Thursday, December 13, 2012

Kevin Youkilis and right-handed pitching

Kevin Youkilis became the latest in a long, long line of aging ballplayers the Yankees have signed over the years hoping to wring one last cup of tea from the old teabag. Before Youkilis, there was Chavez and Ibanez and before that Sheffield and Mondesi and before that Boggs and it goes on and on. And quite often, the ploy has worked. Chavez and Ichiro worked wonders in their time in New York. And so the Youkilis deal makes sense if you see this history. And everyone knows that Youkilis has steadily declined over the last two seasons and has had trouble staying on the field. The answer of why that has happened is easy to see and lies largely in his platoon splits.

Youkilis does have a pronounced split for his career. But not overly drastic. Against left-handed pitching in his career, he has an OPS of .928 with a triple slash line of: .298/.417/.511 compared to an OPS of .843 against right-handed pitching with a triple slash line of .277/.371/.471.  It is doubtful that anyone would sneeze at those kinds of numbers. 

But his ability to hit pitchers who throw from the right side has a distinct curve of growth from the early part of his career to a peak and then a decline and suddenly a cliff. Here are his OPS and strikeout percentages against right-handed pitching for his career:

If you have trouble seeing the numbers, just click on them. To see those numbers put in chart form:

The blue line on the chart is his OPS and the red line is his strikeout percentage. wOBA shows a similar curve pattern, so there is no need to use that as corroborating evidence.

The fact is that Youkilis did just fine against left-handed pitching the last two seasons with OPS figures of .987 and .878 respectively.

The guess here would be the effects of aging combined with his unorthodox stance and approach. There is a lot that has to happen to get a bat from that high above your head to the hitting zone. When Youkilis was younger, he was probably much quicker in getting that to happen against right-handed pitching. Now that he is older, he is not getting there as quickly and is easier to fool.

He gets a slightly longer look from pitchers who throw from the left side and can adjust to the pitch more effectively.

The big question is whether or not Youkilis is open to change. If so, Yankees batting coach, Kevin Long, helped Curtis Granderson with split problems Granderson had against left-handed pitching. But Youkilis will need to be open to such a change.

The situation is similar to what Yastrzemski did with the Red Sox years ago. Yaz also had a pronounced stance with the bat high over his head. When he got older, he made a sudden move to lower his hand position in his stance and it probably helped him last long enough to pad enough numbers for the Hall of Fame.

Youkilis probably started too late in his life to pile up necessary numbers for any post-career accolades. But this guy used to be one of the most feared hitters in baseball. If he is going to help the Yankees and rebuilt his offensive reputation, he is going to have to adjust now that he is older to hit right-handed pitching and he needs to do so in a hurry after such a precipitous fall. If he does not adjust and continues this trend, he better stash these paychecks away as he won't see them again..


Bill Miller said...

William, Nice analysis, as always. I completely agree with you regarding Youk. He may best be utilized as a platoon-player, though for he'll be earning, the pressure will be on both him and the Yanks to trot him out there five times per week.
Merry Christmas,

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Same to you, Amigo.

Miles said...

he lost his best friend, the Green Monster. righty batters at Yankees stadium struggle. he is going to be facing mostly righties anyway. he's old and his health and production are deteriorating. he is average defensively at third. there is very little upside here and a whole lot of cash being spent.