Slighted by David Ortiz?
In 2009, Youkilis comes out of the gates with guns a blazing.
Kevin Youkilis is white-hot. All the baseball cliches are in full effect here; he is locked in, on fire, seeing the ball, feeling it, what have you. Whatever it is, Youkilis is crushing the ball.
Maybe it's Ortiz' recent comments about his own "lineup protection" that have fueled the quick start?
As I write this article, the Red Sox are in the seventh inning against the Orioles on Patriot's Day. The Red Sox have nine runs on the board. Youkilis is 0-1 with zero RBI. Why? Because the Orioles have walked him three times! No one wants to pitch to this guy right now.
Through 12 games, Youkilis is hitting .468. He has three HR, nine RBI, and 12 runs scored. The best part of all of this is, none of it is fluky. Will he slow down? Yes, because if anyone were to continue at this pace, it would shatter MLB records and turn the game on it's head.
Last year, Lance Berkman went on an extended tear in early May where he had 18 hits in 23 ABs. It was one of the greatest stretches in baseball history. If Youkilis continues to hit at this clip much longer, he will see the base on balls increase. Look at some of the peripherals:
2009 Walk Rate - 11.3% Career - 12.6%
2009 Strikeout Rate - 14.9% Career - 20.5%
2009 Isolated Power - .319 Career - .186
2009 BABIP - .514 Career - .340
What this is telling us is that Youkilis is generating power, extra base hits, and producing more value offensively without sacrificing anything in terms of strikeouts or contact.
His walk rate is slightly below his career numbers and you will certainly see that figure increase as teams become more reluctant to pitch to him. Youkilis has always been regarded as a player who understands the strike zone, but with his cleanup spot in the Red Sox lineup, and his recently-found power stroke, the opposing pitcher's approach to Youkilis is about to change.
Youkilis has also benefited from an unsustainable batting average of balls in play (BABIP) at .514. BABIP is the rate at which batted balls (that are not HRs) become actual hits. Chris Dutton and Peter Bendix at The Hardball Times explain BABIP as the following:
If Jacoby Ellsbury hits a ground ball in the hole between short and third, he has a higher chance of getting a hit than if Bengie Molina hits the exact same ball in the exact same place. Anecdotally, this is how Ichiro manages to get so many hits every year. And fans of the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays can tell you that David Ortiz, Jason Giambi and Carlos Pena have been robbed of many a base hit because of the extreme defensive shifts used against them, whereas Dustin Pedroia, Derek Jeter and BJ Upton have gotten more hits because of their batting eye and their ability to use the whole field. Surely, these factors contribute to whether or not a batted ball becomes a hit.
Youkilis' career BABIP is .340 which is well above league average. This lends itself to Youkilis' ability to hit to all fields, the fact that he plays at a great park for batting average, and his keen batting eye. Youkilis will surely hit over .315 if he can at least maintain his career BABIP of .340.
Before 2008, Youkilis was never thought to be a player who would have much more than 15-HR power. In 2008, a slight swing adjustment quickly changed that, and Youkilis went from being a first baseman with an isolated power around .160 or so, to a bona fide slugger with an ISO of .257. Note: (ISO = SLG% - BA). Power hitters are considered to have an ISO of about .200, so Youkilis exceeded that mark quite impressively in 2008.
Currently, Youkilis has an ISO mark of .319, which is also unsustainable. For if it were, would place Youkilis at the level of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Albert Pujols. Youkilis is not quite in that group.
However, I do think an ISO of .240 is reasonable for him in 2009. Combine that with an excellent BABIP, strong K and BB rates, great counting stats, and Kevin Youkilis is in store for a career year.
STP 2009 Kevin Youkilis projection:
Red Sox (7-6)
Darryl Johnston is the Red Sox correspondent for Fanball.com. He has many years of sports writing under his championship belts. Email him - firstname.lastname@example.org