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June 24, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Youkilis Changes Sox

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
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Traded 3B-R Kevin Youkilis and $5.5 million to the White Sox for RHP Zach Stewart and UTL-R Brent Lillibridge. [6/24]

The Will Middlebrooks Era is officially underway in Boston. Youkilis fell from grace quickly thanks to injuries, a slow start, and Middlebrooks’ hot start. With no position for Youkilis to play most days, it was only a matter of time before Boston pulled the trigger on a trade. The Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Pirates, and Indians were mentioned, amongst others, but in the end, the White Sox won out.

Stewart, formerly a third-round pick, will join his fourth organization. The story is simple: his stuff is better than his results. He relies on a two-pitch attack: a heavy, 90-mph sinker and a slider with two-plane movement. Although Stewart has started in the past, that ship has seemingly sailed, leaving him stranded on the Island of Middle Relievers. A spot start earlier in the week saw him yield nine hits, six runs, and one home runs against the Cubs in 5 2/3 innings of work. The early indications are that Stewart will head to the minors

Lillibridge, meanwhile, joins the big league bench. A capable defender at multiple positions, Lillibridge also shows good sense on the bases, at least during the run of play. Lillibridge would be more valuable if not for his bat, save 216 plate appearances last season. He strikes out about 30 percent of the time and doesn’t walk or hit for enough power to atone for it.

If that seems like an uninspiring return, it’s because it is. Writing that Boston dumped Youkilis might be a bit rash, but they did trade him for two marginal talents. The grim reality for grieving Red Sox fans is that this was probably the best offer on the table.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Acquired 3B-R Kevin Youkilis and $5.5 million from the Red Sox for RHP Zach Stewart and UTL-R Brent Lillibridge. [6/24]
Designated OF-L Kosuke Fukudome for assignment. [6/22]

Are Youkilis’ days as a productive big-league player over? One scout, as quoted by Danny Knobler in mid-June, seemed to think so: “For what he costs, he can’t do anything.”

Receiving a touch more than $5.5 million in cash in addition to Youkilis mitigates the cost factor almost entirely (Youkilis had roughly $6 million remaining on his 2012 contract), but there is still reason for apprehension in Youkilis’ statistical profile. His contact rate is a career worst, as are his strikeout and walk rates (down to an unfathomable 8.7 percent for a man nicknamed the Greek God of Walks) and Isolated Power (.134). Given Youkilis’ age (33) and injury history (13 entries on his injury report in the past 365 days alone), there is reason to think that no upside exists.

That analysis, however, ignores factors that make this a worthwhile gamble for Kenny Williams. These factors start with the opportunity cost. The White Sox are unlikely to miss Stewart or Lillibridge anytime soon. That Youkilis, who seemed to clash with Bobby Valentine throughout the season, gets away from what had become a land of discontent towards him should also prove beneficial. Then you have the most obvious angle: the White Sox do not need vintage Youkilis in order to gain value. Orlando Hudson, the incumbent everyday third baseman, is hitting .193/.254/.304 on the season, and that’s buoyed by his time in the NL with the Padres. Youkilis is hitting .225/.311/.359.

Chicago is in the thick of the playoff hunt, so why wouldn’t Williams make this deal and potentially increase his chances? Besides, with one of the game’s best medical staffs in tow and the resurrections of Adam Dunn and Alex Rios underneath their belts this season, would a Youkilis revival surprise anyone?

An industry friend proposes this concept: some players are prone to success in one league more so than the other. Fukudome might become an example for his argument. After spending parts of four seasons in the National League and hitting .262/.369/.403, Fukudome came to the American League and rattled off a .237/.299/.345 line over 309 plate appearances. Is it the league or the player? Fukudome’s contact and strikeout-to-walk ratios were close to normal this season (albeit in a small sample). What stands out is a complete power outage. One extra-base hit in 51 plate appearances would make it tough to employ Fukudome even if he had a better batting average than the .171 figure he sports. An oblique injury landed Fukudome on the disabled list for most of June. Upon his return, the White Sox considered it time to bid adieu.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Placed RHP Bartolo Colon on the 15-day disabled list. [6/23]
Placed RHP Brandon McCarthy on the 15-day disabled list. [6/24]
Designated RHP Danny Farquhar for assignment. [6/24]
Purchased the contract of RHP A.J. Griffin from Triple-A Sacramento. [6/24]

Griffin invariably will draw comparisons to Joe Blanton. Both are bulbous righties with more command than stuff. Griffin’s velocity sits in the high-80s or low-90s, depending on the wind, and his best pitch is a changeup. He makes up for his shortcomings by displaying excellent command and pitching aptitude. Griffin should develop into a back-of-the-rotation option. Or, as Jason Wojciechowski pointed out, maybe not:

The first thing that jumps off his stat sheet is his walk rate: in two and a half minor league seasons, he's walked just 53 of the 1126 batters he's faced, a 4.7% rate. He's struck out over five times as many and has mostly kept his homer rate under control. 

