We’ll all miss Kevin Youkilis. There’s no getting around that. He anchored the middle of the Red Sox’ batting order for more than five years and has won all Red Sox fans over with his style of playing. The corner infielder always gave his all on the field and was always willing to help his team by playing first base, third base, and even the outfield on occasion. He finished in the top six for AL MVP voting twice in his Red Sox’ career and made the All-Star Team three times. Unfortunately, the career .287 hitter experienced a serious drop off in 2012 and is only batting .233 with 4 home runs.
With that said, it was time for Youkilis to leave. The emergence of Will Middlebrooks coupled with his decline meant he had to be traded at some point. Bobby Valentine had to constantly switch up the lineup– causing Gold Glove first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to have to play a good bit of right field. The writing was on the wall and the inevitable happened yesterday as Kevin Youkilis was traded to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Zach Stewart and utility man Brent Lillibridge. With Youkilis gone, it’s time to move on and see how Stewart and Lillibridge can actually help the team.
I’d be pretty surprised if Stewart really made an impact this year. I’m hoping the Red Sox can do sort of a reclamation project like they did with Andrew Miller and Clay Buchholz– putting a young pitcher back in the minors to refine his pitching. Once a highly touted prospect, he bounced through the Reds, Blue Jays, and White Sox systems as a swingman and had varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, everything has gone south once he’s reached the majors as he put up a 2-6 record and 5.88 ERA in 13 games (11 starts) last season between Toronto and Chicago. He’s spent most of 2012 in the majors and gone 1-2 with an ERA of 6.00– as he’s disappointed for the most part.
There is reason for hope in the 25 year old right hander though. One statistic that he has maintained throughout both the majors and minors is a relatively small amount of walks. In the majors this season, he’s only walked 1.2 per nine innings and only walked 2.41 per nine in 2011. However, since he’s reached the majors, his strikeout numbers have gone down from 7.06 in double-A in 2011, 6.01 in the majors in 2011, all the way to only 4.80 per nine in 2012. He doesn’t throw ridiculously hard– he averages 89.9 mph in 2012– but he throws a good slider and a decent change. Hopefully, the Red Sox minor league coaches can help Stewart prolong his career and potentially help the Red Sox– just probably not this year.
With the plethora of outfield injuries the Red Sox have experienced this season, there’s a higher likelihood that Lillibridge could help out. A change of scenery could seriously help the utility man as he’s been a disappointment after a career year in 2011. That season saw him bat .258/.340/.505 with 13 home runs and 29 RBIs in just 97 games and 216 plate appearances. However, this season his numbers are down to a miserable .175/.232/.190 with no home runs and only two RBIs in 49 games.
The main culprit for the severe decline in his numbers in a shocking lack of power. After a .247 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average– a stat that measures percentage of extra base hits) in 2011, it’s down to .016 in 2012. He only has one extra base hit this season (a double) and just 11 hits total. However, a change in scenery could help get Lillibridge back on track in a similar way it did with Mike Aviles last year. Aviles was batting just .222/.261/.395 with Kansas City but in Boston he hit .317/.340/.436. Given, Aviles’ numbers in Kansas City were not nearly as bad as Lillibridge’s have been so far, but a turnaround is possible.
It is disappointing that Stewart and Lillibridge were all the Red Sox could get for Youkilis. It was not just a throwaway move for the Red Sox though. While we probably won’t see a whole lot of Stewart and Lillibridge until September call ups, you never know. The Red Sox have been plagued by injuries this season so those two may be some of the first to be up from the minors. If Lillibridge can find his true stroke and Stewart can get a handle on his change, then this could wind up being a fair trade in a few year’s time.