How the Yankees Could Actually Be a Better Team Without Alex Rodriguez in 2013

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How the Yankees Could Actually Be a Better Team Without Alex Rodriguez in 2013
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

With Kevin Youkilis in to hold down the fort at third base, the New York Yankees may not miss Alex Rodriguez at all in 2013.

Before it comes to that, they'll at least have to get used to not having him around. A-Rod finally had surgery on his left hip this week, which the Yankees say went according to plan. His recovery is expected to take six months, with the plan being for him to return after the All-Star break.

But that's assuming his recovery also goes according to plan.

B/R Sports Injuries Lead Writer Will Carroll penned an interesting piece on the specifics of A-Rod's surgery and what the road ahead for him looks like. A lack of strength in A-Rod's hip could complicate his rehab, and he may even need a hip replacement one day.

If there are bumps along the way in A-Rod's road to recovery, his return to action could be pushed back...and pushed back...and pushed back further still. If the setbacks do start to pile up, I wonder if the Yankees would just shut him down for good and give him the whole year off.

If this is how things pan out, new acquisition Kevin Youkilis will have to be more than a mere place-holder for A-Rod. He'll have to be a season-long producer, as well as an integral part of the clubhouse.

I've been skeptical on exactly how much Youkilis will be able to help the Yankees in 2013, but a closer look at the numbers reveals that there's hope. 

An abundance of it, in fact.

 

At the Plate

Nobody's going to mistake A-Rod for an elite hitter at this stage of his career, but he's still better than Youkilis, right?

Actually, not really.

Youkilis looked like he was done early in the 2012 season when he was still with the Boston Red Sox, but he found new life after he was traded to the Chicago White Sox in June. The numbers he put up as a White Sox compare surprisingly favorably to A-Rod's season numbers.

Like so:

Statistic* A-Rod Youk with CWS
OPS .783 .771
OPS+ 112 106
ISO .158 .188
P/PA 3.79 4.25
BB% 9.6 10.8
K% 21.9 20.1
RE24 3.3 9.1

*From Baseball-Reference.com. Youkilis' stats. A-Rod's stats.

You know what OPS is, and I'm guessing you know what OPS+ is. If not, it's a version of OPS that's adjusted for ballparks and league quality.

Rodriguez had only a small advantage over Youkilis as a White Sox in both categories, but that's not a slam-dunk argument that he was the better hitter. A-Rod's advantage had to do with a slight edge over Youk in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and he got those advantages thanks to a huge lead over Youk in BABIP. A-Rod's was .323, whereas Youkilis had a .257 BABIP with Chicago.

However, that's where A-Rod's advantages over Youk end.

USA TODAY Sports
Youkilis hit 15 home runs as a White Sox after hitting only four as a Red Sox.

Isolated Power (ISO) is a stat that measures a hitter's ability to hit for extra bases, and Youk had a comfortable edge in that department. A-Rod had the higher slugging percentage, but Youkilis actually hit the ball with more authority when he actually managed to square it up.

That's a not-insignificant point for Youkilis in its own right, and things get even better for him after that.

Youkilis isn't as tough of an out as he used to be, but he was a much tougher out than Rodriguez was while he was wearing a White Sox uniform. He saw more pitches per plate appearance, walked more often and struck out less often.

If he can stick to these tendencies in 2013, he'll help a Yankees lineup that wasn't as tough on pitchers as it was in 2011. Yankees hitters saw fewer pitches per plate appearance, and ultimately drew significantly fewer walks.

If the Yankees' lineup does take to grinding out at-bats more with Youkilis in the middle, it will be a return to form. The Yankees had as much power as ever in 2012, but what made them dangerous before was both their power and their ability to completely drain a pitching staff.

Youkilis could also help the Yankees rediscover the clutch gene that went missing in 2012. His big edge over A-Rod in RE24 suggests he should.

RE24 is a difficult concept to describe, but it's essentially a statistic that keeps track of how much a hitter alters run expectancies based on the situations he faces. The higher above zero a hitter's RE24 goes, the more good he did for his team on offense.

