Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Youkilis should embrace Edgar's path
By Steve Berthiaume
Kevin Youkilis has a career average of .292 with a .394 on-base percentage.
Edgar Martinez was a .312 career hitter and played in the major leagues until he was 41 years old. As a 40-year-old in 2003, Martinez hit .294 in 145 games. He's beloved in Seattle and his career record, which includes a pair of batting titles with averages of .343 and .356, says he's a Hall of Fame hitter. Voters are debating as to whether Martinez's career spent primarily as a DH will get him to Cooperstown, but regardless, it's a path Boston's Kevin Youkilis should follow.
Martinez's major league career got off to a relatively late start. He wasn't in the Mariners' everyday lineup until 1990, when he was 27, the same age at which Youkilis became a permanent Red Sox regular in 2006. Martinez was Seattle's primary third baseman through the 1994 season. It was when he was made the regular DH in 1995, however, that he consistently began putting up Hall of Fame numbers.
Martinez played all 145 games in 1995 and led the American League with a .356 average, 52 doubles, 121 runs, a .479 OBP and 1.107 OPS. Martinez was 32 years old during that 1995 season. Youkilis just turned 32 in March. For six consecutive seasons beginning in 1995, during which Martinez started a total of just 30 games in the field, he was one of baseball's premier right-handed hitters. These were Martinez's average numbers during that run as Seattle's DH from 1995 through 2000:
Youkilis is the ultimate grinder. When Ty Cobb said, "I have observed that baseball is not unlike a war," he seemed to be describing Youkilis, who most times after games looks like he just stormed screaming across a Scottish glen with Mel Gibson in "Braveheart." From 2004 through the start of this week's games, Youkilis has averaged 4.32 pitches per plate appearance, third-most in baseball over that span behind only Jayson Werth's 4.46 and Bobby Abreu's 4.33. The toll of Youkilis' daily wars of attrition at the plate might be lessened by allowing him to make them his sole focus. During his sensational six-year run as Mariners' DH, Martinez averaged 649 plate appearances per season. Isn't Boston better off getting Youkilis 649 plate appearances per season for the next six years, and lessening the risk of injury?
Yes, Youkilis won a Gold Glove in 2007 when he started 124 games at first base and fielded 1080 chances without a single error. The Red Sox have committed to pay Adrian Gonzalez $154 million to play that position through 2018. While Youkilis is a solid and extremely steady defender at first, Gonzalez is a graceful artist. Youkilis' days at first base in Boston are over.
Now he's back at third base, his original big league spot. Through his first 30 games, Youkilis' defensive runs saved rating was minus-3, which puts him on a 135-game pace of minus-15. This is hardly an indictment of Youkilis' career defensive contributions. Martinez was Seattle's third baseman from 1990 through 1994 and played all but one full season during that span with a range factor per nine innings at or above the league average. After hamstring injuries in '93 and '94, the Mariners moved him to DH; now with Youkilis at the same point along a career timeline, it would work again.
Boston's future shortstop, Jose Iglesias, is already getting a sneak preview of the big leagues this week at age 21. Keith Law called Iglesias "the best defensive shortstop prospect I've ever seen." Iglesias' presumed arrival next season creates a need to shift Jed Lowrie, who has moved into the everyday shortstop role this year and hit .330/.364/.505 through his first 30 games. After being bounced around the infield, the switch-hitting Lowrie, at 27, could finally settle into a regular defensive home and develop his third-base skills in the mode of Bill Mueller.
I'm sure a player like Youkilis, who gives you absolutely everything he has every single day, does not want to become a full-time DH. However, it's a position that gave David Ortiz a career in Boston. Big Papi will be 36 years old after this season, will be a free agent, and likely won't merit the $12.5 million contract on which he's currently playing. When that DH spot opens up for good, Youkilis should embrace it as Edgar Martinez once did.