The End Appears Nigh For Kevin Youkilis

Kevin Youkilis Kevin Youkilis was out of the lineup again yesterday, for the same reason he's been out of the lineup for every game he's missed this season: his back.  Youkilis strained it diving for a ball at first base in Saturday's game and was held out yesterday by Joe after reportedly feeling stiffness "stiffness" in the back.  He'll get an extra day of scheduled rest today with the off-day, and Joe certainly sounded like he was going to play him on Tuesday.  But with the continued back problems limiting Youkilis' playing time and severely hindering his production, it's almost time to ask if he's done.

Youkilis has now played in just 25 of the team's 63 games this season (39.68%).  Over the course of the full 162-game season, that plays out to just a tad over 64 games played, which would be the lowest games played total of Youkilis' career since he became a full-time player.  16 of those games played came in the first 3 weeks of the season, when Youkilis benefited from a couple extra rainouts and scheduled days off.  In those games he hit .279/.353/.443 before missing his first game on April 21st.  Since then his game line has looked like this: 6 games missed, 1 game played, 30 games missed, 3 games played, 1 game missed, 5 games played, 1 game missed and counting.

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Who's To Blame For The Youkilis Screw-Up?

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays

(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

We're never going to find out, and I ask the question knowing full well that it really doesn't matter in the long run.  What matters is that Kevin Youkilis get 100% healthy and not come back to play until his back is 100% healthy.  But just out of sheer, morbid curiosity I'd like to know what went on behind the scenes on Friday/Saturday that led to Youkilis' name being put on the lineup card so he could go out there and hurt himself again.  Cash's statement on the matter yesterday Tuesday was pretty damning, about as clear-cut an instance of people getting thrown under the bus as I've seen in some time, and I work at a company that specializes in that.  It's pretty out of character for Cash to be that blunt and sell his own people down the river like that, so I'd be very interested in knowing what happened to inspire his comments.

As far as I can figure, the "everyone involved" would have had to include Youkilis, Joe, and the training staff, with maybe Cash getting a vote on the matter after he heard all the reports.  His statement indicates that he wasn't on board with Youkilis playing, so who effed up?  We know Joe's been talking to Youkilis every day since he first started missing games, so did he just misunderstand something that Youkilis told him about how he felt?  Did the training staff miss something when they checked him out?  Did they miscommunicate something to Joe?  Or did Youkilis just snake everybody and say what he had to say to get himself back on the field?

Any and all of those explanations are possible and I'd believe all of them if that was the explanation the team gave.  But I still really want to know and it's driving me crazy knowing that I'm never going to know.  It's not every day that something like this happens in professional sports and it's not every day we see Cash sell his people out that publicly.  Somebody dropped the ball here, Youkilis is going to miss more time as a result, and his back injury could become an even greater lingering issue moving forward.  I DEMAND ANSWERS!!!

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Youkilis' Back Also Worth Keeping An Eye On

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(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

Andy Pettitte returned to the mound Friday night and pitched 7 strong innings, easing concerns about the back issues that caused his last start to be pushed back.  As one back problem seemingly goes away (for now), another took its place in the form of Kevin Youkilis.  Youkilis left Saturday's game early after feeling some tightness in his back, and was a scratch from yesterday Sunday afternoon's game for the first time this season.  Joe said he expects Youkilis to be back in the lineup tonight against Tampa (nope), and as expected, Youkilis has talked down the seriousness of the issue since the moment Saturday's game ended.  In the same way that Pettitte's back is still worth keeping on the radar, Youkilis and his back should also be closely monitored over the next few weeks.

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Youkilis' Power Potential Key To Yankees' Early-Season Success

Despite being the most significant non-returning player signing of the offseason, the Yankees didn't bring Kevin Youkilis in with high expectations.  His eroding offensive skills and 1-year deal pointed to him being nothing more than a plug-in at third base, a regressing, broken down former All Star brought in to temporarily replace the regressing, broken down former All Star the Yankees already had at third in A-Rod. As the everyday third baseman for the first half of the season, the Yanks would probably hit Youkilis 6th or 7th against right-handed pitchers, 2nd against lefties, and through a combination of walks and the occasional HR here and there get enough production out of him to help keep the offense going until A-Rod returned in July. That plan quickly fell apart with the injuries to Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, and got thrown further out of whack with the recovery setback to Derek Jeter's ankle.  Youkilis now finds himself as the #1 right-handed bat in the lineup and arguably the second-biggest power/run-producing threat in the middle of the Yankee batting order.  For at least the first month of the regular season, the Yankees are no longer looking at Youkilis as a cog on the offensive wheel; they need him to be one of the pedalers that keeps the wheel moving.  Youkilis had a very good and surprisingly powerful Spring Training.  How well he manages to keep that performance up on an everyday basis could be a major determining factor in the Yankees' ability to keep the ship afloat while their walking wounded recover.

