Michael Young Is Posting Some Silly Numbers in 2013

Michael Young Is Posting Some Silly Numbers in 2013

Let me preface this by admitting up front that I liked the addition of Michael Young to the Phillies during this offseason. The club had a hole at third base that the front office was able to fill temporarily with a seven-time All Star for the low-price of two minor-league relievers, while the Rangers are paying all but $6 million of his salary no less.

Young leads the team with a .392 on-base percentage – good for 12th in the National League – and he’s been better than advertised at the hot corner at well. But damn, has he hit into a ton of double plays, or what?

After Young grounded into his league-leading 11th GIDP on Sunday, Gary Matthews remarked during the Phillies telecast that the 14-year veteran has had his share of them in 2013. That’s not entirely accurate, Sarge. He’s hit into several players’ shares of double plays so far this season. Erik Kratz and Ben Revere are second in the clubhouse with five apiece, or one less than Young between the two of them.

The single-season record is 36, set by Hall of Fame Red Sox slugger Jim Rice in 1984. Young has 11 through 44 games, putting him on pace to shatter Rice’s mark by five with 41.

Of course, grounding into the occasional routine double play is nothing new to the 36 year old. He finished in the top 10 in the AL five times since 2005, including as high as second in ’06 and ’12, the latter of which was among Young’s worst seasons in the big leagues. That said, he’s nearly halfway to his career high of 27 already barely a quarter of the way through the current campaign.

Part of the problem has been Young’s waning power. His penchant for making contact has led to a solid .294 batting average, but with just nine extra base hits – including a lone home run – he’s posting a .385 slugging percentage that ranks 56th out of 77 qualifiers in the NL.

Given the information, it might be time if not long overdue for Charlie Manuel to reevaluate where Young bats in the order, which has been in the two-through-five spots up to this point. It’s not so much his lack of power that’s the issue, although yeah, but how many potential rallies must be laid to rest before Jay-Z’s Heart of the City drops to track six or seven on the Citizens Bank Park set list?

Or maybe Young should hit number two more often, where he’s only made three starts this season. From there he could sacrifice Jimmy Rollins, allowing Chase Utley and in particular Ryan Howard to get more chances with runners on. Manuel has avoided stacking the two lefties back-to-back, but it’s another option at least until Young begins driving the ball a bit more.

With the 27th-ranked offense in Major League Baseball, the Phillies have to figure out ways to get more consistent production at the plate. When you have a player in the middle of your lineup getting doubled up once every four games, that’s the kind of thing that is sapping offensive potential.

Young has gotten a little better of late. Prior to Sunday, he had made 10 straight appearances without a GIDP, his longest such stretch in ’13. However, it reared its ugly head again in the sixth inning while the Fightins were struggling once again to light up the scoreboard. One batter later, Utley singled to left, which likely would have been enough to plate the speedy Revere had he been moved to second.

Would sacrificing Young have been the right move? The third baseman himself has discussed the benefits of bunting runners over in the past, as recently as the past two weeks actually in a story at MLB.com.

"At the end of the day, the game is played by guys with heartbeats," Phillies third baseman Michael Young said. "And a sacrifice bunt puts pressure on the defense and the pitcher. Maybe it's not always the right move, but I have a problem with saying it's never the right move. There are no absolutes in this game. If you're playing against a team that's struggling and you put a runner in scoring position late in the game, they're going to feel it a little more."

Obviously he means situationally, but I would describe Young’s historic GIDP rate as a situation of sorts. And while I honestly don’t believe he is destined to keep the current pace over the full 162, it’s not some minor detail the Phillies should continue to overlook, either.

Roman Lyubimov getting comfortable, impressing with hard, heavy style

Roman Lyubimov getting comfortable, impressing with hard, heavy style

Ron Hextall said when Flyers training camp began there were spots to be won and spots to be taken from others.

Even though it’s still early in camp, it seems fairly clear Russian forward Roman Lyubimov is going to steal someone’s job among the bottom-six forwards.

He’s been the right wing on Boyd Gordon’s line in camp with Chris VandeVelde on the left side. 

That fourth line worked again Tuesday night as the Flyers opened their home preseason schedule with a 4-0 win over the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 6-2, 207-pound Lyubimov plays a heavy game. He is tenacious in one-on-one battles and, perhaps more importantly, jumps on loose pucks after faceoffs as demonstrated during the 2-0 loss in New Jersey on Monday.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol took notice.

“It’s a nice trait for a player to have automatically and it’s an important trait,” Hakstol said.

“His competitiveness and his battle level on 50-50 pucks, things like that, hasn’t changed from Day 1.”

After spending six years in the KHL, it appears Lyubimov has found a home here. He’s already making a nice adjustment to the smaller rink, too.

“Last couple of years, playing for the Red Army team, there were some pretty physical games,” he said, via translator Slava Kouznetsov. “I think it was pretty close to NHL games. I just have to adapt to the smaller ice.”

