Monday, October 30, 2006

Whither Youks?

One of the biggest discussion points in the world of Red Sox geeks recently has been the future of Kevin Youkilis. Youks is not a classic corner infielder due to his lack of power, and the Sox, with their payroll, should probably be able to upgrade. That said, Youks has a very favorable price-tag, plays hard, and maybe is just cursed with crappy accountant's body. Who's to say? Well, I took a look.

First, the bad news. Youks, as a first baseman, doesn't realy match up too well against other first basemen, when looking at the usual stats:

2006 stats:

Player A: AB 569 R 100 HR 13 RBI 72 AVG .279 OPS .381 SLG .429 OPS .810
Player B: AB 430 R 64 HR 15 RBI 64 AVG .274 OPS .374 SLG .437 OPS .811

Obviously, player A is Youks. The problem is, Player B is Millar. That's right, KFC-eating, JD-drinking, hair-highlighting Kevin Millar. Notice, I didn't say "fat", or "lumpy" - that description would have no business being in a Youkilis comparison.

Youks's thing was supposed to be strike-zone command, and contact. As we saw, it was middling, as he struck out 120 times. However, he walked nearly 91, and his Line Drive percentage at nearly 25% was good. He did was he was advertised to do.

Here's the thing. Youks' OBP is good, but it's 9th among starting first basemen in the majors. You have to get down to #20 on the list before you find a guy whose OBP is under .350 (Prince Fielder), which is still respectable given the power. Meanwhile, Youks SLG is #22 of 24 (just above Todd Walker and Jeff Conine). So the guy kind of averages out in the lower part of the middle of the pack. Not too good for a $130Mil payroll.

That said, Youks has impacts that are more than the sum of his parts, statistically speaking. His RC (Runs Created) for the season puts him at #12 overall (although his RC/Game or RC/27 is #15) for first baseman. He was also #3 on the Sox in WPA for the season, although to some degree this is injury-related. Still, at 1.94 he compared favorably to Overbay and Konerko (and Soriano) who were just above 2. I use those numbers to show that while he may not produce a lot in the way of the more typical numbers, he helps the team win (he led 1Bmen with 12 sac hits, for example).

Now, the other great things about Youks is he plays both positions. When you move Youks over to third his OBP becomes much more elite - he's at #5. His SLG is still poor at #17, but his OPS is still #13. However, his RC and RC/G move up to #8, and he shoots up to #6 in WPA for 3B. At third base, the argument can easily be made he's one of the top ten offensive producers in the game. That's more like it.

I think the position of many people is that the Sox should be able to afford a corner infielder who is higher than the 12-15 range at his position. And that's fair, if you look at Youks as a first baseman. The real issue is, how do we address that? The real impact first baseman playing today are not easily acquired, so we'd need to take a flyer on a Carlos Pena, or trade for an unproven up-and-comer, or give up some major prospects and put a ton of money into a Teixeira. Unlikely.

However, again, by some more "holistic" metrics, Youks is a top-10 producer offensively at the other corner (for example, he's 20+ runs better than Inge and Blalock). Of course, his glove won't match up with Lowell's, but his contract does, so that's another angle to consider. I guess it seems to me that this is a problem of perspective - I don't like thinking about keeping Youks at first when we break down the numbers, but it may be easier to find an impact bat at third and Youks plays first reasonably well.

If someone has to be dealt to create more offense, in the end, it will come down to the moving pieces. If not, and the Sox could acquire a bat at 1B, Youks makes an elite platoon guy, but I would think that's a last resort. The facts are, Youks is valuable enough at third to play there for the Sox, or be an important piece in a deal this offseason, with Lowell winning the job by default.

The Not Too Too Distant Future?

Chad Spann, a 22-year old third baseman in the Sox organization, has put up a .918 OPS in his first 43 ABs in the Arizona Fall League. This is a small sample size, but the AFL is a who's who of up and coming prospects. Spann, at a young age, is building on a pretty impressive year at Portland (.833 OPS), and if he can keep it up the Sox may have the corner position solved for some time to come. At this point he needs to cut down on the Ks, but at his age, discipline can still come.

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