What Delmon Young Was

Like many Americans, Delmon Young is presently unemployed. Like few presently unemployed Americans, Young should shortly become employed, and somewhat lucratively. Young, presumably, will land a major-league contract, and even the major-league minimum guarantees several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Relative to the rest of the unemployed, Young’s in a good situation. He’s in a far worse situation, though, than people figured he would be around this point in his career.

Delmon Young is 27 years old. This guy, he’s 27. Granted, this guy is even younger, but we’re not really here to judge people on their looks. Young is 27, and he’s more newly 27 than nearly 28. He’s younger than Mitch Moreland. He’s younger than David Price, and he’s only months older than Mark Trumbo. This is supposed to be Young’s career peak, and Young was supposed to have an incredible career peak. Young, last year, was bad. By our metrics, in three of his six full-ish big-league seasons he’s been below replacement-level. In another, he was exactly replacement-level. For his career, he’s at 0.8 WAR. In his initial 30-game campaign in 2006, he was worth 0.9 WAR. You’re getting the Delmon Young idea.

You look at Delmon Young now, and you might have trouble figuring out what made him a top prospect before. I thought it would be worth reflecting on Young as a younger player. Young wasn’t even just a top prospect; he was at the top of the group of top prospects, a guy who people saw coming for years, in a good way. He was the first overall pick in 2003. Here’s how Baseball America ranked him on its annual list of the game’s top 100 prospects:

2003-2004: #3
2004-2005: #3
2005-2006: #1
2006-2007: #3

Four years in a row, and no significant change. The Devil Rays drafted Young on talent, and then, in the minors, he mostly turned that talent into performance, which the BA rankings reflect. Now, in the rest of this piece you’re going to see some excerpts from prospect people. I’m not trying to be critical of them, and I’m not trying to undermine their expertise. I just wanted to track down some words that people had to say about Young when he was among the biggest of deals.

John Sickels wrote about Young in September 2004. By this point, Young had hit well in single-A as an 18-year-old. Some words:

Scouts love Young’s physical tools and his baseball skills are well developed. The ball jumps off his bat and he shows plus power to all fields[...]He projects to hit for both average and power at higher levels, and has no particular pitch weaknesses, at least not that A-ball pitchers can exploit. Young’s strike-zone judgment can be inconsistent, but again it has been much better over the last few weeks as he’s adjusted to pro pitching. He may not be a walk machine, but he controls the zone well enough. Young’s running speed is average, but he has good baserunning instincts and can’t be ignored by pitchers. He has a right-field arm and good range in the outfield.
[...]
The main concern for him is maintaining his plate discipline at higher levels, but given his age and performance this year I don’t think this will be a long-term problem.

David Regan, in February 2006:

Other than a rough patch in Triple-A, there’s nothing NOT to like about Young. If he had had the year he did in 2005 at age 23, he’d still have been a top 20 prospect, but his age made him a no-brainer at age 20. Why? At such a tender age, it’s nearly a lock that his best is yet to come. Young’s body is still developing, and with additional muscle and game experience, he should get even better.

Kevin Goldstein, in February 2007:

The Good: Pure hitting skills that are unparalleled in the minor leagues. Ultra-fast bat, plenty of raw strength and enormous plate coverage allow for projections of a .300+ average with 25-35 home runs annually. Not just a one-dimensional talent, Young is a tick-above-average runner and an excellent base stealer, as well as a good outfielder with an outstanding arm.

From Perfect Game, we get some unintentional foreshadowing:

“Young came off an impressive stint at the Area Codes and was able to display his bat speed and power. The ball jumps off his bat lightning-fast and he looks like a veteran out there already.”

And from Goldstein, some more intentional foreshadowing:

I found the scout who’s not crazy about Tampa rookie Delmon Young. “We know he has strike zone issues–he’s exploitable up and in and then he chases sliders away,” said the scout. “I know he’s good, but when I see him, I just don’t see ‘special.’”

Young destroyed single-A as a teenager. He destroyed double-A as a teenager, and then he was above-average in triple-A. In 2006, the International League overall had a .258 batting average and a .389 slugging. Young came in at .316 and .474, and he was 20. Young had bat speed, and he looked like the rare sort that could hit for both average and power, with more power yet to come as his body matured. Young, put more simply, had the “hit tool”, and that was supposed to carry him to sustainable major-league success. Beyond just hitting the ball hard, Young was supposed to be able to do enough other things that he could approximate a well-rounded talent.

