I’ve yet to really see any good reasoning for the Pirates making a deal for Kevin Youkilis. Most of the talk is surrounded by hopes that he will magically rebound once he sets foot in PNC Park. But why would he rebound? Looking deeper at Youkilis, and forgetting that two years ago he was a .900 OPS guy, I can’t see a reason to expect him to perform better with a change in scenery.
First of all, I think it’s a huge concern that he’s had three DL trips in the last year. He went on the DL last August with a hip injury, last September with a back injury, and again this season with a back injury. Back issues aren’t issues that just go away. He hit for a .190/.304/.342 line in 79 at-bats in the final two months last year. So far this year he is hitting for a .225/.311/.359 line in 142 at-bats. Since returning from the DL in late May he has a .231/.326/.372 line in 78 at-bats. If he’s healthy, it hasn’t been helping him much.
There’s also the secondary ratios to consider. Youkilis is known for his high walk rate. But “The Greek God of Walks” has an 8.7% walk rate, down from 13% the last few years. His career strikeout rate has been 18.3%. He’s never been over 21.3%. This year he’s up to 24.2%. His power has dropped the last two years, going from a .257 ISO in 2010 to a .202 in 2011, and then again to a .134 this year.
Then we have to consider what type of hitter Youkilis is. He’s a pull hitter that benefits from Fenway Park. Move him to PNC Park and a deep outfield, and you’ve got a situation that isn’t very favorable for a guy who is currently struggling. Even if his issues could be simplified by the “change in scenery” line, the scenery at PNC Park wouldn’t help Youkilis much.
I’ve seen a few people use A.J. Burnett as justification. Burnett went from a 5.15 ERA in 190.1 innings last year, to the excellent numbers he’s putting up this year. The suggestion is that Youkilis, at 33, would be more likely to rebound than Burnett, who is 35. But there are a few key differences between Burnett and Youkilis. First, Burnett has been healthy (minus his freak bunt incident) and is in much better shape than Youkilis. Second, Burnett’s secondary ratios were strong. He was still striking out batters, and had a reasonable walk rate.
The bigger thing here is that the argument of moving from the AL East to the NL Central seems to work better with pitchers. A pitcher struggling in the AL East — with all of those bats and hitter friendly stadiums — would be more likely to have success in an easier league and an easier division. It’s more concerning to see a hitter struggling in the AL East, considering the above factors.
The biggest appeal with Youkilis is that he probably won’t cost much. But that doesn’t make him good, and it doesn’t do anything to reverse the above concerns surrounding Youkilis.