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The Good News: Kevin Youkilis is Ranked at First Base

It was largely a forgettable season for Kevin Youkilis in 2012, and certainly forgettable for fantasy owners who expected anything close to his typical performance. He was frequently injured, run out of Boston by a rookie, and ultimately never resembled the Youkilis of old. Looking at his end of season value, Zach Sanders puts him basically at replacement level with a zero dollar value, and ranked 36th overall. Yeeks.

What went wrong? Pretty much everything.

He entered camp with lower back stiffness and then suffered through groin and thigh issues throughout April that left him day-to-day almost, well, daily. When he was playing, he most certainly wasn’t hitting as April saw him produce a .219/.292/.344 line, a .114 ISO and just a 6.9% walk rate until his lower back finally put him on the 15 day disabled list.

He only played in nine games in May, but it started to look like maybe he was finally healthy and back to his old tricks as .313/.371/.531 was definitely more in line with what we’ve grown accustomed to from Youkilis. But the wheels came off in June, where he hit .200/.310/.320 with zero home runs over 58 plate appearances, and the Red Sox shipped him to the lighter colored Sox in favor of Will Middlebrooks.

In Chicago, Youkilis continued to be dogged by injuries to his knees, forearm, ankle, and thigh – but the change of scenery actually seemed to help him. In July, Youkilis hit .250/.385/.489 with six home runs and 19 RBI, and he started to be resurrected off of waiver wires. He managed to walk at a 17.4% clip in July, drawing more bases on balls in the month than he had in the prior three months.

His finished in Chicago with a .236/.346/.425 line with 15 home runs and 46 RBI which was certainly better than the .233/.315/.377 that he produced in Boston. But overall, it was no doubt a disappointing season for Youkilis.

There is some evidence that he was the victim of some rotten luck. His BABIP in Boston was .288 and his expected BABIP was about .320, based largely on his odd 50% ground ball rate. His hit trajectory returned very much to Youkilis-normal in Chicago where he hit about 20% line drives, 40% ground balls, and 40% fly balls – but his BABIP in Chicago was just .257 while his expected BABIP predicted about .298.

His home run distance and speed off his bat hasn’t changed appreciably in six seasons and is actually higher in 2012 than it was in 2008 and 2009 when he was a bona fide home run hitter. Not only this, but there wasn’t a substantial change in his contact rates in 2012 versus his career:

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% SwStr%
2012 20.60% 55.30% 37.40% 60.90% 89.80% 81.60% 48.30% 6.70%
Career 19.10% 57.30% 38.60% 61.80% 90.30% 83.40% 51.00% 6.20%

This isn’t suggesting that he’s necessarily going to snap back into high-20’s home run totals, but there’s no damning evidence on the hit trajectory, contact rates, or home run distance/speed off bat front to argue there’s a smoking gun that he’s totally washed up.

The obvious problem is his health, and his age, which are both trending in the wrong direction. Youkilis hasn’t played in more than 140 games in four seasons, and he seems to constantly play hurt even when he’s on the field. When you’re at your peak as a hitter, you might be able to withstand an oblique strain and a bum knee, but for a 34 year old coming off the worst offensive year of his career, it’s going to be hard for Youkilis to find a starting job in 2013.

He has a $13 million dollar option or a $1 million buyout and that fact almost certainly means that Youkilis will be a free agent. It’s most likely that Youkilis becomes a platoon player versus left handed pitchers since even in his down year, he managed to hit .275/.386/.492, which will be useful to someone. But for fantasy purposes, this could very well be the end of his value in most formats unless he’s able to find a full time job, fountain of youth, a pile of regression, and luck.