Kevin Youkilis: Welcome to Mount Olympus

The traveling Greek God of Walks.

Sunday afternoon, the Boston Red Sox sent Kevin Youkilis to Chicago’s south side. Drafted, crafted and debuted as a Red Sox player, Youkilis now joins only the second team of his career.

His numbers this season have taken a precipitous decline with injuries, but as recently as 2011, Youk’ had a 127 wRC+ and 3.7 WAR while playing primarily third base. In short: For a White Sox team hurting for third base production, this trade could turn into a major fleecing for the south siders.

Let’s see how.

First, it is important to dispel the myth of trade winners and losers. Though I love the those visual trade trees that track WAR produced from players acquired and lost, we must recognize there are mitigating factors in every trade — the constraints of budget (which result in salary dumps), the constraints of roster spots (which result in a lot of smaller trades for fringe players) and the constraints of playing time (which precipitated this very trade). The Red Sox were not trading Youkilis because they simply needed Zach Stewart and/or Brent Lillibridge. No, they needed playing time for prospect Will Middlebrooks — he is the catalyst.

So in other words, the Red Sox have already “won” in the sense that they acquired uncontested playing time for their prospect while acquiring two more players (one of them usefulish now, the other with a chance to be even more useful in the near future) for a guy wasting away on the bench. Was Middlebrooks over Youkilis the right decision for Boston? Yeah, probably, but time can make a fool out of anyone.

But does this trade fit the White Sox needs? Yes. Yes* with an asterisk.

* Here’s why: The team currently sports a 95 FIP-minus, so they are not really hurting for Stewart’s pitching — which has been mostly in relief — right now. But, Stewart is only 25, he has some decent minor league numbers and the White Sox have a minor league system more barren than the sands of Arrakis. Letting Stewart go stings. Lillibridge is versatile, but quite replaceable. Sorry, Brent.

But, on the other hand, the White Sox have the lowest WAR — and the only negative WAR — for third basemen from 2007 through 2012. The White Sox are still looking for the heir to Joe Crede — and that is saying something in and of itself.

They had hoped one-time-actual-prospect Brent Morel could sate the third base chasm, but injuries and ineffectiveness have rendered him in a toxic state. The arrival of Youkilis will buy the White Sox more time with Morel. They will be able to leave him in Triple-A (after he gets back from his injury) and wait to see whether or not these latest developments have spelled doom for him. If he cannot recover even his former minor league powers, then that might be the end of his starting hopes. (Sorry, Brent.)

So that brings us full circle to Youk’. The Red Sox did not bring up Middlebrooks because they were feeling frisky; they brought him up because Youk’ was under-performing and injured. If those two trends continue, the White Sox will have a most unpleasant trade on their ledger. But if Youk’ — with the first regular playing time since the beginning of this month — can recapture his hitting just a smidgen, the White Sox may have a little surprise in store for him:

If you click it, it will embeggin.

Youkilis is traveling from a park that suppresses right-handed home run power — Fenway Park — to the homerist park in the league for right-handed batters — U.S. Cellular Field. By losing the Green Monster, he loses about 26 points of doubles advantage, but he simultaneously gains 28 points of home run advantage.

The troubling issues about Youk’s numbers: No walks (8.5% BB-rate, down from 12.4% in his career), lots of strikeouts (23.6% K-rate in 2012, 18.3% in his career), and a second-consecutive low BABIP year (.288 BABIP after a .296 mark in 2011 — despite his career .327 BABIP).

A quick look at his FI wOBA numbers suggest he’s not far from his xBABIP-adjusted production, but there are still signs that he has under-performed with respect to his ability, most notably his plate discipline numbers.

His swinging strike rate (6.8%) is unchanged from his previous season — and matches his rate from 2007 and 2009. His contact rate is at a career low (80.7% according to BIS, 81% according to PITCHf/x), but it is not significantly lower than his career total (83.5%) — a difference of 2.8 swings per 100 pitches. If he gets 4 PA with an average of 5 pitches per PA, then a 2.8% difference in contact rate with a 39% swing rate amounts to a change of just 0.2 swings per game. So over 5 starts, he has just 1 fewer foul balls / balls in play.

