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Kevin Youkilis and Ryan Roberts: Third Base Stock Watch

I really don’t care for the characterization that a player is “injury prone” but for the love of all things great and small, what did Kevin Youkilis do as a kid to be this delicate of an athlete? In the last three seasons, he has played in 136 games, 102 games, and will likely top out around 130 this season. Always incredibly valuable, both in real baseball and fantasy baseball, but even when he’s on the field, he’s typically playing through some kind of pain. This year, it has been a litany of bumps and bruises and presently he’s dealing with a hip issue that’s going to require off-season surgery, but he’s chosen to power through. And yet, it’s killing his production.

Since returning from the disabled list, he’s appeared in 10 games and notched six hits — four singles (one of them an infield hit) and two doubles with 30% K rate and two RBI. Prior to that, he managed a .206/.306/.442 line in August, still drawing walks at a healthy clip but doing very little for run production. He’s a tough guy to manage right now because he’s constantly a game-time decision and even when he does start, he might only get a few at-bats, being lifted for a pinch runner, or simply removed later in the game.

My griping about his current plight effects only the few days remaining in this season, of course – but as you look ahead towards next year, in either keeper or draft planning scenarios, it’s worth noting that on the season, Youkilis has had some pretty miserable luck, and in particular, versus right handed pitchers. In his career, he holds a .285/.379/.484 triple-slash vs. RHP and in 2011 it is .234/.349/.415. Based on his hit trajectory versus right handed pitchers, his BABIP should be right around .317, not far from his career versus RHP of .320 — but it currently stands at just .260.

Youkilis isn’t necessarily falling apart in terms of his on-field performance, it’s just his body that is. Trying to predict when he’ll be healthy is anyone’s guess.

Ryan Roberts

Roberts has had a pretty nice, not to mention surprising, offensive 2011. At .253/.348/.434, he’s amassed a season ranking him eighth in wOBA among qualified third basemen and while eighth isn’t even really kissing your sister, his .345 wOBA is at least flirting with the likes of Evan Longoria at .355 and Edwin Encarnacion at .351.

But the proverbial buzzards have been flying recently as his last 30 days have produced a .217/.323/.349 line giving him a .310 wOBA over that time span and September has seen him put up just a .680 OPS. But we’ve seen this act before with Roberts as his June was a real disaster (.652 OPS) and in fact, if you look strictly at his splits, his pre-break OPS was .779 and his post-break OPS is .786. The RBI haven’t been there in the same bushels as they were in April and he’s not running as much as he did in the first half, but he is still producing.

It’s also worth noting that while he was the king of “just enoughs,” his last eight long balls are all characterized as having “plenty” of distance by ESPN Home Run Tracker and his HR/FB rate of 12.1% isn’t so ridiculous that we can say his 18 home runs are a fluke. It may be that he regresses to a more league average HR/FB rate in the future, but that doesn’t preclude him from continuing to be in the 16-18 HR range over the course of a season.

I’ve read elsewhere that he’s wearing down because he’s never played in this many games, because of the Arizona heat, blah, blah, blah – and what Ryan Roberts would probably say is that it wasn’t exactly temperate in those 130 games in Oklahoma City. I just don’t buy the notion that he’s he’s not every bit as good as his overall performance suggests, and if you’re an owner, despite his recent struggles, I’d say he definitely belongs in your lineup these last handful of games. If it’s a keeper decision, you probably got him so cheaply that it’s a no-brainer.