Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Around the Horn: Kevin Youkilis

Going through the Red Sox one player at a time, by position, while hoping that by the time I get to catcher Theo will have signed someone other than Josh Bard for me to talk about. First up, our first baseman, Kevin Youkilis.

After Dustin Pedroia, Youk is probably my favorite Sox player. Even though the goatee is getting a little out of hand, you have to love the hard-nosed way he plays the game, especially during an era in which the "superstars" have decided that it's beneath them to run out a ground ball. Remember the scuffle between Youk and Manny this summer in the dugout? Apparently, Manny was annoyed at Youk's behavior [mostly the fact that he mourns every out he makes like the loss of a loved one]. News flash, Mr. Ramirez: fans would much rather see Youkilis mouth profanities after striking out on a nasty fastball from Mariano Rivera than watch you standing in the batter's box, thinking you've hit a homer off of some no-name rookie, then seeing you stranded on first base on what could [should] have been a sure double. Weird, right?

Anyway, as a player, you can't ask for much more than what Kevin Youkilis gives you. His 2008 stats: in 145 games Youk hit .312, had an OBP of .390, and slugged .569. He hit 29 home runs, six more than Big Papi, who admittedly was not himself. For all the Mark Teixeira mania, I'm totally OK with having Youkilis as the first baseman; after all, they have eerily similar stats. Youk is marginally the weaker hitter, but it would really depend on what statistics you consider most important. Youkilis' batting average was actually four points higher than Teixeira's, but if you subscribe to the Billy Beane theory that OBP trumps all, than you might take Teixeira's .410 over Youk's .390 - but it's not like the numbers are drastically different.

Youkilis also has uncommon versatility for someone of his hitting prowess. As we all saw when Mike Lowell succumbed to his hip injury, Youk plays a mean third base. Most Sox fans know that he actually came up as a third baseman, and made the switch to first pretty late in his development, turning himself into a Gold Glove first baseman who set the record for consecutive errorless games at the position.

The bearded wonder is also one of those players who can always be depended on to get his uniform dirty. He wears his heart on his sleeve, which Sox fans generally love, though players around baseball find it rather grating [no one more so, apparently, than Joba Chamberlain]. In his spare time, Youkilis and his new wife run a charity foundation, Youk's Hits for Kids. The proceeds from his charity events go to benefit children in the Boston and Cincinnati areas.

According to the Boston Globe, Youkilis will go with a one year contract this year: though the Sox did talk to his agent about a long term deal a la Dustin Pedroia, the sides were too far apart to come to an agreement this year. Hopefully, they'll be able to come to terms in the upcoming year, because I for one hope to see Kevin Youkilis anchoring the corners at Fenway for years to come.

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