What Are We Going to Do With Kevin Youkilis?

What are we going to do about Kevin Youkilis next year?

I say ‘we’ as though that pronoun is appropriate, but in reality, we can’t do anything about Youkilis, except hope that he regains some semblance of health in 2012. Though if we were to play the role of general manager, we would have some very tough decisions to make this winter and the future of Youkilis would be a big part of it.

Despite the number of times that Youkilis has played third base in the past, and despite his willingness to play the position, he is better suited for first base.  You can see this reflected in his litany of injuries and the lack of production with the bat.

A lot of people will say to me, “Yeah but he’s played third base plenty in the past.  He’s always getting injured, but the real culprit in his offensive struggles is BABIP, especially on the road…”

I would say the real culprit is the position where he has logged a career-high number of innings (948) and that it’s affecting his body and thus his ability to hit for power or average. If you look at his hard-hit ball data, Youkilis has seen an eight point drop in the percentage of balls he has hit this year categorized as ‘hit-hard’. In 2010, he hit 42% of balls hard and this year that number plummeted to 34%.  In turn, he has seen a small spike in both medium-hit and softly-hit balls while his ground ball rate continues to rise alarmingly.  If you are hitting the ball weakly on the ground, your BABIP is going to suffer.  Just ask Carl Crawford.

Over the course of his career, Youkilis has played first base the majority of the time or at least saw enough action at the position that it gave him a break from the rigors of the hot corner.  In 2011, Youk has just 6 starts at first base and the injuries have really piled up as a result.

Now maybe you cannot directly correlate any given injury to playing defense, but you cannot tell me he isn’t forced to work very hard down there at third base day in and out. One has to speculate that it has affected Youkilis’ game and his body.

Coming into this season, Youkilis had recovered from thumb surgery that ended his 2010.  Hopes were high and pretty much expected that he would continue to fill the middle of the lineup and punish opposing pitchers.

Instead, Youkilis has had to grind through shin injuries, a jammed hip, a bad back, and now he is trying to play through hip bursitis and a sports hernia.  He hasn’t hit on the road at all this year and currently sits under the Mendoza line (.199 BA) since the All-Star break.

When healthy, he is the the Red Sox cleanup hitter possessing elite power, an elite EYE (BB/K) and the ability to create tons of runs.  When he is not healthy, you see what happens – a plummeting contact rate, weak ground balls, and a power stroke comparable to Marco Scutaro.

One of the biggest questions we are facing is what happens with Youkilis in 2012?  Surely, he’d be a good soldier and willingly play the demanding third base position, but is that a good place for him?  The biggest factor for  Youkilis next will be what happens with David Ortiz.  If Ortiz is re-signed by the Red Sox, then Youkilis’ hand is forced – he’ll be back at third base.  If the Sox let ‘Big Papi’ walk, then it opens the door for Youkilis to potentially be a full-time designated hitter.  Would he take that role? Would the fans want to see that happen?

Youkilis’ current contract runs through 2012 with a club option for 2013, so it will be very interesting to see which direction the Red Sox take this offseason with regard Ortiz.  You have to figure that Ortiz is going to want a two-year deal at minimum, and with the way he has hammered the ball in 2011, he deserves it.  Will the Sox pay him or let him walk? What happens to Ortiz decides the fate of #20.

What would you do if you were the front office?  Youkilis’ defensive numbers are not all that great while playing third base so you need to take that into strong consideration.  The advanced metrics rate him below average and his UZR/150 is -2.2, placing him in the bottom-tier of regular third baseman (players with at least 840 innings at the position).

Sure UZR is not a perfect statistic, but you don’t need advanced metrics to see that Youkilis labors heavily at third base.  Especially after watching him play Gold Glove defense at first base last year.  Unfortunately for Youkilis, that position is now manned by Adrian Gonzalez and he definitely isn’t moving.