He logged 3:55 ice time on the penalty kill against the Devils — second only to rookie defensive prospect Ivan Provorov — and Hakstol has his sights set on using him in that capacity if he makes the final cut.

While playing for the Russian Army, Lyubimov was used in a shutdown role and on the PK with little power-play time.

“I was more defense-oriented,” he said. “If you don’t let the [opponent] score on you, it’s easier to win games. Here, I’ll see what the coaches want me to do. I watched a lot of NHL games. One of my criteria was to be good at the penalty kill.”

The only hard question Hakstol has to answer is Lyubimov’s adjustment to the smaller rink.

“I think he is still working through that but he is game for it,” Hakstol said. “He doesn’t look for open ice in terms of shying away from traffic areas. He is battling in those high traffic areas.”

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare made the adjustment quickly, coming over from France. Michael Raffl played a couple games with the Phantoms after coming over from Austria.

It’s possible the Flyers could start Lyubimov with the Phantoms and then call him up.

“He plays a small-ice type of game,” Hextall said of Lyubimov. “He goes hard to the net, he’s good on the wall, does all those little things. Space I don’t think will affect him as much as other guys.”

He had a prime scoring chance in Tuesday’s game against the Islanders, chasing down a puck behind the net and getting a wraparound that was blocked at the post by defenseman Kyle Burroughs.

Lyubimov finished with 12:07 of ice time and two shots.

His best shot to make the cut is to take away VandeVelde's spot on the fourth line (see story). Once Bellemare returns from the World Cup of Hockey, someone has to go. Another factor here is whether the club carries 23 players instead of 22.

Lyubimov said what impressed him about the Flyers was how players are treated here, on and especially off the ice.

That was always something former Flyers loved about their late owner Ed Snider. He treated them as family, not employees.

“There is a difference,” Lyubimov said. “Everything here is comfortable and done for the players. Here I live five minutes from the rink. In Moscow, it’s 45 minutes. Everything works for me here.”

So much so, Lyubimov is bringing his wife, Katrina, and their 1-year-old daughter Alexa, over this fall to live here even though he has just a one-year deal worth $925,000.

“I want to stay here more than a year,” he said. “I will do whatever I have to do. This is the place I wanted to come.”

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- Nerlens Noel’s recent comments on the logjam of big men on the Sixers' roster did not come as news to head coach Brett Brown. While Noel had not been this publicly outspoken on the issue, he and Brown have been having open discussions about it. 

“I have been talking to Nerlens a lot and I have a fondness for him,” Brown said Tuesday on the first day of training camp. “I don’t begrudge Nerlens Noel at all for what he said. I don’t have any problems with it.”

The Sixers' crowded frontcourt this season is a continuation of last season’s conundrum in which Brown was tasked with playing Noel and Jahlil Okafor, two natural centers, together. The depth has increased with the return of Joel Embiid and additions of Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. 

So when Noel doubled down on Monday by saying, "I don't see a way it can work,” Brown recognized where the center's opinions were coming from as he enters his fourth season in the NBA. 

“I feel if we do anything well, we communicate with our players freely,” Brown said. “It is one hundred percent transparent – hard conversations ahead, easy conversations ahead. I have spoken with Nerlens about this a lot. 

“My messaging and my mood and attitude and things that come out of my mouth haven’t changed once. I feel very confident that I’m giving him the advice that he should hear from me and it still allows me to do my job. 

“We have talked about it freely, like I have talked about it with Jahlil and Joel. Those situations are part of pro sports. They’re ever-present with me and us right now.”

Noel has been a rare mainstay among a revolving door of players over the past three years. He is in a unique situation with Brown in that the two have experienced a long list of the team’s ups and downs together. Noel feels comfortable talking honestly with Brown about his viewpoints. 

“I’ve known Brett probably longer than most guys here and we’ve built a different type of relationship,” Noel said. “It’s been very front and forward and we talk and we keep it real. That’s what he’s been doing with me and that’s why I’m able to continue to talk to him about myself and him just telling me what position I’ll be in – he’ll try to put me in – to succeed.”

With Brown having an understanding of Noel, his focus is on what Noel can bring to the team this season. He believes Noel has an edge over Embiid and Okafor for minutes early on because Noel the only one of the trio starting camp without restrictions from previous injuries. 

There is a tough competition for playing time among the bigs, and camp is about proving oneself through basketball, not through personal opinions. Brown was impressed on the first day of camp by the manner in which Noel approached the morning practice amid the comments.

“He has handled it with me and in the training session today like a pro,” Brown said. “He came to mean it. He didn’t back down at all. There was no moping or sulking or him being stubborn. He played. That’s what he has to do. I think that’s a real reflection of anybody of how you handle adversity. Today he handled it like a true pro and a true competitor.”