The Greek God Of Swinging From His Heels

There are a lot of things from Moneyball that have stuck around in the baseball lexicon since the book was published, but perhaps no phrase is more synonymous with a player from the book than the nickname given to Kevin Youkils – The Greek God of Walks. Youkilis, of course, was described as such because of his proclivity for the base on balls during college, and it was his on base skills that got him drafted in the 8th round of the 2001 draft despite his underwhelming physical abilities.

Not surprisingly, Youkilis has continued to live up to the nickname as a professional. Here are his BB% since joining the Red Sox in 2004 up through 2007:

2004: 13.7%
2005: 15.1%
2006: 13.8%
2007: 12.7%

So, it wasn’t any real surprise when Youkilis started the 2008 season in typical fashion. In his first 33 games, up through May 6th, Youkilis drew 20 walks in 145 trips to the plate, and his 16.5% BB% put him on pace for the highest walk total of his career. Since most players see their walk rates increase as they age, it seemed normal that Youkilis was laying the foundation for yet another 100 walk season.

But baseball is nothing if not unpredictable, and Youkilis’ performance since that day just reaffirms that belief. From May 7th to June 1st, Youkilis didn’t draw a single base on balls, going 87 plate appearances without a walk. From that day until now, Youkilis has drawn just 7 walks in 162 plate appearances. For comparison, his 4.9% BB% during these last 40 games is equal to Jose Guillen‘s career walk rate, and Guillen isn’t exactly known as a patient hitter.

In fact, let’s illustrate the change in Youkilis’ approach graphically.

BB%

ISO

Youkilis has essentially traded patience for power, going from an above average BB%/average ISO to the exact opposite this year. The crash in his BB% is almost exactly proportionate to the increase in his power output. Coincidence? Probably not.

Hitting results often function as a sliding scale – if you move one thing, something else moves with it. In this case, it appears that Youkilis has decided to swing a bit more often of late, and the result is that he’s driving the ball with more authority. If this continues, we may need a new nickname for Youkilis – I got dibs on The Greek God Of Swinging From His Heels.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Nathan
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Nathan

The power surge was already in effect before the walk outage. .314/.407/.537 through May 6, .311/.358/.556 since.

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