Young’s body matured. Here he is with Durham, and here he is with Detroit. In the minors, he stole at least 20 bases all three years. In the majors, he stole 14 once, but he’s swiped eight bases since 2009, while getting caught 11 times. Among all outfielders with at least 2,000 defensive innings since 2006, Young ranks 140th out of 154 in UZR/150. He didn’t even play much outfield at all in 2012. Also since 2006, Young has walked less frequently than Corey Patterson. Also since 2006, Young has been less valuable than Greg Dobbs. Also since 2006, Young has posted a lower wRC+ than Skip Schumaker and Maicer Izturis.

Some of the hints, I think, were always there. Young drew unintentional walks in 5.5% of his minor-league plate appearances. He was at 3.9% between double-A and triple-A. He hit well enough in the minors that he was never forced into an adjustment or improvements, and in the majors, Young has made zero progress. His swing rates were the same in 2012 as they were in 2008. Young never had to learn not to chase when he was younger, and now that he’s older, it’s harder to learn the necessary lessons.

And then everything else. Young’s body has held him back in the field and on the bases. He’s had enough incidents regarding his maturity that you wonder about his makeup, and you wonder whether that might be a clue into why he’s failed to develop as expected. That’s hindsight, of course, and a correlation/causation thing, and people can generally be forgiven for immaturity when they’re somewhere around 20 years old. Young’s most recent incident can be less readily explained, but it isn’t fair to make assumptions regarding what this has meant about Young as a ballplayer.

If you’re still more interested in the development of Delmon Young’s body with age, here are embedded stills from 2008 and 2012:

young2008

young2012

Young’s filled out, and one would hope that the corresponding decline in his athletic skills would be offset by an improvement in his hitting skills. No such improvement has been seen, and Young’s never even hit for real power outside of a now-anomalous 2010. The team that signs Delmon Young as a free agent will entertain some hopes that Young will finally put everything together. Players with talent have before put it all together seemingly out of nowhere, and you can’t ignore Young’s prospect pedigree. But many of the things that made him a top prospect — they aren’t there anymore. Not like they were, and age is no longer on Young’s side. We can’t say that his plate discipline will get better with experience, because he’s had a lot of experience — and a lot of it negative — and last year he walked 20 times. Delmon Young, last year, more often grounded into double plays than drew unintentional walks.

But. And of course there has to be a “but”. Delmon Young: Superprospect isn’t completely dead. As a minor leaguer, Young was said to make the ball jump off his bat. You know the type: the guys who hit the ball harder than it seems like they ought to given their swings. Delmon Young, September, 2012:

I haven’t yet figured out how Delmon Young hit that pitch for a home run. If you watch Young’s highlight videos, you’ll see similar batted balls that come off the bat faster than it seems like they should. That raw talent of Young’s hasn’t deteriorated with time, so it lingers on, a living sign of what Young was, and of what Young was supposed to be. Watch that home run, and only that home run, and you might think “this guy is amazing, he can hit anything out.”

Young, it seems, always believed that to be true, and while it’s never too late to try to make changes, it can get too late to actually make them. Talent alone got Delmon Young to the majors. Young either hasn’t worked hard, or he hasn’t worked smart. Young at 26 was the same as he was at 21. The same, but bigger, and a whole hell of a lot less promising.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


47 Responses to “What Delmon Young Was”

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  1. DetroitMichael says:

    Hi Jeff. :-)

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  2. Eminor3rd says:

    Man, that homer off Sale is actually the most vivid memory I have of the Sox 2012 season. It really just felt like the end. Sale looks just as bewildered. How the **** did he go yard there?

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  3. Dirck says:

    I was leery of Delmon from the beginning . I told a friend that I could see him becoming a fat ,useless load with a bad attitude just like his brother Dmitri .Their father trained them in a manner that was borderline abuse .

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    • GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat says:

      Hey now, that’s not nice. Dmitri was quite useful for a while.

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      • kiss my GO NATS says:

        When Dimitri was a Nat he was my favorite Nat! He was fun to watch! Sure he was not a very good glove man, but he got hits in clutch situations all the time.

