Today starts a series in which we look back on the individual performances put forth by each major Red Sox contributor during the 2011 season. Since the outspoken Kevin Youkilis seems to be in the limelight a lot these days, we’ll start with his 2011 season in review.
This was not the season we were expecting from Youk. The ending line was .258/.373/.459 with a .366 wOBA, 17 home runs, 68 runs scored and 80 RBI, a sharp decline from the .300+/.400+/.540+ rates of the two seasons prior. Last season, Youkilis only played in 102 games, having suffered a torn tendon in his right thumb. This season, the thumb didn’t seem to be an issue, but rather a series of nagging injuries. Youk battled through most of them, but could not battle past hip and sports hernia injuries that clearly affected him in the season’s second half.
Through the first 83 games of his season, Youk hit .285/.399/.512 (.911 OPS) with 13 home runs. He’d play only 37 games after the all-star break in which he was actually a detriment at the plate hitting .191/.317/.349 with only four home runs and 17 RBI.
The good news is that, from a general batter profile standpoint, not much changed in Youk’s game. Both his walk rate (13.2 percent) and strikeout rate (19.3 percent) were in line with what he had done over the past few years. His walk rate actually tied him for the tenth best walk rate in baseball this season. Youk continued to make contact at an above league average rate (81.5 percent) and held a chase rate (23.6 percent) that was well below the league average.
In other words, when Youk stepped into the batter’s box, he was the same hitter he ever was. The one big difference, however, was his inability to generate enough power as he battled through second half injuries. You can see evidence of this from the change in Youk’s ground-ball to fly-ball rate. Youk hadn’t held a fly-ball rate under 44 percent since becoming a regular in 2006. That rate fell to about 38 percent this season.
Another area of struggle this season came against right-handed pitching, against whom Youk hit only .234/.349/.415. Much of those struggles, however, might be explained by an unusually low .260 BABIP against righties this season despite a line-drive rate of 19.3 percent against them, according to FanGraphs. Youk’s career line against right-handed pitching is .285/.379/.484 with a .320 BABIP.
The question now turns to his defense. According to ultimate zone rating (UZR), Youk rated below average at the hot corner, posting a -3.7 UZR in 948.2 innings. This lack of ability at the hot corner is echoed by the -4.9 UZR he posted while playing 494.1 innings there in 2009. Clearly, based on the numbers — and, as I think you would agree, the eye test — Youk is not an asset defensively at third.
Defensive abilities aside, one has to wonder whether playing almost daily at the hot corner led to some of Youk’s injury issues this season. While he’s clearly an athlete, he’s not exactly the most agile or fluid player you’ve ever seen.
Looking toward 2012, Youk’s injury issues have to be a concern, as he turns 33 years old before opening day and is in the last year of his contract ($13M club option for 2013). Is he more of a DH at this point? If so, how do the Sox approach David Ortiz? We’ll have plenty of time to examine those questions and more, but for now we can at least take solace in the fact that a healthy Youkilis should rebound at the plate in 2012.