With rookie Will Middlebrooks increasingly bumping Kevin Youkilis to the bench and the Chicago White Sox getting such paltry production from the hot corner that manager Robin Ventrua had to think about unretiring (a combined .467 OPS at third base), Sunday's trade that sent Youk and cash to the South Side for Brent Lillibridge and Zach Stewart makes sense for both clubs.
It's impossible for Youkilis not to be an upgrade over the likes of Brent Morel and Orlando Hudson. But Youkilis, who raked to the tune of a 142 OPS+ from 2008-2011, is having a miserable year himself. The 33-year-old has a career-low walk rate (8.5 percent), is punching out more than ever (23.6 percent) and hasn't shown much power, with four home runs in 165 plate appearances. The result? an 87 OPS+.
Youkilis' power outage can be traced to his soaring ground ball rate, particularly against inside pitches. He hit few grounders during a 2010 season in which he slugged a robust .544. Youk's grounder rate increased significantly in 2011 as he was slowed by back, hip and sports hernia injuries and he slugged .459. This year, while again battling back problems, he's slugging just .377 and his ground ball rate is way above the league average:
|Year||Ground Ball Pct.|
|MLB Avg., 2010-12||44.6|
While Youkilis once crushed inside pitches and rarely rolled over on the ball, he has become a ground ball machine against inside stuff lately. Check out his ground ball rate by pitch location over the past three years:
Youkilis hit a ground ball against inside pitches about 30 percent of the time in 2010, well below the 41 percent MLB average. That increased to 34 percent in 2011 and has shot up to 53 percent in 2012. Not coincidentally, Youk's slugging percentage versus inside pitches has nosedived: .560 in 2010, .455 in 2011 and .244 this season (.424 average).
If Youkilis can hit anything near his ZiPS projection for the rest of the year (.262/.364/.466), he'll be a gargantuan upgrade for the White Sox and well worth the price of a couple million dollars, a utility player and a so-so swingman. But that's predicated on Youkilis being both healthy and able to handle inside pitches. If he keeps chopping so many inside offerings into the grass, a change in nickname might be in order. "Greek God of Grounders" isn't nearly as catchy, though.