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.