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Youk, Down and Out

With Will Middlebrooks raking and Kevin Youkilis often aching, there's surrounding the corner infielder who not long ago was one of the game's most valuable players. But as of late, the 33-year-old Youk (owed roughly $8.2 million for the rest of 2012 and $13 million next year if his club option is picked up) has seen his durability and bat both diminish. Youkilis had a 157 OPS+ during a 2010 season cut short by thumb surgery, but that dropped to 123 last year as he battled a bad back, hip pain and a sports hernia. In 2012, he's got a career-worst 94 OPS+ and served another DL stint for a lower back strain. Nothing God-like about that.

A major reason for Youkilis' power outage and ever-increasing K rate is his performance against pitches thrown at the knees. He's making weak contact on low pitchers or missing them entirely, and opponents are taking notice.

In 2010, Youkilis put plenty of good wood on low pitches and didn't miss all that often compared to the average hitter. That changed last season, and his slugging percentage and miss rate against low stuff has declined even further in 2012:

Youkilis vs. Low Pitches

Year Slugging Pct. Miss Pct.
2010 .475 28.1
2011 .329 33.9
2012 .311 36.5
2010-12 Avg. .348 30.3


Whatever the cause -- his litany of injuries, swing tinkering or something else -- Youk has stopped being a threat against pitches located down. In response, pitchers have progressively pounded him at the knees more often:

Year Pct. Of Pitches Located Down
2010 40.3
2011 42.9
2012 47.3
2010-12 Avg. 41.1


If Youkilis can return to just his 2011 level of production and stay reasonably healthy, he'll either be a boon to Boston's uncertain playoff prospects or a quality add by club craving a corner bat like the Dodgers, Indians, Diamondbacks, Phillies or White Sox. But to do that, Youk has to stop being such an easy out when pitchers locate low. Scouts and players have caught on. Now, it's up to him to adjust.

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