The Phillies have signed Delmon Young to a 1 year, $750,000 deal.
This is what happens when you get wrapped up in superficial identifiers like “right-handed bat.” We’ve arrived at the point where “right-handed bat” can refer to any player that has had marginal or better success against left-handed pitching in the last decade, regardless of the quality of his overall contribution to the team. Delmon Young is terrible. Full stop. By rWAR, he was a full win and two-tenths below replacement last season, and a total of almost a win and a half below replacement in the last two seasons, compiling a .267/.299/.403 line over that period. His walk rate from 2011-2012 is 3.9%, about half the league average for hitters, making him, at least in that respect, a good fit for the current Phillies lineup.
By the grace of Jim Leyland he accrued 608 plate appearances for the Tigers last season, and an accompanying 226 innings in the field, where he is one of the worst defenders in baseball.
Credit for this .gif to GIFULMINATION
This is where a past, more naive version of myself would write “Young can be useful if strictly limited to pinch hit plate appearances against left-handed pitching.” He has, after all, always hit lefties well — .307/.341/.483 for his career, with a .308/.333/.500 line in 189 plate appearances against them last season. But the Phillies don’t exactly have a stacked outfield at the moment. Ben Revere will certainly anchor the centerfield position, and the corner spots will be filled by some combination of Young, Domonic Brown (he screamed, into the uncaring void, season after season), Laynce Nix, John Mayberry, Jr., Darin Ruf, and, if he’s not offered back, Ender “‘s Game” Inciarte (though he’s more likely an emergency centerfielder).
If you’ll indulge me in a jaunty youthful fantasy for a moment, assume that the Phillies’ plan is for Domonic Brown to be the everyday rightfielder in 2013. That — stop laughing, please. That means the 2013 outfield is a high upside but big question mark mainstay (Brown) and a collection of players who each have a useful attribute or two, but who I cannot think it could be argued should be full time players on an ostensibly first-division team, and I include Revere in this. If this were the 2010 outfield of Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth, a player like Delmon Young would be helpful for 150 to 200 plate appearances against almost exclusively lefties. The same could be said for Mayberry.
But with 600 plate appearances or more to allot to this collection of would-be left-fielders, it’s impossible to parcel them out in such a way that shields you from each of these players’ severe respective weaknesses. You’re inevitably going to get intolerable doses of Young’s fielding and adverse platoon futility, Ruf’s defending and baserunning, Mayberry’s flailing against righties, and so forth. Right-handed pitching handled 58% of the league’s plate appearances last season. You can’t leverage 3 or 4 different platoon pieces against that. And all of this is presuming that Charlie Manuel is willing to get more creative than he’s ever shown the capacity to be. And it presumes that my Domonic Brown precondition is correct; it probably isn’t. If you’re going to go with a smattering of likely marginal guys and hope that a few best case scenarios find the light of day, why not at least round up marginal guys with average or better defense? That’s not the case here either.
In the Phillies lineups of yore, writing off one weak lineup spot wouldn’t be a problem. But which positions can be penciled in as certain offensive contributors in 2013? Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins, and, if one is willing to be generous with the health prognosis, Chase Utley. As I tweeted this morning, the model for a playoff-contending Phillies team is to hope that the offense somehow manages league-average performance, and that the pitching staff achieves 2011 levels of greatness. The overabundance of below league average role players is not going to help the chances of the current roster managing that.
This is not to even mention, by the way, that Delmon Young is a bigot. Stark’s reference to off-field issues alludes to an incident in which an intoxicated Young assaulted a man after repeatedly calling him a “fucking Jew.” I’ve long been on the record about taking a clubhouse full of jerks that can play baseball over a less effective squad of nice guys. But I have to draw the line somewhere, and I think just shy of an anti-semite being on my favorite team is a good place to draw it. No Luke Scott or Josh Lueke, and no Delmon Young please. If $700,000 wasted is the price to see Delmon Young fail his way out of baseball, I’d be more than happy with that outcome.
LATE BREAKING UPDATE: There is nothing good in this world.