Meanwhile, his O-Swing% is at its lowest level in the last five seasons and his F-Strike% is below its career norm (by a mere 2%).

In other words, even if Youkilis is not hitting the ball hard, there is little reason to believe he should not be walking and striking out at his career rates. If we slap a 13% BB-rate and 20% K-rate into Youk’s FI wOBA (using slash12 xBABIP), we get a .341 wOBA. That would be more than enough to make Youk a viable, productive third basemen for an increasingly overwhelming White Sox lineup.

Add in the dramatic change in home parks, and Youkilis is looking like a massive catch for the south side. White Sox fans are getting a treat: A career 129 wRC+ / .380 wOBA hitter — with only 165 bad PAs in 2012 — who possesses many signs of pending positive regression.

Sings the Chorus to the god: Welcome to Mount Olympus Field, oh wandering Youkilius. May your homers soar and your beard grow clear down to the ground.

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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.

24 Responses to “Kevin Youkilis: Welcome to Mount Olympus”

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  1. That barren White Sox farm system has only produced Chris Sale, Addison Reed, Jose Quintana, and Nate Jones.

    But they really didn’t want to get rid of a 25 year old sinker baller who gives up three home runs per 9!

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    • TLO3794 says:

      Produced Jose Quintana? The signed him over the offseason as a minor league free agent after the Yankees didn’t put him on their 40-man roster.

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      • Let’s not give the White Sox scouts any credit for seeking him out then…

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      • Moreover, the historical success of the White Sox organization should have no bearing on their present rankings.

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      • baty says:

        Well, lets be fair then and give them the credit they deserve for scouting and acquiring the awfulness of Zach Stewart. The Sox have made plenty of mistakes that would at the very least balance the likes of your list.

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      • baty says:

        @ BW. As an example, when it comes to pitching, for a long time now, the White Sox have made a living on polishing up mid tier prospects and discarded players at a discount. The only “prime” pitching acquisitions I can think of that they’ve made the last decade were Freddy Garcia, Jake Peavey, and Chris Sale. Everyone else has been a project of some sort requiring sometimes substantial transformation or reacclimation after “failing” in general or failing to having recent success through the eyes of their previous organization(s).

        You can argue the same to a degree with many other organizations also, but the White Sox success in that respect is quite unique to the rest of the league. How is that historical success not what makes them present? I’m not sure I get what you mean…

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      • Farm system rankings are based on what talent is in their minor league system, not how good they are at using their major league talent and keeping said talent healthy.

        And it’s easy to go to any farm system and say they produced this and that, but the whole is what matters. And if the White Sox farm system had been producing true, real talent on the whole — at levels commensurate with the best in the league — they would not have been a middling team for the last half decade.

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      • baty says:

        Believe me, I think the WSox farm system “ranking” was right where it belonged. You shouldn’t be able to extend relative success like they have with such a shallow pool of internal talent to draw from. I’ve been expecting their farming philosophies to crumble for over 10 years, but they continue to do enough with what they have to at least stay in the divisional mix.

        What I’m saying is that they manage to turn their and other farm system “raw material” into something relatively significant to their MLB roster (pitching). Acclimation has only kept their organization from bottoming out, and it will always keep them from reaching a state of natural thriving. But I also think their farm system philosophy blurs the distinctions you make between what talent is and how the MLB team uses it. It seems to me that most of the prospect pieces that they’ve created value in typically don’t become so until they actually become involved in the process of “being used”, either through trading, or transitioning to the MLB roster. So I guess my contention is that while the farm system talent itself is low grade, and the MLB team is mid grade, the way they use these transitional pieces is better than.

        They end up creating this sort of quadA holding pool of pre-MLB / post-MILB contributors (usually through high quantities of “mature”, average MILB talent pitching pieces) built to fill gaps of their own with what they view as “the unfixable rest” becoming a fixable consolidation through trades. The WSox farm system bled into the rest of the league because they found more success in scouting and further developing someone else’s young talent than their own.

