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Delmon Young is (finally) hitting right-handed pitchers

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Hi there.  My name is Beau, and starting today I’ll be posting a weekly article here on Twinkie Town.  Being new here, I’d welcome any comments or constructive criticism.  My article will typically run on Wednesdays.

A little about me: nearly 30, live in the Twin Cities, married with a 2 year old son, love fantasy baseball, and I'm a huge Twins fan. 

 

Much has been written lately about Delmon Young’s current hot streak and his surprisingly solid offensive season to date.  He has overcome a brutal April to post a 331/355/559 line in 38 games since May 1.  Despite the slow start, he now ranks 20th in the American League in slugging and is tied for 15th in the AL in RBIs.   

Digging a little deeper, it’s clear that Delmon’s success so far in 2010 has been the result of improved hitting against right-handed pitchers, which has been his Achilles’ heel since coming to the big leagues.

Since his first full Major League season in 2007, Delmon has shown little ability to hit northpaws:

2007

OBP vs. RHP: 312                   SLG vs. RHP: 401

OBP vs. LHP: 326                   SLG vs. LHP: 427

2008

OBP vs. RHP: 330                   SLG vs. RHP: 390

OBP vs. LHP: 353                   SLG vs. LHP: 446

2009

OBP vs. RHP: 305                   SLG vs. RHP: 388

OBP vs. LHP: 321                   SLG vs. LHP: 512*

For 3 straight years, Delmon steadily improved at the plate versus lefties, but looked lost against right-handers, despite seeing them three times as often.  In 2010, however, Twins fans have been offered a glimmer of hope:

2010, through June 15

OBP vs. RHP: 333                   SLG vs. RHP: 515

OBP vs. LHP: 338                   SLG vs. LHP: 475

Granted, we’re dealing with small samples (141 PAs vs. RHPs, 68 PAs vs. LHP), but for Twins fans that want to be optimistic, there are reasons to believe this turnaround might be for real:

He’s taking a (relatively) better approach at the plate: Delmon is striking out less frequently and walking more often than he ever has before in the majors.  Sure, he still hacks at everything – he’s swung at 58% of pitches thrown to him, good for third highest among qualified batters – but it’s not as if he was a model of discipline when he was a top rated prospect in AAA.

He’s not putting the ball on the ground as often: His ground ball-to-fly ball ratio against righties has dropped from 2.14 in 2008, to 1.53 in 2009, to 1.25 so far this year.

Not only is he hitting more fly balls, he’s hitting them hard:  The past couple seasons, about 7% of the fly balls Delmon hit off right-handers left the park.  This year, that number has almost doubled (13.6%).  And the homers he’s hitting aren’t cheap shots either.  According to Hittracker, his 8 homeruns have averaged 407 feet, with even the shortest one flying 390 feet.

The question we’re left with, of course, is whether this is a new, notable trend, or a fluke based on small sample sizes.  The funny thing is, what Delmon is doing now looks very similar to what he did as a 20 and 21 year old in the minor leagues, back when he was one of the top prospects in the game:

Delmon’s Career Minor League Splits:

OBP vs. RHP: 361                   SLG vs. RHP: 529

OBP vs. LHP: 322                   SLG vs. LHP: 453

Those numbers look pretty similar to what he’s accomplished as a 24-year-old in 2010.

What's been missing from Delmon at the Major League level is the ability to hit right-handers with authority.  Perhaps we're now witnessing Delmon finally turning into the hitter many thought he’d be after his strong performance in the minor leagues.

* Just a side note: that .512 SLG against lefties in 2009 was propped up by a 20.6% HR/FB ratio that seems way out of line with his career norms.