Kevin Youkilis has had himself quite a start to the 2013 season. After flirting with the abyss and then teasing us with a return to relevance in Chicago, Youkilis has been hitting the snot out of the ball for the New York Yankees, and it couldn’t be at a better time for the club. With injuries up and down the lineup, the Yankees are 3-4 and without Youkilis in the middle of that order, it could look a lot uglier.
So far, Youkilis has a .370/.433/.630 slash line. No, he’s not likely to maintain a .474 BABIP, but based on his early hit trajectory, xBABIP says it should be around .375. At the very least, it casts a big threatening shadow on his .268 BABIP from last season in context of his career .323 BABIP. His ISO sits at .259, which is also probably higher than it will settle in eventually. Youkilis’ ISO hasn’t sat in the .250 range since the golden Greek God of Walks years from 2008 to 2010. Is that Youk back? Well, he is for eight games, anyway.
You’ve probably read or heard or been the observer of tweets about his new swing. Somewhat remedied is the goofy hold-the-handle-gently-with-two-fingers-point-bat-at-pitcher-then-slide-your-hand-down-the-handle thing, which Youkilis, for his part, says “just happened over time.”
This “happened over time”:
Allow a digression here. I’ve seen Rod Carew hit. Garth Iorg. Craig Counsell. Mickey Tettleton. They had weird batting stances, but you could at least see how they might have evolved into the gyrations they became. Hell, even Tony Batista’s batting stance made some sense. But the stance that Youkilis used, which by the way he hit well with, doesn’t just happen over time unless you just keep losing bets to your brother with a bad sense of humor. Anyway…
The other thing that happened over time was Youkilis got older and it became tougher and tougher to catch up with a rapidly moving object when his hands kept getting further and further away from his body, dropping down to his knees, and then needing to come back up to a swing plane. Shocker. So I guess let’s take a look at the swing over the last couple seasons and then something from this year.
Here’s Youkilis in the Spring of 2013 (hand still doing that thing, but much closer than in the past):
And here’s a still of a recent at-bat. Notice the hand. Still separated, but not as pronounced, and the bat is more upright with his hands not dangling over his head anymore. This just strikes me as a far better position to be in than he was previously (fist bump to Zach Sanders for the pic):
Overall, I think you can see that there’s less movement from top to bottom and the swing in general is far more compact. His hands slow down around the hip and there’s less of a hitch. There’s also a good deal of change in his legs, but it’s all that lost bat movement before contact that I think is going to help him going forward.
Youkilis sees mostly fastballs, sliders, and change-ups. Not that we can take the pitch values to the bank, and certainly not the 2013 results, but we can at least refer to it for information about trends. Here’s what his PitchF/x pitch values per 100 pitches have to say:
After a slow decline across the board, he’s finally turning fastballs around and getting back to the point where he can hit an off-speed pitch. Again, small sample size alarm and all, but so far this new swing appears to be helping.
I do have my doubts though. His plate discipline isn’t particularly good by his old standards. He’s swinging at far more pitches outside the zone and when he does, he’s making far less contact. This really falls in line with what Bill Petti and Jeff Zimmerman found about age relative to plate discipline, noting that the O-Contact% takes a huge nose dive around age 30-31. His overall contact rate is as solid at 82%, but he’s walking far less, swinging and missing at a career high 8.3%, and overall striking out more than his career rates. So don’t go trading away Evan Longoria just because of eight games of production from Youkilis.
Even if Youkilis is reborn into his 2010 ways, he would still come with the same health warnings he had back in 2010. So if the moons align and the old Youk is back, you’re still likely to need a backup plan for 50 games. It is still so, so early in the season to draw any conclusions but so far, Kevin Youkilis has emerged from fantasy baseball purgatory to be useful again. With third base being difficult to staff these days, it’s a welcome addition.
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