White Sox Complete Semi-Depressing Trade For Kevin Youkilis, Improve Worst Position In Baseball

The White Sox picked up a three-time All Star for a negligible amount of money and some spare parts, mostly in return for giving the Red Sox the future right to not have Kevin Youkilis. He’s no longer the fearsome hitter of the Red Sox’s championship teams, but the Greek God of Walks will be an improvement over the White Sox’s league-worst third basemen.

Kevin Youkilis

 

Through 72 games, White Sox third basemen are hitting .181/.253/.238, with 18 RBI and 10 extra-base hits: six doubles, three triples, and a home run. How bad is that? It’s the worst of any everyday position in baseball. Fangraphs has a neat statistic called wRC+, or weighted runs created, which measures a player’s total offensive value and compares it to the league average. Anything above or below 100 is the percentage of runs-created that a player is better or worse than as compared to league average.

The White Sox are the only team with a position that’s generated less than sixty percent of the league average. Since 2011, White Sox third basemen have generated about half the offense of the league average.

* White Sox third basemen are tied for the lowest batting average, collectively, of any position in baseball: .181.
* They have the lowest slugging percentage of any position: .238.
* They have the fourth-worst on-base percentage of any position: .253 (Cubs catchers are second at .248).
* Only two other teams have generated a mere 10 extra-base hits from one position, the Mets’ and Angels’ catchers.

(If you factor in fielding, it provides a clue as to why the Tigers have been so disappointing. The White Sox’s WAR, or wins over replacement, for third basemen has been -1.4. In other words, the White Sox have theoretically lost 1.4 games so far because of their awful third basemen that they would have won with a “replacement level” third baseman. That’s the third-worst positional WAR in baseball; White Sox third basemen have a negative WAR over the past five years. Below that are the Tigers’ second basemen, at -2.1, and the Tigers’ right fielders, at -1.6; the Tigers are three games behind the White Sox. )

So almost anyone, if by “anyone” you mean “anyone capable of playing third base at the major-league level,” would be an improvement. The White Sox chose Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox’s three-time All Star and postseason hero, who can play third at the major-league level.

Well, probably. Youkilis is having the worst year of his excellent if injury-marred career, hitting .233/.315/.377… with a WAR of 0.0, exactly replacement-level. He’s striking out more than at any point in his career (23.6 percent, higher than last year’s 19.3), and walking less (8.5 percent to last year’s 13.2). The latter is particularly concerning; Youkilis, whose nickname is “the Greek God of Walks,” usually walks 13-14 percent of the time, which would put him in the top 15 this year. 8.5 percent is pretty average. The Red Sox are also paying $5 million of his $12 million salary, and most of what’s left of it—they really want him out, so that rookie Will Middlebrooks can take over, and the bridge burned when manager Bobby Valentine said he’s not “as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past” can finally collapse.

How much did they want him gone? In exchange, the Red Sox received good-field, no-hit utility man Brent Lillibridge and pitcher Zach Stewart, who still has some promise but who’s given up 10 homers in 30 innings this year. Gopher-prone Gavin Floyd, by contrast, has given up 15 in 83 innings. At best, Stewart is a setup man or back-of-the-rotation starter. It’s not a salary dump: this is a player dump, which is why the Red Sox got so little in return. It’s always a little depressing when the best return for a player, particularly one who’s done as much for his team as Youkilis has, is his absence. 

Which is no to say that all’s lost with Youkilis. At worst, the White Sox get a veteran who will still improve the position’s batting average and OBP by 50 points each, and whom they can buy out for a mere $1 million if they don’t want to pick up his $13 million option next year. He’s not hitting the ball well this year, so even with the move to a friendlier park—the best in baseball for right-handed home-run hitters—it’s unlikely Youkilis will improve to anything like his career batting average and slugging. On the other hand, he’s no less patient, so he’s probably better, at least a bit, than his numbers thus far suggest.

For two spare parts and an estimated two million dollars—the remainder of his 2012 salary and the 2013 buyout, which Chicago will almost certainly take—the White Sox get whatever’s left of Youk. That’s still very much an open question, but certainly more than the valley of death third base has been for them recently.

 

Photograph: dbking (CC by 2.0)

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