        …A pretty screwed up system, but I have a feeling it results from Don Cooper having become the crucial “acclimation piece” and that process unfortunately taking place pretty late in the game of prospect development because his scouting and coaching benefit doesn’t filter below the MLB level enough.

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    • The Mighty Tim says:

      LOL You just love small sample sizes, don’t ya?

      I’d wait a bit longer than 48 innings to anoint Quintana a success. Jones has even fewer IP. I can also swing a dead cat around and hit a half dozen similar flamethrowers in any minor league system. Sale could be great if he can squeeze another 20 starts out of his arm which is not a slam dunk. We’ll see.

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  2. Eminor3rd says:

    Guys, Zach Stewart sucks. He is really bad. He throws a hard two seamer that runs but doesn’t sink much, and he leaves it up in the zone and it gets hit out of the park every single time. He is not a ML starter unless he learns another pitch or something.

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  3. DUNE says:

    Nice dune reference

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  4. ccoop says:

    “So in other words, the Red Sox have already “won” in the sense that they acquired uncontested playing time for their prospect while acquiring two more players (one of them usefulish now, the other with a chance to be even more useful in the near future) for a guy wasting away on the bench.”

    Sounds similar to what the Cards did last year with Rasmus, right down to the reminder that time can make a fool out of anyone.

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    • Big Jgke says:

      What prospect did the cards get uncontested playing time for last year? Jon Jay? Allan Craig?

      I know St. Louis fans are real eager to show how great that deal was, but it certainly didn’t create room for a better player at a similar position, it just ran a talented young player out of town before a megalomaniacal manager succeeded in fully destroying him.

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    • Ian R. says:

      Not defending the Youk trade, but bear in mind that the Sox weren’t planning on keeping him beyond the end of this season anyway. Rasmus still had multiple cost-controlled years of team control left when he was traded.

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  5. Trevor says:

    I never would’ve guessed St. Louis suppressed home runs from right handers more than Seattle or Oakland or Pittsburgh.

    Also I wonder how much the Mets park is as far as suppressing RH home runs this year. Didn’t they bring in the fences?

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  6. MikeS says:

    Enjoyed the Dune reference but I sincerely doubt that the White Sox will ever miss Zach Stewart or Brent Lillibridge. They got a guy who can’t possibly be worse than what they are trotting out to 3B now as long as he stays healthy and they gave up a middle reliever and defensive sub who isn’t all that great defensively. Yes, the farm system is awful but that’s not a good reason to hang on to bad players. Even if Youkilis’ plane crashes on the way from Boston to Minnesota, they still didn’t lose very much.

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  7. Tom says:

    This is a can’t lose deal for Chicago. Orlando Hudson is OBPing .244 or something stupid. If Youk can be a bad offensive 3Bmen and OBP, say, .325, it’s a gigantic upgrade.

    That is, even if Youk is a 0 WAR player, 0 is still greater than negative.

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  8. dickey simpkins says:

    “The loss of Stewart stings…”

    You mean for opponents of the White Sox, right?

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  9. everdiso says:

    Youk’s a pretty damn nice lottery ticket for the low low price of 0$.

    Red Sox only get worse with this one. let’s hope middlebrooks stays hot.

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  10. Slats says:

    “YOUK can put it on the board! Yes! Yes!”

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    • MrKnowNothing says:

      If I hear Hawk say this, I’m gonna run down to the South side and punch him in the back of the head.

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  11. macseries says:

    that is an image from a funeral stele for a fallen warrior. decidedly out of place in the accompanying article.

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  12. whatever says:

    Your opening illustration cracks me up. If Youk was built like that perhaps he would not be declining so rapidly. I remember Francona being asked about Youk when he was first coming up and how he had been dubbed the Greek god of Walks. Francona said “I”ve seen him inthe shower, he ain’t the Greek god of anything.”

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  13. robertobeers says:

    Praise to Shai-Hulud.

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