Forgot About Youk?

 

Alright, I know no one here has forgotten about Kevin Youkilis. The guttural chant that accompanies his every movement on the field at Fenway is proof Red Sox fans still remember him. On the national level, however, Youk has been overlooked once again. Dustin Pedroia is second in the American League in fWAR and a favorite MVP candidate among those of us who care about such things. Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury have been getting some mention in the awards chatter as well. David Ortiz is having a renaissance season and sparking debate about his future with the club. All the while, Kevin Youkilis has been routinely awesome and once again, this has gone largely unheralded outside the land of Chowdah.

The oversight is understandable this season. While Youk has been one of the game’s top five hitters these past few years, this season he is just the fourth best hitter on the Red Sox by wRC+, trailing Gonzalez, Pedroia and Ortiz He is fourth in total value (by fWAR) as well, behind Gonzo, Pedey and Ellsbury. This is no sign of decline by Youk, however, rather, a testament to just how phenomenal the Red Sox have been this season. Despite being just the fourth best hitter on his own team, Youk is still the 27th best hitter overall this season by wRC+. Fourteen teams in the league don’t have a single hitter as good as Youk, including the game’s third best offensive team, the Texas Rangers

Youk is doing all that in what is a relatively down year for him. His BABIP is just .301, down from his career average of .330, indicating that bad luck might be playing a part. His line drive rate is slightly down for his career norm, which isn’t helping him, but the real issue this season is his ground ball rate. Youk seems to be hitting far more ground balls in 2011 than he has at any other time. Those ground balls are primarily coming at the expense of fly balls. Since he is hitting home runs on 14% of his fly balls, a rate in line with the past few seasons, Youk might be losing a few dingers by putting the ball on the ground more. He is certainly hitting into more double plays as a result. Last season in 435 PA, he hit into just four twin killings; this season he has hit into fourteen in just thirty-five extra times at the plate. He has already passed his single-season high for GIDP of twelve set back in 2006 in 680 PA.

Ground balls aren’t exactly killing Youk though. He is still one of the best at reaching via the free pass and his .217 ISO is miles above average, even if it is a tick down from the past few seasons. You have to love a player who can be 37% above the average hitter and call that a down year.

Y

oukilis has also had to change positions this year. After winning a Gold Glove at first base in 2007 and posting the highest UZR/150 in the American league over the past three seasons, Youk moved across the diamond to third. At thirty-two years old, most players are moving to first from third, but not Youk. His defense at third has been solid, with Total Zone putting him at one run above average for the year. UZR has not liked him quite as much this year (-1.6) but has him firmly above average on his career at the hot corner (3.7 UZR/150). The positional adjustment from first to third has helped him retain much of the value he loses from the transition between elite glove man at first to average third baseman, but considering his replacement is Adrian Gonzalez, the net gain for Boston is enormous.

Will Kevin Youkilis ever get the recognition he deserves outside of Boston? No, he almost certainly won’t. Youk has been overshadowed by Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. He has been overshadowed by the incredible Dustin Pedroia. He is now getting overshadowed by Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury. Like the great Dwight Evans, Kevin Youkilis seems destined to play incredible baseball without ever getting the spotlight to himself. Like Dewey, Youk will get the recognition he deserves in one place and one place only- Fenway, where a hero is still a grinder.

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