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Michael Young holding his own, but ...

5/8/2013

You have to give Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Michael Young credit for a few things: 1) He is among the league leaders in batting average and hits; and 2) While he's no Gold Glover at third base, he's certainly not killing the team there.

As a Phillies fan, I wasn't exactly doing cartwheels after hearing of the relatively risk-free trade that landed him in Philly, but it has been tough to complain about his early results.

That said, Young seems aware that his fine start is a bit superficial and that there's more work to be done. After all, Young enters Wednesday having hit into more double plays than he has extra-base hits. I spoke to Young after Friday's game in Philadelphia about the many ground balls he has been hitting and what seems to be an adjustment in plate approach.

"I feel like I still have my best hitting in front of me this year," said Young, who was hitting .320 at the time and now sits at .330, tied for the 12th-best mark in baseball. "There are always things I want to work to get better at, but I like the fact that I'm battling when I'm getting down two strikes, working deep counts."

It's true that Young has been seeing more pitches than normal -- 3.83 pitches per plate appearance, as opposed to 3.44 his final season with the Texas Rangers -- and his walk rate has doubled. That's quite a change, though perhaps not a planned one. He's also swinging at only 24 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, whereas last season that number was a career-high 33 percent.

Perhaps Young came to the Phillies with something to prove after the Rangers dumped him, but is his newfound patience sustainable?

"I want to make sure I'm getting my pitch and putting it in play hard," said Young, who ranks 12th among active major leaguers with a .302 career batting average and is seventh in hits but only 31st in walks. "I've never walked a lot, but at the same time, I'm not a free swinger; I never have been. Adrian Beltre and I used to have this conversation. We both kind of pride ourselves in having good approaches, a good idea of what we want to do at the plate, but when we're hitting, we get our pitch for the most part, and he doesn't walk much either. When he gets his pitch, it goes in play. It's not fouled off, it's not taken, it's hit hard, and that's what I want to do, put the barrel on it and hit it hard."

I've seen nearly all of Young's at-bats this season, and before looking it up, I assumed he was hitting the ball hard on a regular basis, though often -- and maddeningly so -- on the ground. The ESPN Stats & Info department follows the statistic "well-hit average," and of the 184 hitters qualified for the batting title, Young ranks tied for 44th in the category, which certainly isn't bad. But he really isn't driving the ball this season and is hitting more ground balls than ever. Where are the extra-base hits? Young doubled twice Monday night and hit another Tuesday, giving him six on the season, but he also has a total of 20 home runs since the start of 2011.

"I've had stretches before when I hit a lot of balls in the air, but the first month of the season I've hit more ground balls than in the past," said Young, who ranks eighth in ground ball percentage at 57.9 percent, which is where powerless singles hitters such as Ben Revere and Elvis Andrus reside. Young's ground ball rate was a career-high 53.2 percent last season, well above his 46.6 career mark. The only three hitters delivering a lower fly ball rate are Revere, Everth Cabrera and Andrus.

"It goes in cycles," Young said. "I expect that to change. I'm a line-drive hitter. My game is hitting balls in gaps, getting lot of doubles. Those things go in cycles."

Perhaps he is right. Half of his doubles this season have come in the past two days, and it's a bit early to come to definitive conclusions. After all, while his .394 BABIP figures to regress quite a bit, a .300 batting average from him really wouldn't be a surprise. The power, however, has seemed gone for a few seasons. Fantasy owners are starting to run away, as Young was nearly 100 percent owned a week ago but is down to 94.5 percent owned today. That's understandable, as he is helping only in batting average. But if he continues to bat third on a regular basis -- and we can debate how prudent that is -- he should accrue RBIs just by playing regularly. Young knocked in six runs in April but has three in the past two days.

I think Young can end up at 10 home runs, 75 RBIs and hit .300. Perhaps that's optimistic, but that batting average alone over 600 at-bats -- and he is durable -- would make him worth owning in 10-team leagues. It would not make him a top-10 third baseman, but you probably shouldn't have expected that from him. Last year, he was 22nd among third basemen on the Player Rater. Look for some rejuvenation the final five months, but I'd still choose Manny Machado, Kyle Seager, Todd Frazier, Josh Donaldson and, yes, rookie Nolan Arenado over him. I would, however, keep Young over Will Middlebrooks, Trevor Plouffe, Kevin Youkilis, Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco. It's a decent time to buy low on Young, which is something I didn't expect to write a month ago.