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Just one more day ...

Tonight, the 2013 Major League Baseball season begins, with the Texas Rangers playing the Houston Astros. The most beautiful thing about the baseball season is that it changes how I spend my leisure time. Nothing on TV tonight? They always play baseball. Can't think of something to do after work? Call a buddy and watch some baseball. Don't know how to spend time on a sunny afternoon? Upper deck tickets are cheap on Stub Hub and the 4 train moves fast. 162 games plus the playoffs means something to do, something to watch and something to talk about for half the year, and in terms of weather it's the better half of the year. After the gift of always having something entertaining to do, my second favorite thing about the baseball season is following story lines. Most Yankee fans are upset because the team enters 2013 in the weakest state that it has been in since 2008. Not only is the team not favored to win the AL East, but many believe the team will miss the playoffs. Win or lose, challenging seasons at least give fans like me more story lines to follow. When the Yankees put a juggernaut on the field and it demolishes its opponents every success was essentially scripted and only the failures make headlines. When the team is predicted to struggle, as it is this year, then new story lines will emerge, not only about failure but also about unexpected success. If the Yankees are going to make the playoffs they're going to need to get strong performances from a number of players who are not household names, especially while household names Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson are on the DL. Here are some of the story lines I'll be following during the first month of the season:

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What about Kevin Youkilis?

Now that Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson will both be starting the season on the DL most eyes have turned to Mark Teixeira as the most logical source of where the Yankees will need to get their missing power. And make no mistake about it, Tex has to produce. The Yankees will need him to plug that hole. But he isn't the only source of potential power in the Yankee lineup. It doesn't get mentioned much, but the Yankees did also add Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis, of course, is a bittersweet addition for Yankee fans. He was probably the least popular Red Sox among the Yankee faithful, and now he's a Yankee. That said, he has the potential to be a very good Yankee. Given his issues last season, it is easy to forget that as recently as 2010 he had a .564 SLG and a .419 wOBA. In 2011, the first season when Youkilis began demonstrating decline, he still managed a .459 SLG and a .366 wOBA. That production is welcome on any team.

The question is if he can do it in 2013. Youkilis has never been durable. Even in his prime in Boston he only averaged about 145 games a year. His injury risk is high. Furthermore, he didn't rake with the White Sox, after he left Boston. He managed just a .236/.346/.425 line. That's pretty mediocre. An average player in your lineup is nothing to sneeze at, especially one with Youkilis' on-base skills, but he hasn't been the All-World player he was for at least two years now.

Youkilis will be only 34 this season. He certainly has something left in the tank. While it seems unlikely that he will morph back into the .400 wOBA player he once was simply because he's put on pinstripes, he should still be considered as a source of run production in the Yankee lineup. The Yankees are probably figuring they will get the .328 wOBA player Youkilis was last year, but there is a real chance he produces to a higher level. He should also be seen as a possible over achiever while the Yankees wait to get healthy.

Comparing Youkilis' New Batting Stance

Over a month ago, Kevin Youkilis and Kevin Long met up at the third baseman's home in California to discuss changes to his batting stance. In an interview with Jack Curry, Youkilis explained the changes to YES network's Yankees Access.

Now that we have a broadcasted Spring Training game under our belts, we get to witness the stance in a game situation, and compare it to last year's.

There isn't a major visual difference from this camera angle, but I do see three things. He is taking a more athletic stance and keeping his knees bent, the stride is somewhat less exaggerated, and he's reduced some movement in his hands.

Though he didn't get a hit yesterday, he made his presence known with two deep flyballs and a sharp line drive to third base. Chad Jennings at LoHud has more on how Youkilis felt about taking his new mechanics out of batting practice and into yesterday's game.

Piecing it Together: Part Three

In my last two pieces talked about building the lineup. To quickly test the potency of these lineups, I ran them through the lineup analysis tool from Baseball Musings. I used the PECOTA and ZiPS projections to get the players' OBP/SLG. Remember, though, these projected OBP/SLG numbers are NOT split adjusted. Here are the results: PECOTA vs RHP

This lineup projects to score 4.874 R/G, which translates to about 790 runs over the course of a 162 game season.

PECOTA vs LHP, Rivera

Using PECOTA and Juan Rivera as the, DH, the Yankees project to score 4.840 R/G, about 785 per 162 games.

PECOTA vs LHP, Diaz

Using Matt Diaz at DH, we get 4.805 R/G, which is about 779 runs over 162 games.

ZiPS vs RHP

ZiPS is a little more friendly to the Yankees, projecting 4.974 R/G. That would push the Yankees over the hump to about 806 runs per game.

