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Entries in Boston Red Sox (105)


The Youkilis Paradox

Peter Abraham at the Boston Red Globe Extra Bases blog notes that Kevin Youkilis (BOS) is among the worst hitters in terms of batting average but one of the best in terms of OBP:


Youkilis is third in the American League in walks and eighth in strikeouts, the only player ranked in the top 10 in each category. As a result, he is 77th (out of 96 qualified players) in batting average at .213, but tied for 11th with an on-base percentage of .388.


If you can figure this out, please let me know.

During the previous three seasons, pitchers worked Kevin away, as his best chance for a hit was on the inside half of the plate:

Kevin Youkilis, in play avergae, 2008-2010.Kevin seemed to be aware that inside pitches gave him the best chance at collecting a hit, so that's where he swung:

Kevin Youkilis, swing rate, 2008-2010.Kevin was willing to cede the outside third of the plate to the pitcher and wait for a mistake inside.  In 2011, Kevin is just swinging less:

Kevin Youkilis, swing rate, 2011.He moved most of his swings to the inside third of the plate., and nothing is falling for him there:

Kevin Youkilis, in play average, 2011.He's getting his best results where he's not swinging much, and his worst results in what usually is a hot spot for him.  Note too, that by contracting the area in which he swings, he gives pitchers a much bitter area in which to record strikes.  His batting eye is still good enough that he draws a lot of walks, but by not swinging at pitches down the middle, Kevin gives the pitcher an advantage.

Unless Kevin lost bat speed, I suspect this is more bad luck than anything.   Youkilis still has the right approach to the game.  Wait for a pitch he can hit then smack it.  Sometimes they are hit right at a fielder, but over a whole season, they should fall for hits more often.  If this is still happening at the end of May, however, there might be a problem.


Lester's Fastball Issues

As we saw in the last entry, Lester's cutter has been very valuable over the last few seasons.  His fastball, however, has been giving him trouble recently.  Compare batters' performance off it the last three seasons:

Jon Lester's Fastball

(Click to enlarge)
Opponents hit better against Lester's fastball each year since 2008.  But it was left-handed batters that have really begun to zero in on the pitch. As a result, Lester has begun to utilize the fastball less. In 2008 it represented 63.7 percent of his pitches thrown (69.7 to LHB). This dropped to 55.7 and 38.8 percent in 2009 and 2010 respectively (67.1 and 40.7 to LHB).

Last year represented a noticeable change in his repertoire. As Lester has shied away from the throwing the fastball as much, he's leaned more on his superior cutter. In 2010, he threw the cutter for 21.7 percent of his pitches, and 22.5 percent to LHB. This is up 9.8 percent over his previous two year rate to all batters, and 14.8 percent to LHB.

Given how successful he's been with the cutter, expect him to continue favoring it over the fastball this season, particularly against lefties.


Cutting it with Jon Lester

Jon Lester's cutter is his most valuable pitch.  Fangraphs has it at 17.9 runs above average in 2010.

Jon Lester's 2010 Cutter
(Click to enlarge)
He keeps it away from lefties and in on righties.  Lester only gets into trouble when occasionally leaving one up in the zone. His cutter was almost equally effective against both righties and lefties, although he obviously faces far more RHB as a left-handed starter.

Jon Lester's 2010 Cutter
vs. Left187.179.191.20936.2%1.4%.177
vs. Right541.188.270.24831.1%7.4%.244

The cutter slightly outperformed it's expected value last season, but the inflated xBB% is probably more an indication of how good his cutter really is as an out pitch.

Lester's fastball has begun to give him trouble over the last couple years, and we'll dive into that in a future post.