As we look toward the 2012 Boston Red Sox a lot of questions surround the future of third baseman Kevin Youkilis.
2011 was a challenging year filled with road struggles and injuries for Youkilis. His career-high 948 innings at third base appeared to have a significant impact on his health and production.
Youkilis finished the 2011 campaign with just 120 games played and failed to hit .300 for the first time in four years. His 2010 season was also marred by injury, but Youkilis was very productive in 2010. In 2011, he was a shell of himself as he tried to hold down the spot vacated by Adrian Beltre. Youkilis’ position flexibility allowed the Sox to go out and acquire Adrian Gonzalez, but the grinding toll it put on his body and eventually short-changed the Red Sox when the needed him most in September.
The last time we heard from Youkilis he was blowing a gasket over comments made by Jackie McMullan in The Boston Globe. Youkilis did not take lightly to accusations and insinuations about his clubhouse influence and behavior.
“Jackie MacMullan, I’ve always respected every time she comes in the clubhouse, which this year was maybe three times, that one really irked me. It really irked me for two things. One, she comes around three times a year, so she really doesn’t know what’s going on in that clubhouse.”
Despite the injuries that Youkilis dealt with, he still demonstrated his power stroke with 17 home runs and 32 doubles. He put up a respectable 5.92 runs created per game (RC/G) over the course of 120 games, but that paled in comparison to his previous seasons.
2010 RC/G – 7.71
2009 RC/G – 7.63
2008 RC/G – 7.34
The sports hernia injury that ended Youkilis’ season in early September is expected to be corrected by surgery and have the Red Sox third baseman ready for Spring Training in February. He underwent surgery on October 4th to repair the sports hernia, is nearing the point where he can start riding a bike, WEEI.com reports. Will he still be on the team at that point? The injuries and supposed clubhouse issues have led to speculation as to whether or not Youkilis should or will be traded.
Alex Speier’s piece on Youkilis emphatically suggests that he will not be traded, but you could see a case for it if Sox prospect Will Middlebrooks was ready to take over the job. Middlebrooks is close in some people’s eyes but it may be more of a 2013 job. Youkilis still has another year on his Red Sox deal with a club option for ’13. Unless presented with an offer they couldn’t refuse, the Red Sox will be running Youk out to the hot corner when the season starts again in April.
When healthy, Youkilis is 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 concerns outside of the constant pounding that third base puts on Youkilis’ body is his new-found penchant for hitting ground balls. As we all know, Youkilis is a power-hitting offensive profile and it’s very hard to hit for power if you are hitting ground balls.
You can see the nice three- year trend on the green line which indicates groundballs have increased since 2008 with a spike in 2011. In fact, Youkilis swapped flyballs with ground balls altogether in 2011 marking the first time in his career that he hit more on the ground than in the air. As memory serves, he was particularly groundball-happy on the road this year which helped lead him to the .191 batting average away from Fenway Park. It also led to the suppressed BABIP’s we have all heard about.
So 2011 was not exactly ‘more of the same’ when it comes to Youkilis. Aside from the injuries, 2011 was really a completely different season for him. Production was way down, he didn’t hit the ball as hard, had to log a career-high number of innings at a grueling position and found himself being pointed at as a key component in the Red Sox 2011 collapse.
Hopefully 2012 is a little better for him because it might be his last in Boston.