Kevin Youkilis Will Bounce Back Offensively in 2013

This guy in a Yankee uni?

Kevin Youkilis may not be the model of health in recent years, nor adept defensively at the hot corner. You might even point to his mediocre offensive 2012 and claim he’s already entered steep decline. Sure, his wRC+ has plummeted from 159 in 2010, to 126 in 2011, and to 102 in 2012. However, I predict Youkilis’ return to at least his performance level in 2011.

First, his BABIPs in the past two seasons have been well below average. While his career mark is .322, his numbers in 2011 and 2012 were .296 and .268 respectively. There’s undoubtedly a degree of bad luck holding back Youkilis, especially if you examine his batted ball statistics.

We already know that fly balls have the lowest BABIP, lines drives have the highest, and grounders fall in-between. To exemplify this, in 2011, line drive BABIP was .714, ground ball .238, and fly ball .139. Yet, how has Youkilis’ BABIP dropped so steadily despite his fly ball rate decreasing? In 2011 and 2012, his FB% was 38.2% and 36.3%, below his career mark of 42.9%. If anything, this should increase his BABIP, and thereby his batting average and wOBA. A countperoint may be that a higher fly ball rate in Fenway Park is a good thing considering the green monster’s propensity to add a few extra hits to what would be fly outs in most stadiums, but how much of a difference does that really make? Plus, his line drive rate last season wasn’t far off from his lifetime norm: 20.7% vs. 21.2%. Youkilis is undoubtedly in line for some better fortune in 2013.

Some other numbers that may jump out are his home/road splits the past two seasons. On the surface, it appears that Youkilis is a product of Fenway Park. In 2012, his wRC+ was 160 at home and 50 on the road (granted, some home games were in Chicago after the trade to the White Sox). Additionally, in 2011, he posted a 167 wRC+ in Boston and 81 elsewhere. So clearly, he’ll struggle at Yankee Stadium, right? Wrong.

For his entire career through 2010, he was very balanced home and away: a wRC+ of 135 (.302/.397/.505) in Boston and 130 (.286/.390/.490) everywhere else. Yes, he’s slightly better at Fenway, but still excellent otherwise. While he may not produce an overall wRC+ around 130, I’d bet he’ll regain this home/road balance in 2013.

The Yanks can also count on Youkilis to live up to his moniker, “The Greek God of Walks”. While his BB% declined to 10% last season, expect this rate to be closer to his career level, 12.3%. In fact, maybe higher: prior to 2012, he hadn’t posted a BB% lower than 13.1% since 2008.

Moreover, the one year $12 million dollar contract fits perfectly in the Yankees budget plan to avoid paying the competitive balance tax in 2014.

The caveats? Believe it or not, Alex Rodriguez has played more games than Youkilis in the past three seasons, so obviously health is a huge issue. His back has been the main issue, but if his body permits him, I’m confident in my belief that he’ll return as a threat at the plate. Plus, perhaps rotating time at DH before and after A-Rod returns will help him. And yes, he’s a below average defender at third per UZR and DRS, but some DH time can hide this flaw.

So what if I wanted Mark Reynolds or a platoon of Jeff Keppinger/Eric Chavez over Youkilis last week. After further investigation, it’s clear that Youkilis will come back with a vengeance in 2013, no matter how weird he looks in pinstripes. If we got over Wade BoggsRoger Clemens, and Johnny Damon, we’ll eventually get over Youkilis.

Dare I say it, I’m excited that Kevin Youkilis is a Yankee.

Photo By Keith Allison [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Statistics via fangraphs.com
Injury history via baseballprospectus.com

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