his happy zone, he can crush it. This four homer game streak is very Delmon Young. Any self respecting pitcher should learn to just throw pitches outside the zone and he’ll get himself out.

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  4. WinTwins says:

    My least favorite player of all time ever! Any success that involves patience or selectivity of pitches won’t last.

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  5. the fume says:

    hahah my buddy was joking that pitchers should actually throw him more strikes, since it seems all the home runs he was hitting were balls inside and his hits to right were balls outside. I think the last couple hrs tho were strikes. :-(

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  6. Jim Gleeland says:

    The F/x were better than I would of thought. Despite what this article is saying, it actually does looks like he is laying off more borderline pitches. Maybe give some credit to Toby Harrah.

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  7. Matt NW says:

    Looking back at 2010, his good year (and the first year at Target), he made a lot more contact outside of the zone… which drove the k rate way down, average up, production up.

    So that’s the key Delmon, figure out how to make contact both inside and outside the strike zone at a very high rate… sounds easy.

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  8. Leighton says:

    I think it’s more a factor of swinging for the fences literally every swing, and 4 pitches happened to hit the bat in the right spot. Those 4 pitches also happened to come in 4 consecutive games.

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  9. Dan says:

    Bad baseball player. Just really bad. Can get hot for short periods of time, sure, as any player can, but he chases everything, regardless of the pitcher, the situation…regardless of ANYTHING. Cannot run the bases, cannot field. He hit a bunch of homers for Detroit right after they traded for him, so, the Tigers being the Tigers, they’ll love him and hang on to hope forever. Sigh.

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  10. rea says:

    the Tigers being the Tigers, they’ll love him and hang on to hope forever.

    With every legitimate prospect OF in the minors brought up to the majors over the last couple of years, and with Dirks lingering on the DL, why on earth would they release Delmon at this point? You may be able to say, “Delmon sucks–get rid of him,” bu Leyland and Dombrowski have to come up with someone to play in his place.

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    • the fume says:

      Especially at DH they have nobody else, so Leyland’s strategy is the only one there is, and the one he’s told everyone… have to get these RHB going. The last 5 games, they have been, with even Raburn hitting some 400 ft. outs.

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  11. Dan says:

    “the Tigers being the Tigers, they’ll love him and hang on to hope forever.”

    Where did I say that Delmon Young should not be the DH right at this moment? They should have made other plans a while ago, because Delmon Young has almost always sucked in exactly the same fashion, but that’s another issue.

    As for other options right now, you may be right, but who knows. Raburn has been terrible of course, but he does know how to hit, and I don’t see how some sort of platoon can’t be cobbled together for the purpose of being as good or better than Delmon Young going forward. His OPS+ is 93 right now, but this is likely as high as it will be this year.

    My point was that the Tigers are the type of team that will simply decide that a guy is a good player and then sit around scratching their heads for three years, waiting to get the magic back. They do it al the time.

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