The thing about this kind of profile is that you worry about how it translates to the big leagues. Strong pitching acumen with just decent stuff can carry you a long way in the minors against immature and/or untalented hitters. In the majors, when the batter you're facing has stood in against the best stuff and the best sequencing in the world, your tricks might not look so intimidating.

Reasonable points throughout, but you can’t blame the A’s for giving Griffin a shot. Their rotation already features Tyson Ross and Travis Blackley, they don’t seem comfortable promoting Brad Peacock to the majors just yet, and the other alternative on the 40-man roster is Graham Godfrey. There’s a decent chance Griffin isn’t a useful big-league starting pitcher; there’s a great chance Godfrey isn’t.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Claimed INF-S Brooks Conrad off waivers from the Brewers. [6/22]
Designated INF-S Drew Sutton for assignment. [6/22]
Activated INF-R Jeff Keppinger from the 15-day disabled list. [6/22]
Placed OF-L Matt Joyce on the 15-day disabled list. [6/22]
Recalled RHP Brandon Gomes from Triple-A Durham. [6/22]
Optioned OF-L Rich Thompson to Triple-A Durham. [6/22]

No ballplayer nicknamed “Raw Dog” is likely to exude craft*. Conrad is no different. He relies upon his bat, not his glove, and bears a striking resemblance to Sutton. Both are switch-hitting utility infielders without good defensive reputations. The difference is that Conrad offers more than Sutton does of the three true outcomes. He will strike out more, walk more, and hit more home runs (and hit more extra-base hits in general). In retrospect, the Rays’ interest in Conrad isn’t surprising. Tampa Bay tried adding Conrad during the offseason, but he opted instead for Milwaukee, citing playing time concerns. Conrad should be thankful for a big league job whether he receives burn or not.

*Chipper Jones bestowed the nickname upon Conrad because he does not wear batting gloves, according to Kevin Orris of Capitol Avenue Club.

The Rays have two batters with True Averages of more than .290: Evan Longoria and Joyce. Both are now on the disabled list, leaving Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena as the team’s best hitters. After them, try Elliot Johnson and Jose Lobaton. At least Keppinger is back; he returned with a five-hit game on Saturday. 

Sutton was claimed off waivers by the Pirates.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Acquired RHP Sean O’Sullivan from the Royals for cash considerations. [6/21]

Injuries have led to this. O’Sullivan is a mediocrity, but he’s one that’s at least capable of starting a game if necessary. If that sounds like faint praise, consider these notable quotables from O’Sullivan’s past three BP Annual comments:

2010: He's adept at setting up hitters with a three-pitch arsenal consisting of a 90 mph fastball with good movement, a plus curve, and an average changeup, but he lacks a true out pitch.

2011: The most positive thing you can say about O'Sullivan is that he will be only 23 years old in 2011. The problem is that his youth doesn't mean much, since there isn't a lot of room for growth in this right-hander.

2012: How thin was the Royals starting rotation in 2011? Thin enough they gave O’Sullivan 10 starts. There’s no mystery here. A 0.73 SO/BB ratio to go along with 10 home runs in 58 innings.

That about sums it up.

(For those who enjoy satire, Will McDonald’s take on the O’Sullivan trade from the Royals’ perspective is worth your time.)

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Designated INF-R Edwin Maysonet and LHP Juan Perez for assignment. [6/22]
Signed RHP Livan Hernandez to a one-year deal. [6/22]

Hernandez is still searching for his first start this season, and all signs point to it coming in Milwaukee. The Brewers have three starters on the disabled list, including Shaun Marcum, and recently optioned Tyler Thornburg to the minors. Theoretically, the Brewers could recall another starter (like Wily Peralta), but if that were the plan then adding Hernandez seems unnecessary. A return to the rotation should be comforting for Hernandez, who increased his career relief innings from three to 34 this season. Hernandez’s best asset is his durability with his second-best asset being a shake of quality. Durability without quality is the flip side of the same coin as quality without durability—both will get you tossed into the ‘pen.

It’s hard to cavil with the Braves’ usage of Hernandez; however, asking him to assume a role where he averages fewer than two innings per appearance seems misguided. There are pitchers better equipped for that role than Hernandez. You don’t buy Hernandez with the intent for him to serve as a grill: quick and fast with flames. His style is more befitting of a crock-pot: long and slow with mild heat. The Brewers should get better results from Hernandez, assuming they read the label first.


R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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