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Entries in Kevin Youkilis (9)

Monday
Aug062012

Youk Slugging On the South Side

With no farm system to speak of, White Sox GM Kenny Williams has repeatedly gambled by acquiring high-priced veterans with question marks in trades. While some of those moves blew up like Wile E. Coyote ACME bombs last season, the likes of Alex Rios, Jake Peavy, Francisco Liriano and Kevin Youkilis have propelled the White Sox to the top of the AL Central standings in 2012. Youkilis, whose bat was on life support in Boston, has rediscovered his power stroke on the South Side.

The 33-year-old, who slugged just .377 and had an 84 OPS+ in 165 PA with the Red Sox, was shipped to the White Sox in late June for Zach Stewart, since-DFA'd Brent Lillibridge and cash. In Chicago, Youk has slugged .512 and has a 138 OPS+ in 150 PA. With the Red Sox, he only hurt pitchers occasionally on high-and-away offerings:

Youkilis' slugging percentage by pitch location with Boston, 2012

 

But since the swap, Youkilis has drilled just about everything thrown high in the strike zone:

Youkilis' slugging percentage by pitch location with White Sox, 2012

 

Youkilis has tapped into his power by hitting more fly balls (28.3% in Boston, 44.4% in Chicago). Those flies are traveling farther, too: an average of 275 feet with the White Sox, up from 262 feet with the Red Sox (the MLB average is about 269 feet).

While Youkilis is currently pushing the White Sox toward a playoff spot, Williams can also retain him next year by picking up a $13 million club option ($1 million buyout). Youkilis will have to keep raking and avoid the back ailments that felled him in Boston for that to happen. But Chicago doesn't have an in-house option after Brent Morel's own offense collapse and back issues, the club's still fallow-farm system makes a trade for an impact player unlikely, and it's slim pickings on the free agent market.

Give Williams credit. Sure, his moves occasionally blow up in his face. But, unlike that aimless Coyote, Williams looks poised to catch his Road Runner.

Monday
Jun252012

Greek God of...Grounders?

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:

YearGround Ball Pct.
2010 36.5
2011 41.6
2012 50
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:

2010

Youkilis' ground ball rate by pitch location, 2010

 2011

Youkilis' ground ball rate by pitch location, 2011

 2012

Youkilis' ground ball rate by pitch location, 2012

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.

Friday
Jun012012

Youk, Down and Out

With Will Middlebrooks raking and Kevin Youkilis often aching, there's plenty of trade buzz surrounding the corner infielder who not long ago was one of the game's most valuable players. But as of late, the 33-year-old Youk (owed roughly $8.2 million for the rest of 2012 and $13 million next year if his club option is picked up) has seen his durability and bat both diminish. Youkilis had a 157 OPS+ during a 2010 season cut short by thumb surgery, but that dropped to 123 last year as he battled a bad back, hip pain and a sports hernia. In 2012, he's got a career-worst 94 OPS+ and served another DL stint for a lower back strain. Nothing God-like about that.

A major reason for Youkilis' power outage and ever-increasing K rate is his performance against pitches thrown at the knees. He's making weak contact on low pitchers or missing them entirely, and opponents are taking notice.

In 2010, Youkilis put plenty of good wood on low pitches and didn't miss all that often compared to the average hitter. That changed last season, and his slugging percentage and miss rate against low stuff has declined even further in 2012:

Youkilis vs. Low Pitches

YearSlugging Pct.Miss Pct.
2010 .475 28.1
2011 .329 33.9
2012 .311 36.5
2010-12 Avg. .348 30.3

 

Whatever the cause -- his litany of injuries, swing tinkering or something else -- Youk has stopped being a threat against pitches located down. In response, pitchers have progressively pounded him at the knees more often:

YearPct. Of Pitches Located Down
2010 40.3
2011 42.9
2012 47.3
2010-12 Avg. 41.1

 

If Youkilis can return to just his 2011 level of production and stay reasonably healthy, he'll either be a boon to Boston's uncertain playoff prospects or a quality add by club craving a corner bat like the Dodgers, Indians, Diamondbacks, Phillies or White Sox. But to do that, Youk has to stop being such an easy out when pitchers locate low. Scouts and players have caught on. Now, it's up to him to adjust.