Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Kevin Youkilis - Brittle?

Last night and this morning, yours truly had a short conversation with Chris McBrien of the terrific Dear Mr. Fantasy website and Chip Buck, the creative contributor for the awesome Fire Brand of the American League and it was astounding that Chris from a fantasy perspective and Chip from a Red Sox team-based site had little faith that Kevin Youkilis will play 100 or more games in 2012. The conversation proved just how fickle the game of baseball can be. Youkilis, a major player in the 2007 championship run, a featured story of Moneyball and a guy just recently named one of the top fifty players (35th) active in baseball has now become an afterthought.

It is easy to understand Chris McBrien's stance. It's part of his job for his readers to assess fantasy baseball risk on players. This Fan doesn't play fantasy baseball and so there is no expertise in that area. But to think that you wouldn't want to touch Kevin Youkilis with one of your picks in that world just blows the mind. According to Fangraphs, despite only playing 222 games the past two seasons, Youkilis has still achieved a value of just over $33 million with his play. Despite only 120 games played in 2011, Youkilis still hit 32 doubles, 18 homers and drove in 80. The guy is a stud, isn't he? His batting average did dip inexplicably to .258 in 2011, but he still got on base a little more than 37 percent of the time.

It's also easy to understand Chip's point of view. He called Youkilis, "brittle," and despite emotional objections to that word, the facts bear it out. Since Youkilis became a fixture on the Red Sox in 2006, he's never played 150 games in a season. Seeing that in his player card was a total surprise. Kevin Youkilis has never played a full season. His 147 games played in 2006 were his tops in that category. Well, holy A-Rod! Who knew? Does that make Youkilis the current incarnation of John Valentin? Valentin was another on-base machine for the Red Sox in the 1990s who couldn't find a way to stay healthy. His career was basically over by age 32. Youkilis will be 33 in March.

There have been reports that the Red Sox were considering trading Youkilis for pitching or other needs. Looking at the value proposition of such a deal, the pitcher better be pretty darned good for that to happen. As mentioned earlier, Youkilis, as a part-time player the last couple of years has been worth over $16 million a season and has a very reasonable contract that pays him around $13 million. That contract does run out after 2012 (with an option for 2013), so perhaps that factors into such a strategy.

Kevin Youkilis is not as good a third baseman as he was a first baseman. But saying so discounts how few real options there are in the majors for third basemen out there. Even playing 120 games, Youkilis was the third most valuable third baseman in baseball last season. It seems to this author at least that 120 games of Youkilis at third would be a better option than 160 games from anyone else not named Adrian Beltre (why the heck didn't the Red Sox re-sign that guy?) and Evan Longoria.

There is one other statement this author would like to make concerning Youkilis: His .944 OPS in the post season and the way he grinds at bats, there are few other batters a contending team would rather face in big situations than Kevin Youkilis. This Fan has never really liked the guy, but there is a lot of respect for him as a batter. If the impossible happens and Youkilis can stay on the field for 140 or more games, that can only be a benefit for the Red Sox. Yes, folks, that was an understatement. To this observer, Kevin Youkilis is a big key to the team's success in 2012. And yeah, if the Fan played fantasy baseball, Youkilis would be grabbed in the first round if those two other guys weren't available.

1 comment:

Chris McBrien said...

This is a great article, by the way. One of the things I really like is in the way it delineates the difference between baseball on the field and fantasy baseball. Especially in regard to a head-to-head format, fantasy owners simply NEED a healthy player producing numbers.

For that reason, Youk is dropped down a peg (and probably out of the top 10 at third base).

I do disagree with one of your points and that is the idea of trading Youk for a top flight pitcher. No team in baseball would part with a top pitcher (or top pitching prospect) to land an aging, injury-prone player relegated to first base duty.

It simply won't happen. At least so long as J.P. Ricciardi is no longer a big league GM.

Nice work (as always) William.