What Happened to the “Greek God of Walks?”
Kevin Youkilis is having the best season of his relatively young career. Granted, he is notorious for crusing along like one of the best players in baseball during the first half of a season, only to fall into a slump in the second half. Some attribute it to his intensity level, which simply put, is through the roof. But whatever the cause, there is something slightly different about this years version of the Youkster. His “Greek God of Walks” label isn’t quite as accurate as his has been in the past
Youkilis is, and still has, one of the best eyes of the strike zone in all of baseball. But he hasn’t been seeing quite as many this season as in other years, 3.85 pitches per plate appearance to be exact. His average P/PA last season you ask? 4.27. That is nearly one third of a pitch fewer that Youkilis sees each time he steps into the box 90+ games into 2008. It is plenty sufficient, especially if he is going to bat .300+. The 3.85 comes in 35th among qualified hitters in the AL. Last season Youkilis finished 6th in the AL in this category. And as a matter of fact, Youkilis, during his career in the minors, had a batting average of .300, but an OBP of .433. Now that is where the label that was slapped on him came from. He has of course continued to show why he was deserving of this label throughout his major league career, with a line of .286/.383/.455 (slugging thrown in to make it appear natural).
So why is Youkilis swinging the bat earlier in the count this season? Could it possibly be that he is so aware of his second half swoons that he is going to swing the bat as much as possible during the first half of the year? Then take it easy in the second half and get on base more through the walk? Or is it that he and/or the coaching staff thought that he had more potential being a little more aggressive early in counts? His power numbers are much greater this season than in any other year. A .547 slugging, which is over 100 percentage points better than his career best at any seasons conclusion. But even in the first half of the past two seasons, Youkilis’ only two seasons that he has been a full time employee, the highest that he slugged in a half season has been .502.
This theory of his approach, the one that I thought he might have changed for the first half, is just a theory. The second one makes more sense. But I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he started seeing more pitches in the second half of the season. It is almost like Bill James’ theory that as a player ages they tend to see more pitches and try and work more bases on balls. Except of course Youkilis’ approach could be from one half of the season to the next. Of course, he may average 3.85 pitches per plate appearance in the second half as well. Only time will tell. I have been hitting the sauce pretty hard tonight…I had a cup and a half of Barg’s root beer to go along with my pizza.
(Edit: Nearly half a pitch, not one third)