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      • Xeifrank says:

        Dmitri is actually quite lean now. I saw him just the other day, as he lives nearby and I didn’t recognize him. Delmon must have the wrong diet or something.

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    • Beasy Bee says:

      He may have been a headcase at times, but I’ll always appreciate Dmitri Young for (needing a double for the cycle) stretching a gapper into his second triple of the game.

      I doubt he was trying to make a statement. Then again he was never known for his speed. Whatever the case, it pleased me greatly.

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  4. ToeKneeArmAss says:

    As a Red Sox fan I’m compelled to ask – has anyone tried him at 1B?

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  5. Wil says:

    This is pure speculation but it seems like Delmon Young may have been a guy who in his early 20′s could get by on his natural talents and body. Now that he is older and his body is aging, he looks out of shape. Give his character issues, I wonder if a lot of his athletic decline has to do with simply not putting in the required conditioning and training work.

    Not that it would help his plate discipline but it would at least allow him to play the field passably.

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    • Hurtlockertwo says:

      How does a 27 y/o get out of shape?? I have a hard time feeling sorry for a young man that makes a living playing a sport but can’t stay in shape. Laziness, period.

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  6. Fendi Hotdogbun says:

    It has long been my opinion that a couple years ago Delmon Young ate Bobby Bonilla.

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  7. Alex says:

    I find it funny that even though he hit a home run, swings like that are the reason he has trouble finding a job.

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  8. wrong em says:

    This is a drop in the bucket of Young’s underperformance at this point, but I’ve always wondered if it made any difference that Gardenhire moved him from right field to left when he went to the Twins. If I remember right, Young played mostly right field in the minors and did OK there in his short time with TB. The Twins had Cuddyer in right and decided that the younger newcomer would be the one to switch positions, even though over the next few years they moved Cuddyer all over the outfield (and infield) as a sub and emergency starter.

    Anyway, I just wonder whether Young could have been more comfortable in RF, at least to the point of not gouging his overall value as a player, but never got comfortable in LF.

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  9. Bronnt says:

    He’s been league average, or close to it, as a hitter over his career. It’s been his failures to maintain or improve his ability in the field that have made him a poor major leaguer.

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  10. George Sisler says:

    It’s funny to think now, but at one time he not only had a plus arm, he was considered to have one of the strongest arms in all of baseball.

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  11. Just Jim says:

    I still remember in my keeper league having Joey Votto with a rookie Prince Fielder and I traded Fielder for Delmon Young. Every year I wish I could have that one back.

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  12. algionfriddo says:

    I’m actually a Delmon Young fan and wish him the best. He might start by giving up alcohol. It is a problem for many players and it may well only be a small factor in Delmon’s overall decline, but it might help with his weight issue as well. (I should talk as I love my homebrew and carry more than the needed poundage.) I do not believe Delmon is willing or currently able to make pitch selection modifications. In the long term, this will be his downfall. He does not seem to take his physical conditioning seriously and is/has been relying on his tremendous yet diminishing physical abilities to overcome his unwillingness to properly prepare for success. I still think he could work hard enough to be an all-star but he seems unwilling to face his situation honestly. At this point… I see sushi in his future.
    I’m rooting for him. His ability to hit in playoff situations (SSS) is amazing.

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  13. budman3 says:

    Delmon’s future will be as a DH. His weight won’t matter, his defense won’t matter and just like his daddy will probably find a very nice niche as a guy who does nothing but concentrate on hitting. And at his young age,there is every reason to think that, like his dad, can be a very productive hitter in the 27-31 year ages ahead of him.

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  14. Tim says:

    Or maybe he just wasn’t as good as everyone expected him to be. It’s easy to blame a guy, especially one with attitude problems, but sometimes a guy who you expected to be one of the 20 best hitters in the world becomes one of the 200 best hitters in the world, and we don’t really need an explanation for it. This wasn’t a terribly unlikely outcome, just on chance alone.

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  15. Subversive says:

    Thanks for this. Was actually wondering about him the other day and how he could have been *so* hyped with such terrible plate discipline. Interesting stuff.

