Why is Delmon Young Still Playing?
Delmon Young was signed to a 1-year deal by the Philadelphia Phillies last offseason. Analytic types had a field day with Ruben Amaro‘s decision to give regular playing time to the right fielder who was coming off a season with the Detroit Tigers where he had grounded into as many double plays (20) as he had drawn walks. Young produced a .261/.302/.397 BA/OBP/SLG line and -1.2 WAR in 80 games before being released by the Phillies on August 14. Sabermetricians everywhere enjoyed a moment of smug self-satisfaction when they recalled the “I don’t care about walks, I care about production” statement that Amaro Jr. made in reference to the Young acquisition.
Shortly after Young was released by the Phillies, he was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays, the team who had drafted him first overall way back in 2003. When the rosters expanded in September, the Rays brought him up to the big league squad, and he is seeing playing time as a DH and pinch-hitter. The Rays had traded the free-swinging Young to the Minnesota Twins in 2007 after his rookie season, and they got Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett in return. Garza and Bartlett were solid contributors for the Rays, and Young has -0.6 WAR in six seasons since the trade. So why would the Rays, the sabermetric darlings of the MLB, be giving playing time to Young?
Since the Rays have had a history of getting the most out of veteran players, I tried to find a good reason for giving Young playing time. Young has a career OPS+ of 98, and only has one full season with an OPS+ above league average. His offensive production seems way too low to fill the role of Designated Hitter.
Most righthanded hitters are markedly better against lefty pitchers, and Young is no exception. So maybe the Rays were only going to use him against lefties. His career OPS against lefties is .815, though it is only .782 over the last three years. However, 16 of his 43 plate appearances with the Rays and a handful of starts have come against righthanders. In that time, Young has a .237/.326/.368 line, good for a 93 OPS+. As a DH, this level of contribution is exactly replacement level. While the Rays haven’t received great production from the DH spot this year, lefthanded hitter Luke Scott‘s OPS against lefthanded pitching is .745 in 2013 and .742 career, significantly better than the .694 OPS Young has produced for the Rays.
Well at least Young isn’t playing rightfield for the Rays, where he has a career mark of -49 Defensive Runs Saved. He’s not getting any steal signs, which is a good thing because Young has cost his teams 10 runs on the bases over the course of his career. The Rays are minimizing the damage Young can do, but any playing time is too much. Of course this is the same team that got solid production from Casey Kotchman and Jeff Keppinger and rejuvenated the career of James Loney. The analytic community has showered them with praise for these moves. Nevertheless, there is seemingly no rhyme or reason to the decision to give Delmon Young playing time.