As a member of SABR, I attended my annual SABR chapter meeting this January. There were a number of interesting speakers that day including the founder of Retrosheet, David Smith and the president of SABR, Vince Gennaro. But the most interesting speaker of the day was Ned Rice, the Director of Major League Administration for the Baltimore Orioles. Ned has a fancy title, but his job in English is being a member of the analytics department for the Orioles.
The meeting took place before any of the free agent signings this offseason, so naturally many of the questions were about the Orioles lack of spending. Like an idiot, I asked him what stats he liked to use to analyze players. I should've asked him a question he found interesting so that he could've been intrigued and given an interesting answer. But this is what I asked, and since he had just finished answering a question about WAR, he said that it was hard to argue with using WAR to analyze players.
While that was somewhat encouraging, a really interesting question was asked next. Someone asked why the club would pick up Delmon Young since he's not very good. Good question SABR member! Ned responded that the club was aware of all of the things that Young couldn't do, but they valued the one thing he could do which was hit left handed pitching.
I said to myself, well at least the club isn't expecting him to fill an important role. If he serves as the DH sometimes against left handed pitching, it won't hurt the club too much. And as it turns out, each time the club has faced a southpaw so far, Delmon Young has been in the lineup at DH. Including opening day against Jon Lester he's been in the lineup twice in the first week of the season.
However, there is a big problem with the Orioles carrying a player with this skill set. After the team signed Nelson Cruz they had two players besides Young that had the same skills but were better players. Not only should Cruz be a full time DH, he excels against left handed pitching with a career .872 OPS. Buck has decided that he wants Cruz to play in left field versus southpaws in order to get another right handed bat in the lineup instead of David Lough. So they need Young to fill in, right? No, they actually don't. The Orioles have another hitter who excels versus left handed pitching: Steve Pearce.
You may have noticed in my piece on the Orioles lineup last week that I had Steve Pearce batting third against left handed pitching and playing left field. I put him there because he has a career 116 wRC+ against lefties with a .350 on base percentage. Over Delmon Young's career, he has a 115 wRC+ and a .341 OBP. To be fair, Young has a career line of .303/.341/.470 against southpaws. That's pretty decent.
Because of Young's presence on the roster, Pearce has been limited to just two plate appearances so far. That is wasting his ability to swing the bat. Even though Young is being used as the DH versus left handers, let's look at the rest of his game to see if maybe he could help the club if there were injuries and he had to fill in. He has played left and right field at various points in his career so we'll call him a corner outfielder.
How has Young hit against right handed pitching in case he had to fill in for either David Lough or Nick Markakis? His career line against right handed pitching is .274/.305/.404. To put that in perspective, that's an 89 wRC+ or about 11% below average. If he had to play the field, what kind of fielder would he be? Well, he'd be pretty terrible. He hasn't had a year where he's rated above average with the glove according to DRS or UZR since 2006. In 2006, Delmon Young was 20 years old. Suffice to say, 20 year old Delmon isn't coming back any time soon.
Since he's played less and less in the outfield over the years (hint, hint) we'll look at his UZR/150 numbers to see how he would've rated if he had played a full season in the field. Over the last six years, five of them have been negative by double digits (-22, -30, -4, -10, -22.5, -19). I started with the most recent years so you can see that he's definitely not improving; if anything he's getting worse. Nelson Cruz isn't a good fielder but at least he has a good throwing arm. Young doesn't even have that.
So Young isn't a great fielder but maybe he makes up for it by being a good base runner? Haha, that's funny. Of course he's not a good base runner. Thanks to Fangraphs, we can say that in three of the last four years Young has been at least 3 runs below average on the bases. Somehow in 2011, he was worth 0.3 runs more than an average runner. Do with that what you will.
After examining Young pretty closely, I think Ned Rice was right. The only skill Young has is the ability to hit left handed pitchers. But I'm not as willing to overlook all of his flaws. He doesn't hit right handed pitching, he doesn't play good defense, and he's definitely not a good base runner. The one thing he does do well is hit left handed pitching, but the Orioles have two healthy outfielders who do that better than Young in Cruz and Pearce and an unhealthy one in Nolan Reimold.
In addition to his skills on the field, he's not the most savory character off the field. Steve Damerell talked about his conflicted feelings towards Young last week, so I'm not going to touch on that here. I wanted to restrict this piece to his on the field performance.
Roster spots are a precious commodity at the major league level. A team only gets 25 to work with and using one of them on a player whose skills are repetitive doesn't make sense. When Manny Machado comes back from his knee injury, the Orioles should designate Young for assignment. If he clears waivers (which is likely), the club should let him DH and play the outfield in AAA just in case there was a barrage of injuries at the major league level. In fact, I wouldn't be opposed to the Orioles sending him out now and promoting Jemile Weeks. Weeks is hitting .500/.571/.833 in Norfolk. Never mind that it's in 14 plate appearances. That's not a small sample or anything.
But seriously, the Orioles need to get rid of Delmon Young. He doesn't add anything to the team. They should find another player that will.