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  16. Mike P says:

    When I was reading the intro to the clip I knew it would be the HR off of Sale. That pitch he hit was the third time in a row he threw that pitch all in the same spot. Even with Delmon, if you throw a Major League hitter the same pitch in the same spot that many times, he will tattoo it.

    When the Tigers got him I thought maybe he was one of those guys who played good on a winning team but just gave up when he knew the team was over matched, kind of like the baseball version of Rasheed Wallace. But after his performance in the regular season last year, I was wrong.

    I agree with previous posters who said he is out of shape and probably should cut out the drinking. But if entering your walk year on a good team with a chance to win a ring doesn’t motivate you to put forth any effort, then probably nothing will. In a year or two he will be out of the game because he seems to be a little bit of a pain in the neck and if you are, and you can’t play, they get rid of you right away. Bill James would call this reality therapy.

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  17. MNzach says:

    Easily my least favorite Twin of all time. I was so glad the day we finally shipped him out.

    To the guy above stating he will be a productive hitter 27-31, I’ll take the against for any amount of money you want to do and give you 50-1 odds. Delmon Young is bad and will continue to be bad. He is a mortal lock to be under 110wRC+ every season for the rest of his fat, miserable “career”.

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  18. Joebrady says:

    This is all on TB. Before he got promoted, he had ~ 5/1 K/W in AAA. That’s terrible. One can argue that, accounting for age, it is okay, which it is, but at the same time, it is terrible.

    So TB unnecessarily promotes him, even though the 5/1 suggest trouble at the major league level.

    So he attains a 24/1 K/W in limited ABs in the pros, a walk rate of less than 1%. They really should have thought about AAA again, but they didn’t. I guess they assumed that he’d simply learn the strike zone in the pros instead of the minors. In not quite an unusual coincidence, his last AAA season had a 4.3/1 K/W and he now has a career 4.3 K/W.

    So Young spent his developmental time in the pros, rather than the minors, getting paid, instead of providing motivation to get to the pros, and eating up all his control years.

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    • Bip says:

      With a rookie year like he had, a team is going to see that as proof he can succeed in the majors and hope that, while he’s struggling, that it turns out to be a sophomore slump and he comes out of it.

      I think that what often happens is a player comes up, has success, the league adjusts and he struggles, and then he may or may not adjust back. The successful big leaguers are always learning and adjusting, and so any hope that Young could become one of them rests on the hope he can begin to learn and adjust. I don’t think his inability to do that can be blamed on the Rays. Most likely if he was unwilling or unable to learn in the bigs starting in 2007, he would probably be the same in the minors, except he wouldn’t have a realistic standard to adjust against, and his success against AAA opponents would probably reduce the pressure on him to learn.

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  19. KJOK says:

    I wonder if some of the premature ‘body aging’ isn’t genetic. Dmitri was actually drafted as a SS (!), started in the minors as a 3rd baseman, and yet it wasn’t too many years until he could only play 1B and DH.

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  20. Steve says:

    His unemployment is a result of his own d@mn stupidity. Had he not been arrested for a hate crime, he might be a Yankee by now. They need a RHed bench bat, and he could fit that mold.

    But alas, he’s dumb.

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  21. bobabaloo says:

    The biggest reason the tigers should be the favorites heading into 2013; Delmon Young is not hitting behind miguel cabrera and prince fielder.

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  22. Adam C says:

    I’ll through this out. What separates Pablo Sandoval from Delmon Young? Why is that Pablo can be successful in the major as a fat tub of goo and Young struggles?

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    • nolan says:

      Because Pablo Sandoval a) is not a fat tub of goo and b) is awesome.

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    • Bip says:

      Pablo, despite being a guy who will “swing at anything,” obviously has developed his pitch recognition to the point that he will swing at the pitch and not around it. They have similar swing percentages, but Pablo has about twice the walk rate and two-thirds the strikeout rate of Delmon.

      Also, Young is probably normal in the sense that his athleticism is dependent on his shape. It seems like Pablo is a freak who somehow can be athletic despite an alternative shape.

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      • wily mo says:

        agree. sandoval is fat but is also some kind of neurological freak. convinced of this. the agility despite the size like the fat itself has reflexes, the fact that he used to be left-handed… it’s all right there

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  23. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    Hahahahahaha Phillies.

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  24. Florko says:

    Man, I thought Delmon was a lot older, feels like he has been around forever

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