The way in which Youk's 9.1 RE24 as a White Sox dwarfs A-Rod's 3.3 RE24 shows that he capitalized on far more run-scoring opportunities than A-Rod. This is somewhat reflected by another big edge that he holds in BRS% (the percentage of baserunners who scored on a play by a batter).

What it boils down to is this: Youkilis may not be able to match A-Rod's consistency, but he could hit for more power, grind out more at-bats and hit better in the clutch.

In other words, he'll be what many fans wish A-Rod was last year.

 

In the Field

Fans shouldn't kid themselves into thinking that the Yankees are going to get above-average defense at third base in 2013. The best they can hope for is passable defense.

The Yankees could, however, be better off with Youk at the hot corner than with A-Rod.

Observe:

Statistic* A-Rod at 3rd Youk at 3rd
Fielding % .957 .964
UZR/150 -8.8 -6.2
DRS -2 -1
RZR .630 .698

*From FanGraphs. Youkilis' stats. A-Rod's stats.

It grieves me to talk about fielding percentage, as it's extremely misleading about how good of a fielder a player is. But if it does have one use, it's that it tells us just how sure-handed a player is when he can get to the ball.

In 2012, Youkilis was the more sure-handed of the two third basemen. There was nothing fluky about his performance either, as his .964 fielding percentage looks a lot like his .966 career fielding percentage at third base.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Youkilis was a very strong defensive third baseman when he first came up, posting a 19.6 UZR/150 at third in his rookie year.

But his true defensive advantages lie in the sabermetric stats. Youk's minus-6.2 UZR/150—Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 defensive games—qualified him as a below-average defensive third baseman, but he was at least better than Rodriguez. The Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) statistic agrees.

The bigger and more important advantage in Youkilis' favor, however, is in Revised Zone Rating (RZR). It's a stat that's not en vogue as it used to be, but it's just what it sounds like: a measurement of a player's range.

Getting range at third base is going to be huge for the Yankees, as somebody on the left side of their infield is going to have to be rangy and it's not going to be Derek Jeter. His range at shortstop was already bad, and it's likely to be even worse in 2013 after having surgery to repair a fractured ankle.

The left side of the Yankees' infield will be weak no matter what in 2013, but it's going to be stronger with Youkilis at third base than it otherwise would have been with A-Rod at third base.

 

In the Clubhouse

This is where switching out Rodriguez for Youkilis may be the biggest boon for the Yankees.

I'm in no position to comment on what kind of teammate Rodriguez really is, but I will say that he doesn't come off all that well from the outside looking in. He's portrayed as a jerk in R.A. Dickey's book and as an attention-seeker in Joe Torre's book, and he's also brought unnecessary controversy to the Yankees with his various conquests with women. 

The Yankees may miss Rodriguez the teammate in 2013. But Rodriguez the walking, talking headline? Yeah, they probably won't miss that.

Youkilis has accounted for his share of headlines during his career, including some tabloid-y ones (he is married to Tom Brady's sister, after all). He's also been involved in some clubhouse dramas, including a scrum with Manny Ramirez in 2008 and a feud with Bobby Valentine this past year.

Brian Kersey/Getty Images
Youkilis seemed to get along with his White Sox teammates just fine.

But in the drama department, Youkilis doesn't come with nearly as much baggage as A-Rod. He's much more ballplayer than celebrity, whereas A-Rod is equal parts celebrity and ballplayer.

Youkilis' presence at third base won't distract anybody on the Yankees from the things that matter. You know, such as going out and winning games. 

If anything, Youk's presence will only intensify the Yankees' collective focus on winning games, as his trademark grittiness could rub off on a roster that was too lacking in grit in 2012 (the return of Brett Gardner will also help in this department).

If Youkilis becomes as much of a rock in the Yankees' clubhouse as he could be at the plate and in the field, then the Yankees may decide to give A-Rod the year off even if he does get healthy.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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