Kevin Youkilis: Impermanent, Imperfect Yankee

In at least one way, Kevin Youkilis is a perfect fit for the Yankees. They’re trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold in 2014 in order to reset their tax rate and there aren’t many other third basemen willing to take one-year deals on the market. Beats trying to coax Chipper Jones out of retirement, probably, and Youkilis has retained enough of his skill to be an asset, even coming off his worst year.

In at least one other way, Youkilis is less than an ideal fit.

The good news first. Though Youkilis is coming off his career-worst season, not all of his peripherals tell the same story. His power has been in decline for two straight years by isolated power and that can happen to older hitters. His home run per fly ball rate has held steady, but he’s hitting more ground balls recently and that has led to fewer home runs. He’s definitively past his power peak. Hold on, the good news is still coming.

The thirty-three year old also just showed the second-worst strikeout rate of his career, which jives with aging curves as well. On the other hand, he’s not showing any more swinging strikes than he used to, and he hasn’t run into the extra swings — outside and inside the zone — that start appearing around his age. Given the fact that he just put up the best reach rate of his career, and the fact that his walk rate has stayed in the double-digits his whole career, it’s likely that Youkilis still has that skill that gave him the Grecian divinity moniker.

This might all sound like luke-warm praise, but it’s hard to find a guy with patience, better than league-average power, and a league-average strikeout rate that will play third base, let alone one that will do so on a one-year contract. Only six third baseman managed the feat last season, and none of them were even free agents.

One of the six was Alex Rodriguez, and his second hip surgery created the need for Kevin Youkilis to switch sides in the age-old turf war in the Northeast. Remarkably, the Yankees found an almost exact offensive replacement in Youkilis. Check out their last three years:

BB% K% ISO
Alex Rodriguez 10.1% 18.9% 0.196
Kevin Youkilis 12.1% 18.8% 0.208

So despite being post-peak, Youkilis has retained enough of his power and patience to be a near doppelganger to the man he needs to replace. Because he was coming off his worst year, he was available on a one-year deal that fit the Yankees needs. He didn’t cost prospects like a Michael Young, either.

Doesn’t really look like there are any problems here that a quick shave can’t save.

The problem does not stem from Youkilis’ talent, instead it comes from his age and that same contract that seems to fit so well. It’s a one-year deal to a 34-year-old third baseman, and it has two outcomes — either Youkilis rebounds and gets a longer-term contract from a team other than the Yankees, or he doesn’t live up to his short-term contract and he won’t be much of an asset to the Yankees next year. Even if the Yankees’ only goal is to get under the $189 million threshold once in 2014, it doesn’t seem likely that either of those Youuk outcomes helps solve what might be a developing long-term need at third base.

Alex Rodriguez has managed to remain above average with the bat even as he has declined, but minus a one-year blip in 2011, his glove has begun to become a drag on his value. It’s not a direct line from his position to his age (37) to the myriad injuries that have kept him from 600 plate appearances since 2007, and averaging under 500 since 2010, but it’s likely that a trip down the defensive spectrum would help him stay healthier and help the team defense. And, after two years that ended in hip injuries, the departure date for that trip is approaching rapidly.

Despite having the highest-paid third baseman in the league, it looks like the Yankees are developing a long-term need at the position. The fact that Kevin Youkilis will not solve that problem is the only thing standing between this signing and a perfect rating.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
3 years 8 months ago

Youkilis playing for the Yankees just seems wrong.

GregH
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GregH
3 years 8 months ago

Word to your motha!

Stephen
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Stephen
3 years 8 months ago

Eventually, the Yankees should consider moving Cano to third and DHing A-Rod.

Uncle Randy
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Uncle Randy
3 years 8 months ago

Seriously. Seems pretty obvious.

Steve
Guest
Steve
3 years 8 months ago

Until you realize Cano might not be on the team past this year.

YanksFanInBeantown
Guest
YanksFanInBeantown
3 years 8 months ago

And then, after considering that, you realize that there’s no chance in hell of Cano not being on the team in 2014 with $45 million coming off the books in Granderson, Pettitte and Rivera’s salaries and Jeter’s reduction. Not to mention that Kuroda might retire.

Steve
Guest
Steve
3 years 8 months ago

There is certainly a chance. Who plays 2B for the Dodgers??

YanksFanInBeantown
Guest
YanksFanInBeantown
3 years 8 months ago

Someone other than Cano after the Yankees sign him to some ridiculous contract to make sure he stays a Yankee for life. They will have the money and there are no viable free agent signings that would prevent it. The Yankees don’t let homegrown superstars leave.

