Red Sox Spring Profiles: Kevin Youkilis And Injury Concerns

Boston Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis reacts after striking out during the top of the third inning of a spring training game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Kevin Youkilis hasn't been a paragon of health over the last three years. Or his career, really. The difference between then and now, though, is that Youkilis didn't used to miss much time for the various strains, contusions, and sprains. These days, they tend to knock him out, or hinder his production, resulting in Red Sox seasons that don't quite measure up.

Over the last three years, Kevin Youkilis has hit .290/.399/.523. Five players in the majors with at least 1,000 plate appearances (Youkilis has 1,540 in that stretch) have met or exceeded those rates during that time frame:

Rk Player OPS+ BA OBP SLG PA From To 2B 3B HR BB IBB SO HBP GDP
1 Albert Pujols 171 .313 .409 .598 2051 2009 2011 113 2 126 279 97 198 17 75
2 Miguel Cabrera 167 .332 .421 .583 2021 2009 2011 127 1 102 265 68 291 11 63
3 Joey Votto 161 .318 .418 .565 1911 2009 2011 114 6 91 271 33 360 15 39
4 Adrian Gonzalez 156 .306 .403 .536 2089 2009 2011 105 5 98 286 77 342 13 66
5 Kevin Youkilis 141 .290 .399 .523 1540 2009 2011 94 8 63 203 12 292 40 27
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/20/2012.

That's some fantastic company, and it makes sense, too: until last year, Youkilis was the first baseman on the Red Sox. His bat was up to the task, and until the latest bout of injuries in 2011, it was doing its job at third base, too: Youkilis was leading all third basemen in the majors in True Average (.308) before his final 22, injury-riddled contests. In fact, he was the lone hot corner representative over .300 -- that's an impressive feat considering the competition within just his division, never mind the league.
Over those last 22 games, Youkilis undid a lot of the good of his 2011 season. He hit just .190/.304/.342, and dragged his season line down from .273/.388/.486 to .258/.373/.459. Even his pre-final stretch numbers were likely dinged by injuries -- check out his injury report from 2011, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus's injury database:

Date On Date Off Games Side Body Part Injury Severity Reaggravation
04/22/11 04/23/11 1 Left Ankle Contusion Foul ball ----
04/28/11 04/28/11 0 Left Hip Soreness felt it jammed ----
05/01/11 05/02/11 1 Left Hip Soreness soreness Yes
05/03/11 05/04/11 1
General Medical Illness - ----
05/05/11 05/05/11 0 Left Thumb Contusion - Yes
05/14/11 05/14/11 0 Left Hip Soreness - Yes
05/25/11 05/26/11 1 Left Hand Soreness - ----
06/17/11 06/17/11 0
General Medical Illness - ----
06/30/11 06/30/11 0 Left Foot Contusion foul ball ----
07/05/11 07/06/11 1
Back Contusion HBP ----
07/26/11 07/27/11 1 Left Thigh Soreness Hamstring -
08/11/11 09/02/11 20 - Low Back Tightness - -
09/09/11 09/09/11 0 Left Hip Inflammation Bursitis -
09/09/11 09/13/11 3 Left Abdomen Sports Hernia - -
09/16/11 09/29/11 13 Left Abdomen Sports Hernia - Yes
10/04/11 10/04/11 0 Left Pelvis Surgery Sports Hernia -

There are 16 entries for injuries here, all from just last season. His hip was bothering him as early as late-April, and he dealt with hop soreness at various points throughout the year. Eventually, he required surgery for a sports hernia, the effects of which you can see in the cascade of injuries on the left side of his body from time spent trying to adjust to pain.

It's likely Youkilis, now 33 years old and averaging just 119 games a year over the last three seasons, will miss time again in 2012. The injuries have worn him down as the year has progressed, so given this pattern, he might not lose time until much of the year is behind us.The Red Sox have some plans in place to replace him when that happens-- Mike Aviles could slide over from short, and Jose Iglesias might be ready to assume a big league role by the time Youkilis is out for the count, or maybe Will Middlebrooks would have solved Triple-A by then -- but there's nothing on the roster that can replace Youkilis outright. Not that there could be, either: look at the chart up top again, the one that says he's one of just five major league hitters like him over the last three years (and this while dealing with these myriad injuries) -- and try to say with a straight face the Sox could easily replace him when he's down.

This is what makes him so important to the Red Sox, despite the missed time, and will also make next winter difficult, when his $13 million club option comes up. The Red Sox could use that $13 million to stay under the luxury tax threshold, but they could also have Youkilis relatively cheap for his production. That's a worry for another day, of course, and one clouded by dreams of prospects being as ready as we'd love them to be right when we want them to. Right now, the Red Sox just want Youkilis healthy and productive, because Boston is at its best when this is so. Squeezing 140 games out of Youkilis rather than 120 could be the difference between October baseball and another fall at home.
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