2010 Red Sox Preview: Kevin Youkilis Proving Doubters Wrong

Jeffrey BrownAnalyst IMarch 6, 2010

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 09: Kevin Youkilis #20 of the Boston Red Sox doubles in the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Game Two of the ALDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Angel Stadium on October 9, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Why do so many writers in the baseball universe refer to Kevin Youkilis as over-rated or predict that his career will start to backslide?

Many of these pundits point to the fact he had a bad back throughout much of last year, and that back issues tend to linger and never go away—especially for a 31-year-old.  They assume that his back condition will be chronic, and with less time on the field he'll have fewer opportunities to produce runs.

Yet, the truth of the matter is that in spite of last year’s back woes, “Youk” still managed to post a career high in OBP (.413), OPS (.961) and OPS+ (145).

Yeah, I know, he also posted a career high in strikeout percentage (21.3 percent); but there are other metrics that suggest the spike in K-rate is attributable to back problems and aren’t indicative of a deterioration of his hitting skills. 

First, in spite of the fact he had 33 fewer ABs in '09, he saw nearly 100 more pitches than he saw the previous season. Second, his contact rate (81 percent) remains higher than the league average (80 precent). And lastly, his walk-rate increased by nearly 4 percent.

There was considerable speculation around baseball (especially, in and around Boston) this winter that the Sox will eventually acquire San Diego 1B Adrian Gonzalez.  

A-Gon is an appropriate topic in any conversation that involves Youkilis...his arrival in Boston would send Youk skittering back across the diamond defensively.  On offense, A-Gon is one of the hitters who is most comparable to the Youkilis.

A comparison of the two player’s statistics underscores the similarities between them:

Gonzalez (6 yrs): 698 games, .281 BA, .362 OBP, .506 slug pct, .868 OPS, 137 HR, 424 RBI, 401 R

Youkilis (6 yrs): 689 games, .292 BA, .391 OBP, .487 slug pct, .878 OPS, 93 HR, 408 RBI, 424 R

Youkilis will have Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez hitting in front of him, so there will be plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. At the same time, he won’t have any real protection in the lineup unless David Ortiz has a big rebound season.

So, what kind of numbers will he put up in 2010? As I’ve mentioned previously in this series, I am not a devotee of the most widely-used projection systems: CHONE, Bill James and PECOTA.

They all have problems.

CHONE projections tend to be strong for hitters but weak for pitchers. The PECOTA system has the opposite problem—it is strong for pitchers, but weak for hitters.  And while Bill James is well-known and an employee of the Red Sox, his annual projections are consistently overly-optimistic.

I prefer the work done by Ron Shandler (who is the godfather of "fanalytics") and Mike Podhorzer (the new kid on the block).

Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster is must-reading for any baseball fan, especially if he/she is a fantasy baseball aficionado.  Shandler and his minions do great work. They can be found at BaseballHeadquarters.com .

Podhorzer’s predictions at fantasypros911.com went 42-0 when compared head-to-head with other projection systems last year. Seriously, folks, if you don’t know about fantasypros911.com , it’s time that you take a look. Great stuff!

So what do these two systems project for YOUK for the upcoming season?

Shandler: .301, 30 HR, 107 RBI
Podhorzer: .295, 27 HR, 95 RBI

From my perspective, a healthy Youk means a productive Youk. It says here The Greek God of Walks demonstrated additional patience at the plate last season because of his back issues. If he is healthy, I foresee that his strikeout rate and walk rate will both decrease, while his overall production will spike
to his 2008 level:

SOX1FAN projection: .305, 27 HR, 120 RBI