Of the 14 Major Leaguers with at least 840 innings logged at third base, Youkilis ranks 11th in plays made at his position.  This is based on balls in play in his zone as charted by Baseball Info Solutions.  Youkilis has made about 68% of the plays in his area.  Compare this to the 85% of plays he made last year and it’s easy to see how much more work it is for him.  Youkilis ranks last out of the 14 qualified third baseman in plays made outside of his zone.  He has made 17 plays outside his area of expected responsibility in 948 innings. Comparatively, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Placido Polanco has made 34 plays OOZ (outside of zone) in nearly the same number of innings played.

Youkilis is a gamer, but he’s a below-average third baseman who won’t give much extra defensively. And if he is constantly injured and unable to hit, then what purpose does he serve to the team? Can we reasonably assume, given his lengthy history of nagging injuries, that 2012 wouldn’t bring more of the same for the 32-year old if he stays at third base?

The Red Sox are going to have some difficult decisions to make this offseason and how they choose to handle Youkilis’ workload at third base is going to go a long way in determining how much production we see out of him next season.

What would you rather have – this version of Youkilis and Ortiz as your DH for the next two seasons or no Ortiz, a new third baseman (there’s no one worth a salt in free agency at the position) and a  healthier Youkilis as your designated hitter?

Tough choices for the front office this winter and it makes you really wonder what the correct move is.

Categories: Adrian Gonzalez Boston Red Sox Carl Crawford David Ortiz Kevin Youkilis Placido Polanco

7 Responses to “What Are We Going to Do With Kevin Youkilis?” Subscribe

  1. erb September 18, 2011 at 8:58 AM #

    Aramis Ramirez maybe for a 2 year 30 million deal or something. He'd be 34 and 35 years old of course but he's still good for 300/25/100 and even though his defense isnt very good hes still better than Youk over there. Don't resign Papi. Youk DH. Aramis @ 3B.

    • darryljohnston September 18, 2011 at 9:18 AM #

      Reasonable thought erb, but ARam has scored out worse than Youk this year at 3B and I think only better than Mark Reynolds out of those who have logged enough innings to qualify.

      This is quite a difficult situation in large part because who thought Ortiz would have this kind of resurgence?

  2. Sawxfan23 September 18, 2011 at 11:31 AM #

    Honestly the best thing to do would be move Youk to LF, Crawford to RF, resign Papi as DH, add a 3B or at worse put Aviles at 3B until Middlebrooks is ready. I know what you are thinking that Youk has never played OF but Lf at Fenway for 81 games a year is the easiest position in all of baseball{if Manny could do it so can Youk} and then you wont be wasting Crawfords defense in LF.

    • darryljohnston September 18, 2011 at 1:03 PM #

      I am interested to hear what other people think of this alignment because that is another option but we would need to have a little more detail on the overall impact on runs allowed. Crawford in RF was never a consideration but if you were to do that you'd have to really figure out how well he profiles to play Fenway's right field. That also means Reddick, Kalish and any other OF prospect is taking a back seat. Aviles has never played more than 35 innings at third base until this year where he has amassed a career-high 279 innings. He grades out as a -10.9 UZR/150.

      All that tells us is how much better or worse you are over 150 games. Aviles is pretty bad over a season and i don't think his bat would make up for it since he's never held down a full-time role before. Maybe a combo of him and Lowrie but that still just sounds like a cluster-f.

    • ChipBuck September 18, 2011 at 5:18 PM #

      The chances Youk moves to LF is slim to none. Just because anyone can play it, it doesn't justify putting Youk out there. Especially considering his age and injury history, I don't the OF is the best place for him.

  3. Jim September 19, 2011 at 10:58 AM #

    LoL, Youk in left, CC in right.

    That Youk has been an average defender wasn't a surprise, what has really hurt the team is the poor offensive season he's having. The drop in BA, OBP, and the struggling with change ups. I'm not buying the move to third has caused the injuries, they are more attributable to age.

    Short of a blockbuster trade, Youk will be at 3rd next year, there are no near term options in the farm system and no attractive free agents.

    • darryljohnston September 19, 2011 at 12:59 PM #

      I am half-in, half-out on your opinion because again, you can't say the position itself causes the injuries but the amount of effort and grind on his body either only pushes his dings further or completely amplifies them. After seeing him log a full season* there, I do not like this moving forward.