At 24 years old and in what will be his fourth full season, Delmon Young is confounding those who wrote him off as a bust and is having a breakout year.  His .298 TAv ranks him eighth among all left fielders (he’s just seven points out of breaking into the top five).  His 1.4 WARP has caught the attention of fantasy owners as Young has been one of the top adds in ESPN mixed leagues this week and has now pushed his total ownership above 70%.  That increase is justified.

Young has not changed his approach.  He’s still swinging – a lot.  It’s just that he’s now making more contact.

1stSt is the percentage of times Young has swung at the first pitch of a plate appearance.  AS/Pit is total percentage of pitches where Young swung.  As you can see, he’s still the same free swinging hitter we’ve learned to ignore in fantasy.  The key column is the last one, his overall contact rate.  While in previous years, he was aimlessly flailing away, this year he’s getting the bat on the ball with greater frequency.  Young is putting the ball in play in 80% of all plate appearances.  Last year, he was at 71%.  The method may not have changed, but you can’t argue against the results.  Here are Young’s five top at bat results from 2009:

Strikeout – 22.5%
Single – 19%
Groundout – 18.3%
Flyout – 13.9%
Ground out into Double Play – 3.9%
Double – 3.9%

I suppose I should fold the ground into double play category into the groundout category.  Nah… Let’s keep those separate.  It’s insane that Young had the same number of grounding into double plays as he had doubles – 16 each.  (He actually lined into one DP last year, ultimately giving him more double plays than doubles.)

Now, here is how Young is faring this year:

Groundout – 21.5%
Single – 17.1%
Flyout – 14%
Strikeout – 10.5%
Double – 7.5%

The number one difference for Young this year can be found in bold – he’s cut his strikeouts in half.  Last year, he was going down on strikes once every 4.3 at bats.  This year, he owns an 8.7 AB/SO rate.  That’s quite a turnaround.  

Would you believe the difference is something as simple as being able to hit a fastball?  Last year, he swung and missed at 10% of all fastballs he saw.  This year?  He’s swinging and missing at just 2.7% of all fastballs.  That’s it.  That's our eureka moment.  Young now possesses the ability to catch up to the heat.

So Young is making more contact, but that won’t mean a thing if he’s still skidding balls along the turf and keeping them in the infield.  (Remember how last year he hit the same number of ground ball double plays as doubles?)  Finally, Young has learned how to put the ball in the air where he can start realizing his power potential.

After three years of underwhelming extra-base hit percentages, Young is posting significant gains in 2010.  He’s already eclipsed his double output from last year (in nearly half the plate appearances!) and is just five home runs away from tying his career high of 13.  

Young is making more contact and that contact is of a better quality than ever before.  

The improved contact has elevated his entire game.  Young has become a dependable RBI guy, hitting .367 with runners in scoring position and bringing home 20% of all base runners, which is well above his career rate of 17%.  Hey, he’s even throwing us a few steals – he’s swiped three bases in four attempts this season.  After last year’s two out of seven, we’ll take whatever we can get!

While Young has certainly made positive strides this year, he’s still a work in progress.  He’s an aggressive hitter and that will probably never change.  However, the improvement in contact rate, type of contact and increase in extra base hits portends well for his future.  Expect his average to hover around the .300 mark for the rest of the season with Young making a run at 20 HR and 90 RBI with a handful of steals thrown in for good measure.