Youk Slugging On the South Side
With no farm system to speak of, White Sox GM Kenny Williams has repeatedly gambled by acquiring high-priced veterans with question marks in trades. While some of those moves blew up like Wile E. Coyote ACME bombs last season, the likes of Alex Rios, Jake Peavy, Francisco Liriano and Kevin Youkilis have propelled the White Sox to the top of the AL Central standings in 2012. Youkilis, whose bat was on life support in Boston, has rediscovered his power stroke on the South Side.
The 33-year-old, who slugged just .377 and had an 84 OPS+ in 165 PA with the Red Sox, was shipped to the White Sox in late June for Zach Stewart, since-DFA'd Brent Lillibridge and cash. In Chicago, Youk has slugged .512 and has a 138 OPS+ in 150 PA. With the Red Sox, he only hurt pitchers occasionally on high-and-away offerings:
Youkilis' slugging percentage by pitch location with Boston, 2012
But since the swap, Youkilis has drilled just about everything thrown high in the strike zone:
Youkilis' slugging percentage by pitch location with White Sox, 2012
Youkilis has tapped into his power by hitting more fly balls (28.3% in Boston, 44.4% in Chicago). Those flies are traveling farther, too: an average of 275 feet with the White Sox, up from 262 feet with the Red Sox (the MLB average is about 269 feet).
While Youkilis is currently pushing the White Sox toward a playoff spot, Williams can also retain him next year by picking up a $13 million club option ($1 million buyout). Youkilis will have to keep raking and avoid the back ailments that felled him in Boston for that to happen. But Chicago doesn't have an in-house option after Brent Morel's own offense collapse and back issues, the club's still fallow-farm system makes a trade for an impact player unlikely, and it's slim pickings on the free agent market.
Give Williams credit. Sure, his moves occasionally blow up in his face. But, unlike that aimless Coyote, Williams looks poised to catch his Road Runner.