You know the world is a funny place when Delmon Young not only has a higher batting average than Joe Mauer, but also a better OPS and even a better wOBA! Young, of course, plays left field while Mauer plays catcher, so Joe has still rated as the more valuable player, but if someone had told me before the season started that that difference would be just 0.4 WAR, I probably would have laughed in their face.
But for all those people who held strong to their belief that the potential Young had displayed to entice the Rays to pick him first overall and to convince the Twins to trade for him was still there, the 2010 season has been a vindication. I consider myself one who was in the camp to give Young another shot to start everyday this year, but I can't say I was one who thought he'd actually make anything of it.
And, while Mauer's numbers are down compared to last year (an unavoidable regression) and compared to his career numbers (a more disappointing fact), Young's stats are very solid. After being worth an abominable -1.8 wins in his first two seasons in Minnesota, including a horrifying -1.1 wins in just 108 games last year, Young's 2010 mark of 1.3 ranks 9th among left fielders (as classified by FanGraphs).
Better yet, the underlying numbers suggest that the strides he's made are for real. His BABIP is a reasonable .308, a number that is actually lower than his incredibly consistent .338 BABIP from each of the last three years. His HR/FB % of 11.4, although slightly higher than his career mark, is right around league average and is the same as what he posted in 2009.
So then what is behind his newfound success? The answer is simple: more fly balls and walks and fewer ground balls and strikeouts. The increased number of fly balls means more homers, and the increase in free passes--though still very low compared to the average hitter--results, obviously, in a better OBP. The strikeouts are the part of this equation least likely to hold up, as his respectable 14:23 BB:K ratio rests on an 11.2 K%, which more than cuts in half his rate from last year.
And then there's his fielding. While it's tough to judge anything based on two and a half months of data, UZR has him as being just above average in left field, which is a huge upgrade over his worst-outfielder-in-the-majors ratings from 2008 and 2009. His slimmer physique may have something to do with it, but so could the always-boring excuse of measurement error.
All in all, though, Delmon Young's improvement looks to be largely for real. I hope that the vast majority of us Twins fans who gave up on him are proved to have been decidedly too impatient.
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