A God of More Than Walks

A God of More Than Walks

Firebrand AL

A God of More Than Walks

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You can tell a lot about a person by who their favorite player is. So what better way to introduce myself than to make the case for mine? I was recently invited to be the most recent member of the Fire Brand staff. I’m excited about the opportunity and am looking forward to developing a relationship with the site’s readers. I get a lot of enjoyment out of interacting with readers so don’t be bashful. I’d spend a little more time introducing myself but that will have to wait for later. For now, I’m eager to role my sleeves up and get down to business.
If the title (or the big picture) didn’t clue you in already, my favorite Red Sox player right now is Kevin Youkilis. He played in his first major league game in Toronto on May 15th of 2004. I don’t make it to many Red Sox games, since I live around 6 hours from Boston. I did however make two trips to see the Red Sox in 2004 and a May trip to the then named Skydome was one of them. I sat on the third base side of the field and was disappointed that I wouldn’t be watching Bill Mueller, who was out with an injury. I did however get to see a then 25-year old Youkilis in his major league debut. He did not disappoint. In the fourth inning, Youkilis came up to bat against Cy Young winner Pat Hentgen. It was then that Youk recorded his first career hit, a 402-foot home run into the left field stands. Even more memorable than the shot however was what he did after he rounded the bases. Given that it was Youk’s major league debut, the players in the dugout hazed him a little bit by pretending they didn’t see the home run. They simply sat there on the bench. Youkilis didn’t miss a beat. He just smiled as he gave air high-fives to imaginary teammates waiting for him on the steps. It was one of the more humorous things I’ve ever witnessed a Red Sox player do during a game. Youkilis was later named the Rookie of the Month.
Youk’s story started well before he ever made the majors, though. He became somewhat of a household name among baseball fans when he was named the Greek God of Walks in Billy Beane’s Moneyball. Youkilis isn’t at all Greek but he did earn the second half of the name. He posted OBP’s of .512 in 59 games at A Lowell and .487 in 94 games at AA Portland. In 2001 he was the New York-Penn League player of the year, in 2002 he rose through 3 minor league levels and in 2003 he got on base in 71 consecutive games, tying a minor league record. Youkilis has been successful at every level of competition he’s ever been in. In college he was an All-American twice at the University of Cincinnati. Even before that he won an AAU National Championship at Sycamore High School. In the simplest of terms, winning’s in his blood.
In fact, it could be argued he is the most underrated player on the entire team. Everyone knows what an on-base machine Youkilis is. Not everyone knows however, what a machine he is in many other facets of the game. In the 2007 Bill James Handbook, Bill James rates baserunner’s abilities on a plus and minus scale. Some of the worst baserunners on the Red Sox were as you may have guessed, Manny Ramirez (-11) and Mike Lowell (-14). Two of the better baserunners last year, as you also may have guessed, were Lugo (+9) and Crisp (+10). The best baserunner last year however, as I doubt anyone would have guessed, was Kevin Youkilis at +11. How often and how far a player advances on the basepaths as well as how often they create outs on the basepaths are all factored into Bill James’ ratings. These things are obviously dependent quite a bit on speed. The baserunning skills of Youkilis however were so good last year that he even beat out players such as Lugo and Crisp with significantly more speed. It was almost all baserunning instincts and intelligence that allowed Youkilis to lead all Red Sox baserunners in Bill James’ ratings last year.
Youk was more than good at preventing the opposing team from getting on base as well. In the new Bill James handbook one can find similar defensive ratings. Bill James’ comprehensive system for generating such ratings looks at every single ball put into play. It then rates how hard the ball was hit, on what kind of line of trajectory the ball was hit and where the ball landed. A player is given a positive point for every type of play they made in that year that the average player at that position would not make. For every play a fielder does not make that the average player at the same position would make, a player receives a negative point. By this system, Kevin Youkilis was rated the third best defensive first baseman in baseball last year. His score of +10 was bested by only Albert Pujols (+19) and Doug Mientkiewicz (+16). In only his first year at first base, Youkilis somehow managed to be one of the best first basemen in the league. He allowed only 5 errors all season and ranked in the top 10 in RF.
Just in case you aren’t convinced yet, here’s another skill that Youkilis doesn’t get a lot of credit for. Now everybody knows that David Ortiz had quite a bit of walk off hits last year (5 to be exact). I doubt even the most die hard of Red Sox fans remember however the role that Youkilis played in the majority of those walk-off hits. Youkilis allowed Ortiz to push the winning run across the plate in 3 of his 5 walk-off hits be either getting on base or moving the runner into scoring position. Youkilis also had a game winning hit of his own in the 9th inning last year. In a June 3rd match up between Curt Schilling and Kenny Rogers, Kevin Youkilis was the hero. Down a run in the 9th with one runner on and 2 out, Youkilis turned a Todd Jones pitch right around and planted it into the bullpen. Strangely enough, I was at that game as well, again on the third base side.
If you take a quick look at Youk’s situational statistics, you’ll probably be surprised at what you find. Once runners get on base, his batting average goes up from .243 to .335 and his OPS increases from .711 to .953. With runners in scoring position that OPS goes up a tiny bit more. Most impressive however is that in 64 at bats last year with 2 outs and a runner in scoring position, Youkilis got on base more than half the time. He hit a staggering .375/.524/.656 in 64 at bats. Youk’s one of the smartest hitters on our team. His production when it mattered most was enough to earn him 22 win shares last year. That gave him the third highest total on the team last year and put him just behind David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez who each had 27 win shares. The best part is, Youkilis also cost us a mere fraction of what either of those players made last year. Not a single player on the team made less money than Youkilis last year. While being one of the most productive and well-rounded players on the team last year he only made the league minimum. Those of you looking for a blue collar dirt dog in the wake of Trot Nixon’s absence may not have to look all that hard.

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