Originally posted on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 6/25/12

The White Sox fired the first bullet of this year’s trade deadline when they acquired Kevin Youkilis, along with cash, from the Boston Red Sox for 1B/OF Brent Lillibridge and RHP Zach Stewart.  Youkilis had been a productive player for Boston, averaging 4.7 WAR over the last five seasons.  The Greek God of Walks struggled to stay healthy in recent years, and the emergence of Will Middlebrooks at third base made Youkilis and his $12 million salary expendable.

The White Sox fill a massive void in their lineup with this trade.  They currently lead the AL Central by 0.5 games over the Indians, with the Tigers waiting in the wings only three games back.  An upgrade at third base was at the top of the list for the South Siders, in order to hang on to their slim lead in one of the weakest divisions in baseball.  The uninspiring trio of Eduardo Escobar, Orlando Hudson, and Brent Morel has combined for a paltry 31 wRC+ at third base for the White Sox this season.  While Youkilis has not hit like the Youk of old, his 81 wRC+ is 50 points higher than the White Sox current third basemen.  And the White Sox are hoping that he will turn his season around with a change of scenery.

At age 33, he was due for some regression, but certainly not to the extent that has been seen so far.  His current BABIP of .280 is significantly below his career number (.327), so his numbers should go up when some balls start falling in.  One troubling aspect of Youkilis’s season to date is that his legendary ability to draw walks seems to have declined a bit.  His walk rate of 8.7% is the lowest of his career, and the first time he has been in the single digits since 2008.  Also troubling is the fact that he is striking out in about 6% more plate appearances this year over his career rate (18.3%).  The root of Youkilis’s struggles may be the fact that he has simply struggled to hit fastballs, something that he had done very well in seasons past.  Here is a table of how well Youkilis has hit fastballs over his career according to PITCHf/x (data from Fangraphs):

Season Team

wFA

2007 Red Sox

5.5

2008 Red Sox

36.2

2009 Red Sox

31.3

2010 Red Sox

16.0

2011 Red Sox

16.6

2012 Red Sox

1.5

Total - – -

107.1

That chart pretty much speaks for itself.  If Youkilis is going to return to form than he must start hitting fastballs like he used to.  Not only will that result in more hits (obviously), but when pitchers are afraid to throw fastballs, you’re going to draw more walks as well.

Ben Cherington was bartering on behalf of damaged goods, with little leverage.  Youkilis is a veteran on the wrong side of the aging curve, with injury and productivity questions.  Making matters worse, every General Manager in baseball knew that the Sox had limited space in their lineup with Middlebrooks tearing the cover off the ball.  The result was a return of Brent Lillibridge and Zach Stewart.  Lillibridge’s best tool is his speed, but he also showed some pop last season (13 homeruns in 216 PA).  He is 28, and has only totaled 584 plate appearances over five seasons.  Zach Stewart was the Red’s third round pick in 2008, and has since been traded twice before this deal.  Stewart has solid minor league numbers, but it hasn’t yet translated to the big leagues; he has a 5.33 FIP in 97.1 innings.  Stewart has the stuff to be a big league pitcher, but for whatever reason he has failed to miss many bats in the majors.

The first major trade before the deadline should leave both teams feeling that they received sufficient compensation for the player(s) that they gave up.  The Red Sox got rid of Youkilis, opened a full-time spot in the lineup for Will Middlebrooks, and picked up a good-stuff-poor-results type of pitcher.  The White Sox filled one of the biggest needs of any contender, got the Red Sox to front some of the bill, and really didn’t give up much.  So while Youkilis switches Sox, both teams can go home feeling as if they executed the best trade for their respected organization.

-Albright

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