ZiPS vs. LHP, Rivera

This gets us 4.887 R/G, about 792 for the season. Again, ZiPS is a little more friendly than PECOTA.

ZiPS vs. LHP, Diaz

Last but not least, we get 4.831 per game, 783 over the course of the season.

So these projections, which are NOT split adjusted, give us somewhere between 785-805 runs for the Yankees. Those are perfectly reasonable, but they do sell the Yankees short a bit. Both are probably a bit conservative and the fact that they're not split adjusted affects the output in the analysis tool. Certainly, e can expect certain players (Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Teixeira, Juan Rivera, and Matt Diaz) to hit better against lefties than their overall projections while we can expect others (Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and Travis Hafner) to do the same against righties. The Yankee offense has never been flawless, but this season, there do seem to be a few more flaws than there have been in the past. Remember, though, offense has been down in the last few years. Despite the fairly conservative projections, the Yankees have a chance to be a top offensive club, as they always do.

Piecing it Together: Part Two

You'll remember that last week, I mused about the possible lineup construction for the 2013 squad. Let's revisit the idea of the lineup one more time, with something else in mind. If you've read this site, then you're probably familiar with the Replacement Level Yankee Blog and its CAIRO Projections. The last iteration of them came out on January 28th. What's nice about the CAIRO splits is that they also include platoon breakdowns; each player has his normal projections and his split projections in the form of wOBA vs. LHP and RHP. Let's take a look at the lineups I presented in my previous post and see what each guy is projected to do. We'll start against lefties for a bit of a switch. The number next to each player is the projected wOBA:

1. Jeter, SS: .354 2. Youkilis, 3B: .367 3. Teixeira, 1B: .362 4. Cano, 2B: .356 5. Diaz, DH: .321; Rivera, DH: .324 6. Granderson, CF: .305 7. Cervelli, C: .310 8. Ichiro, RF: .323 9. Gardner, LF: .309

The only disappointing things are the relatively low wOBAs for Diaz and Rivera. They're both in camp to hope to become the team's Major League lefty mashers, so we'd hope for something a little higher than wOBA's in the low-to-mid .320's. Brett Gardner might need a platoon partner in left, but seeing Ichiro projected for a wOBA that "high" is encouraging. CAIRO also seems to predict a platoon partner for Curtis Granderson, though he's been better against lefties of late (and we know Joe Girardi won't platoon Granderson...at least not right away). Let's jump to righties and see what we come up with.

1. Gardner, LF: .332 2. Jeter, SS: .322 3. Teixeira, 1B: .346 4. Cano, 2B: .392 5. Granderson, CF: .361 6. Youkilis, 3B: .341 7. Hafner, DH: .362 8. Cervelli, C: .292 9. Ichiro, RF: .331

This lineup is a bit more well rounded and a bit more solid. There's just one wOBA under .320 and it belongs--predictably--to Francisco Cervelli. For posterity's sake, Chris Stewart's projected wOBA against RHP is .283 (.303 vs. LHP). My eyes definitely lit up thinking about Cano having a .392 wOBA against righties (for the record, he did .461 against righties).

Remember, projections aren't predictions, but logical inferences as to what each player can do. If the CAIRO projections I've put forward here are indicative of anything, it's that they might be a bit on the conservative side. However, they show us that the Yankees should still have a pretty solid offense. It may not necessarily be the complete and total package that we're used to, but it should still pound out some quality runs. How many could it do? We'll check in on that on Thursday.

Who Really Needs A Platoon Partner In 2013?

(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

"Platoon" is a word that's slowly worked its way into the collection of words typically associated with the Yankee lineup over the past few seasons, right next to "patience" and "power."  Older veterans on the downside of their careers who are drawn to New York to chase a ring, lack of impact bats coming up from the farm system, and the newly implemented payroll restrictions have all combined to make the Yankee lineup a safe haven for the still productive but no longer well-rounded hitter.  This season, the reliance on platoons will play an even bigger role in the everyday lineup as the Yankees have their fair share of guys who only excel against one category of handed pitchers, guys like Ichiro, Hafner, Gardner, and Youkilis.  Joe has shown before that he's not afraid to mix and match and play with the lineup, but how necessary is it for every one of those players to be platooned?  Does the Yankee lineup really need to be turned into Version R and Version L?  Let's take a look.