MB923
Guest
MB923
3 years 8 months ago

Pettitte left in 04 to go to Houston

Justin Smoaked Cheese
Guest
Justin Smoaked Cheese
3 years 8 months ago

Good luck with the razor, cleaning up your face Youk. “Welcome to NY, Pal”

Derek Jeter
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Derek Jeter
3 years 8 months ago

I see it as pretty much a wash, since ARod isn’t a True Yankee either.

Neil
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Neil
3 years 8 months ago

What does he have to do to become a true yankee? I haven’t seen a breakdown yet.

Red Sox Fan
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Red Sox Fan
3 years 8 months ago

He needs to eat a baby. Only then can he become a true Yankee.

Mike Green
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Mike Green
3 years 8 months ago

Nah. He just has to kill Virgil Cain’s brother. I wonder if his name was Matthew…

wiggly
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wiggly
3 years 8 months ago

Now THAT is an obscure reference! Joan Baez (among others, I guess) on FanGraphs. Wow.

Just one request: Eno, will you talk to Mike A about “jibe” vs. “jive”?

Robbie Robertson
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Robbie Robertson
3 years 8 months ago

C’mon son, Joan Baez didn’t write that.

wobatus
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wobatus
3 years 8 months ago

Joan Baez covered it. The Band. Levon Helm.

Steve
Guest
Steve
3 years 8 months ago

So the yankees have signed the best reliever on the market, 2 of the 5 best starters, and probably the best 3Bman.

All on 1 year deals.

they are not scared to walk that tightrope.

Brian
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Brian
3 years 8 months ago

LOL

YanksFanInBeantown
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YanksFanInBeantown
3 years 8 months ago

What’s funny?

Name a better available closer than Mariano Rivera
Name a 5 available starters better than Pettitte.
Name a better available third baseman than Youk.

I’ll wait.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 8 months ago

I am available and I am very good at third base.

ladies.

Brian
Guest
Brian
3 years 8 months ago

Rafael Soriano blew only 4 saves while in 2011 Mo blew 5 saves, so there is your better reliever. I’d rather have Greinke, Sanchez, McCarthy, Jackson, Lohse, and Dempster above Pettitte. A better available third baseman is Eric Chavez. BOOM!

Everdiso
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Everdiso
3 years 8 months ago

Brian – It doesn’t count if your answers are obviously ridiculous. Face it, you got called out, had no (respectable) reply, and got OWNED.

Sparkles Peterson
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Sparkles Peterson
3 years 8 months ago

I would seriously have to quit watching baseball for a year if my team signed Youkilis. Watching him bat with that awful stance makes me want to throw things at my TV.

So, I guess I’m glad he’s being inflicted upon a deserving fanbase.

Steve
Guest
Steve
3 years 8 months ago

I guess it’s better than having a guy with a pretty stance who can’t hit as well. nah….

Jon L.
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Jon L.
3 years 8 months ago

Seriously, a 128 career wRC+, and you’re worried about whether his swing is aesthetically pleasing?

designated quitter
Guest
designated quitter
3 years 8 months ago

Have you seen Ichiro’s swing? He looks like he’s trying to swat butterflies.

Evan
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Evan
3 years 8 months ago

NotGraphs needs a post on guys who should be traded to the Yankees to force them to shave.

Cidron
Member
Cidron
3 years 8 months ago

In anticipation of Mo retiring, Yankees are gonna soon sign Brian Wilson, aka the former SF Beard

wobatus
Guest
wobatus
3 years 8 months ago

Although most people, at least on the interwebz, seem to now spell it this way these days, so maybe the dictionary will change, but the phrase used to be “jibes” with, not “jives” with (to be in harmony or accord; agree). No offense intended.

Love your stuff, just thought I’d pass along that bit of pedantry.

wobatus
Guest
wobatus
3 years 8 months ago

Whoops, Wiggly beat me to this.

ElToroStrikesAgain
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ElToroStrikesAgain
3 years 8 months ago

And you thought he was ugly before? Losing the goatee will make him look like his father is a light bulb and is mother is an egg.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
3 years 8 months ago

His facial hair kind of made him look like a pedo to me. Donno why.

LK
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LK
3 years 8 months ago

Well, in fact, at one time, his mother WAS an egg.

david
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david
3 years 8 months ago

her?

BronxBomber
Member
BronxBomber
3 years 8 months ago
AC of DC
Guest
AC of DC
3 years 8 months ago

Since it’s a nice article that neatly presents what there is to say, I’ll just point out that he already shaved in Chicago.

fhomess
Guest
fhomess
3 years 8 months ago

Wait… the complaint about signing a likely-to-be-good player to a 1-year contract is that he doesn’t fill a long term need? I thought the whole point of the 1-year deal was to delay having to fill that need when no optimal long term option presented itself.

gump
Member
Member
gump
3 years 8 months ago
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