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Delmon Young’s 2010 Season: A Matter of Perspective

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Last night, Delmon Young had his best night at the plate in over a month, going 3 for 4 with 2 doubles and 4 RBI. Those 4 RBIs raised his season total to 97, easily the highest on the team.

Without a doubt, Delmon’s production will be looked at as one of the major positives of the 2010 season, no matter how the final weeks play out. He’s having the best year of his young career, finally showing the power that made him the top prospect in the game just a few years ago. And, of course, his amazing July gave Twins fans a glimpse of what Delmon could become: a feared, middle of the order presence that (fortunately, for our team) bats right-handed.

Yet, Delmon gives us an interesting case study in the on-going debate over how we judge a players’ overall value. It’s a debate that pops up every season around awards time, when stat-heads (myself, included) whine about player so-and-so getting MVP consideration, despite their terrible (fill in your favorite overly-long baseball acronym) Let's talk about it after the jump.

Let me put it this way: if the season were measured in headlines, Delmon Young just might be the Twins MVP. He’s knocked in 97 runs, many of which have come with two outs or in high-leverage situations. According to Win Probability Added, offensively he’s improved the Twins chances of winning more than any hitter on the team not named Justin Morneau (Yes, that’s right, Justin Morneau is still leads the teams’ hitters in WPA).

But of course, we all know that Delmon didn’t knock in 97 runs without a little help from the names above him on the line-up card. Batting behind a formidable top of the line-up has given Delmon plenty of RBI opportunities. Yes, he’s made the most of them, but without those opportunities, his season would certainly look a lot different.

Here’s why I find this so interesting: without the RBIs, without the headlines, Delmon’s season looks terribly underwhelming (albeit a major step forward in his young career). Among starting left fielders, Delmon’s 822 OPS ranks just ninth, sandwiched between Alfonso Soriano and Brett Gardner. His defense is still terrible and he does himself no favors on the base paths. In fact, using WAR (yep, here come the acronyms I warned you about), which accounts for a players offensive contribution, his position, and his defense to sum up their total value, Delmon has been worth about 1.5 wins over a replacement-level left fielder. Or, for context, Delmon’s been worth about the same number of wins as Marco Scutaro.

Of course, WAR doesn’t care that Delmon has performed well in the clutch, knocked in 97 runs, or stepped up when the Twins were facing several serious injuries. It puts player performances in a neutral environment, where the performance of a player’s teammates doesn’t impact how the player is judged.

As a guy who typically falls on the stat-head side of arguments, I have to admit I’m torn when it comes to Delmon Young’s 2010 season. I see the low OBP, I see the terrible defense, and I know Delmon is a flawed player. But then I look back on Delmon’s season, and can’t help but think that without him and his performance in high leverage situations – let’s say, with a so-called "replacement-level" left fielder, instead – we may not have a 4.5 game lead over the White Sox right now.