Finally, we can admit that Kevin Youkilis was a good player. Once upon a time, the third baseman could guarantee you a nearly .400 OBP, he could hit homeruns, and he could play some respectable defense. At 33 years old, Youkilis is now crossing sides of a staunch rivalry, he’ll now be a New York Yankee. It’s hard to imagine the guy with the ridiculous facial hair and batting stance heading over to the Bronx, but the Yankees, nor Youkilis, have much of a choice.
Youkilis has regressed over the last year, which was part of the reason he was so available to the Yankees on a one-year deal. There’s some hope that 2012 was a fluke. In 2011, Youkilis hit for a .258/.373/.459 slash, good for a 126 wRC+, as well as a 3.7 fWAR. His value plummeted in 2012, when he had just a 1.3 fWAR and a .235/.336/.409 slash, split between the Red Sox and White Sox.
With the Red Sox, the righty slumped considerably in the first 3 months of baseball. He hit just .233/.315/.377 with 14 walks, 39 strikeouts, and 4 homeruns in 165 plate appearances. Most of this can be attributed to a nagging lower back injury he dealt with in April, and after he returned from a DL stint, he boosted his OPS from .635 to .736.
After being traded from the Red Sox to the White Sox, Youkilis went on a month long tear where he hit .315/.407/.534, doubling his homerun count, and nearly doing the same with his walks. On July 19th, the third baseman began to again experience discomfort, but this time he was day-to-day with a tight hamstring. Then he sprained his ankle on July 25th. He continued to play, despite his leg issues, and had another strong month of August, hitting .244/.365/.488. He finally went cold again in September, and finished his season with a 102 wRC+.
2012 was far from a normal season for him, as the injuries hit him hard and early. What isn’t normal is his drop in BABIP. From a career .322 BABIP, Youkilis had just a .268 batting average on balls in play last season. The batted ball rates largely remained the same by the end of the season, which is not what you expect with a fluctuation in BABIP. Breaking it down by batted balls, Youkilis hit .203 on grounders, .229 on flies, and .681 on line drives. Over his career, he held a much higher batting average all around, with a .245 on grounders, .280 on fly balls, and .721 on line drives.
Before we say he was unlucky, there are a few explanations for these regressions. The drop off from hits off of ground balls could be caused by slower speed. The drop off in batting average on flyballs could be caused by moving from a stadium with the Green Monster, to a more honest US Cellular. With that said, Youkilis never had much speed, and US Cellular field is hardly a pitcher’s park, so there’s a good chance a lot of his 2012 season came from bad luck.
Looking at his peripherals, Youkilis doesn’t seem to be hitting any different than he was in the past. I wouldn’t expect him to be a 6 fWAR player like he was in 2008 or 2009, but there’s enough data to optimistically say he’ll bring between 3-4 wins. In a depleted third base market, that’s not such a bad deal for $12 million.