Ichiro Suzuki- LHH

Career vs. LHP- .331/.370/.420, .345 wOBA, 5.4% BB, 8.7% K

2012 vs. LHP- .284/.291/.358, .282 wOBA, 1.3% BB, 6.8% K

2011 vs. LHP- .281/.325/.383, .290 wOBA, 6.3% BB, 9.2% K

2010 vs. LHP- .309/.340/.343, .308 wOBA, 3.7% BB, 9.9% K

Ichiro is a tough case based on his strong career split against left-handed pitching.  When you're as great a hitter as he was, the hand the pitcher's throwing with probably doesn't matter, and Ichiro's career tripleslash and wOBA against southpaws are actually better than against righties.  But Ichiro's heyday is long gone and the last 3 years are proof.  His batting average against lefties is perfectly fine, but his lack of on base skills is a huge problem.  It would be one thing if Ichiro was hitting for power against lefties, but he's not.  In the last 3 seasons he has just 25 XBH against LHP, just 3 of them HR, so he's not a run producer.  And by not getting on base at a good clip, his speed is significantly lessened as an offensive weapon.  Joe can get away with using him against lefties every now and then, but based on his recent production drop off and his age, I would say Ichiro should be platooned almost all the time.

Brett Gardner- LHH

Career vs. LHP- .256/.362/.335, .320 wOBA, 12.7% BB, 17.2% K

2011 vs. LHP- .233/.344/.272, .291 wOBA, 12.9% BB, 12.1% K

2010 vs. LHP- .252/.373/.353, .333 wOBA, 14.6% BB, 19.9% K

Gardner doesn't have the largest sample size to work from (just 395 career PA vs. LHP), and his 2012 season was basically a wash, but he does offer plus on-base ability because of his strong pitch recognition, count working, and contact skills.  Gardner is never going to hit for much power, against righties or lefties, but his career BB rate against southpaws is better than against righties.  Even in a SSS, that indicates that he sees the ball pretty well coming out of lefties' hands and his career .320 wOBA against LHP isn't that far off from his .328 against right-handers.  At the respective stages of their careers, Gardner is faster than Ichiro, which makes him more valuable as a baserunner and outfielder, and gets himself on base at a much better clip against lefties than Ichiro.  He can get a day off here and there and Ichiro can play for him, but I think Gardner should be playing every day as long as he's healthy.

Kevin Youkilis- RHH

Career vs. RHP- .277/.371/.471, .368 wOBA, 10.8% BB, 18.4% K

2012 vs. RHP- .220/.316/.377, .309 wOBA, 8.0% BB, 23.1% K

2011 vs. RHP- .234/.349/.415, .341 wOBA, 12.1% BB, 17.7% K

2010 vs. RHP- .275/.376/.487, .378 wOBA, 12.1% BB, 15.8% K

Like Ichiro, Youkilis is a former elite hitter whose recent production against same-side pitchers doesn't come close to matching his career numbers.  You can pretty much pinpoint 2010, when Youkilis started to get banged up and only played 102 games, as the time when his ability to hit right-handed pitching started to go south.  Based on his age and last year's performance, there's not much reason to expect a major turnaround from Youkilis this season.  But if any team's style can help resurrect Youkilis' career, it's the Yankees, and Kevin Long has already started to tinker with Youkilis' swing mechanics to speed his bat up.  There's also the issue of the Yankees not having a good lefty infield bat available as a platoon option.  Joe needs to monitor Youkilis' health and give him some days off even while A-Rod is on the shelf early, but Youkilis needs to be in the lineup every day.

Travis Hafner- LHH

Careers vs. LHP- .257/.359/.445, .352 wOBA, 11.3% BB, 22.4% K

2012 vs. LHP**- .197/.306/.443, .324 wOBA, 11.1% BB, 23.6% K

2011 vs. LHP- .233/.259/.379, .279 wOBA, 1.9% BB, 22.2% K

2010 vs. LHP- .273/.342/.364, .319 wOBA, 6.3% BB, 21.6% K

The 2012 asterisk was for another SSS warning, but looking at Pronk's splits going back the previous 2 years you'll see that his sample size against lefties was never that big.  Hafner's career numbers against lefties show a guy who could hold his own on the strength of his walks and longball threat, but those days are long gone now that he's mid-30s and banged up all the time.  Hafner's increasing K rate and wildly inconsistent BB rate over the last 3 seasons tells me he's a hitter who struggles to get comfortable against LHP and is losing some of his hitting skills.  There's no point in trying to get Hafner more work against southpaws now, as that would only serve to minimize his overall output potential.  And production aside, it's definitely for the best to keep him off the field as much as possible to try to keep him as healthy and available to mash righties as much as possible.  Hafner is a no-doubt platoon candidate and should only be used against a LHP if he's the last available bat in a game and has to pinch hit for somebody who just got hurt.

Would it be nice to have 4 solid hitters on the bench who could sub in for these guys when the pitching matchup called for it?  Sure.  Is it absolutely necessary?  I don't think so.  Gardner does just enough to be valuable offensively against LHP, and Youkilis should at least be given the chance to work out his new mechanics to see if it brings some of his righty-hitting ability back.  Ichiro doesn't bring much to the table, nor does Hafner, but the 2013 Yankee lineup shouldn't be a complete revolving door of platoon bats.