Tuesday, July 10, 2007

kevin youkilis is no eckstein, no erstad. so what is he?

you want to know why? because he's really good at hitting the baseball. for some reason though, espn.com's buster olney wants to equate the three of them- they're all grindy grinders who bring their lunchpails to the ballpark and play the game the way it was meant to be played. oh yeah, and they're all caucasian, too. no, olney doesn't DIRECTLY compare them; erstad and eckstein are never directly brought up. but look at the languague he uses. tell me you haven't seen this kind of journalism before, being used to describe players that the reader is supposed to love and adore because they try really hard and aren't that good at baseball. anyways i can't tell if this is an insult to youkilis, because he's being indirectly compared to two pretty mediocre/crappy hitters, or a death knoll for eck and ersty. after all, if we can have grindy grinders who OPS .921 (as youkilis is), why do we need crappy grindy grinders? oh my god, that just made me wonder... what if people like crappy grindy grinders because they're crappy? that's terrifying. i'd rather think about terrorism or SARS or a giant asteroid hitting the earth instead. let's just get to the article.

To Youkilis, every pitch matters

nice cliche to start things off. this in contrast to chase utley, who pretty much could give a shit less about most pitches he sees. he only tries when there's two strikes, or when he sees a pretty girl sitting in the front row behind the backstop.

From 60 feet 6 inches away, Kevin Youkilis looks a lot like a guard dog. You're trying to slip a pitch past him, and this damn hairy-chinned beast stands in the way, chained to the back of the batter's box, part Wade Boggs and part pit bull. Throw him a nasty breaking ball, and he lunges at it, fouling it off. Pump a fastball inside, and he fights it off. And finally, by the seventh or eighth or 10th pitch of the at-bat, the beast is poised to strike.

grindy grindy grinder. but here's the thing- and i'm sure i'll go over this about ten more times in the course of this article- fouling off pitches isn't the best part of youkilis's game, except i guess inasmuch as it helps him draw walks. really, the best part of his game is mashing the crap out of the ball. that's why he's slugging over .500 with 9 HR and 22 doubles. meanwhile, the two previously mentioned other men who have set the gold standard for grinding are slugging .385 and .341. for them, maybe fouling off pitches IS the best part of their game. much as i hate the red sox (obligatory boston sports team hatred mention) kevin youkilis is a pretty darn good hitter.

Youkilis, a 28-year-old first baseman, is no five-tool talent. He is not fast, he will never set home run records, and his peanut-butter-and-jelly swing will never inspire an Updike treatise. But he is relentless. "Every pitch to me is an at-bat," says Youkilis, sitting in front of his locker at Fenway Park.

lots of guys who are awesome hitters are not five-tool talents. travis hafner comes to mind. for a non-DH, how about carlos lee? doesn't matter. doesn't mean they deserve an article about how grindy and underdog-ish they are. also, from now on, when i rant about grindy grinders, i'm going to find a way to get "relentless" in there. that's a good one.

That's what separates grinders like Youkilis from rank-and-file big leaguers. It's the thing that gets him through the 1,458 innings of a 162-game schedule, the mind-set that helps teams win. For Youkilis, the most important pitch of the year is always the next one, which might be lined for a hit or, at the very least, mined for information.

as if there's a ton of guys out there in the big leagues who really don't care about the next pitch they see when they're batting, and never "mine" any information at all from pitches that they don't hit. actually, there are some player out there that fit that description; they're called NL pitchers. look, you just don't make it to the big leagues without doing this. i hate to break it to you, buster, but your boy youkilis (by the by, you realize he's not a yankee, right?) isn't really doing anything different than 98% of other major leaguers out there. he might be doing it better than a lot of them. but i promise you his approach isn't much different.

When Youkilis played Class-A ball for the Lowell (Mass.) Spinners in 2001, he struck out on three pitches in his first at-bat of a game -- fastball, changeup, breaking ball -- without taking the bat off his shoulder, and he stalked back to the dugout. "Why are you so mad?" asked Arnie Beyeler, the Lowell manager. Well, obviously, Youkilis explained with some exasperation, he had just taken a backward K on three offerings. "But you saw all his pitches," Beyeler said. "He's shown you everything he's got. Now you can go to work."

thanks arnie! i wish i had a gritty old manager full of sage advice and timeless wisdom to help me through my paper pushing job whenever i got frustrated.

That lesson stayed with Youkilis, who already had a strong sense of the strike zone. He drew 73 walks in 64 games during his first summer in pro ball, drawing the attention of A's GM Billy Beane and writer Michael Lewis, who immortalized Youkilis in Moneyball as the Greek God of Walks. (Actually, Youkilis is not Greek at all; he's a Jewish kid from Cincinnati.) With an on-base percentage frequently over .400, he forced his way to the majors.

i love the word choice here- he "forced" his way to the majors. since this whole article is set up to make youkilis look like some underdog longshot feelgood story, i just know olney picked that verb on purpose. as if all these crusty old boston red sox executives who only like players who are fast or can hit 50 home runs were sitting in a smoke filled room talking about what minor leaguers they should promote to the big club.

crusty exec #1: i have to say, we should take a look at this youkilis guy.
crusty exec #2: but he can't steal bases! and he's not a pure power hitter!
crusty exec #1: he gets on base a ton though. i'm afraid our hand is forced; we have to do this.
crusty exec #2: [angrily punches through top of bowler hat] damn these underdog longshot feelgood stories!

This year, through June, he ranks among the American League's top 10 in batting average and OBP.

oh. not so much of a longshot underdog feelgood story after all.

Setting his stance, the righthanded Youkilis stations his back foot at the very back of the batter's box -- as close to the catcher, and as far from the pitcher, as the rules allow. To say that his right foot is in the box would be like saying that a climber who is hanging onto a ledge by one finger is on the mountain; maybe some tiny particle of his instep is technically on the back line of the box but not the rest of his foot. This provides him milliseconds more to decipher a breaking ball from a fastball.

again, lots of freaking players do this. he is not special because he does this. he is special because he's a really good at it. what olney is saying here is akin to a consumer analyst claiming "so-and-so motors is a great car company because they try maximize their profits while keeping costs low and still putting out quality products that consumers want to buy." every car company tries to do that, you stupid imaginary analyst. so-and-so motors is just better at it than other companies. but it's not like they invented that line of thinking. christ.

i'm not even going to bother with the rest of the article, it's more and more and more and more of the same. needless to say: kevin youkilis is an awesome hitter because he has great plate discipline and because he racks up a very good number of extra base hits. his approach to hitting, however, is no different than the vast majority of major leaguers. buster olney needs to go back to just reporting on the yankees and how awesome they are. this whole "branching out and covering the red sox" deal isn't working so well.

also, due to this article, the lunchpail alert is at yellow.


Chris W said...

i'm upgrading it to burnt sienna

why is burnt-sienna like the go to color for knuckleheads like myself (or dane cook) who are trying to be funny by pointing out some unfunny idiosyncracy?

I mean, i know it seems like i just answered my own question, but what i'm trying to say is:


larry b said...

oh dane... you light up life! you also give me something to talk about with annoying people i meet at parties.

"hey, do you happen to like dane cook?"

and the conversation can go for hours if i really want it to.

pnoles said...

Haha...I stared at this article for awhile playing the should-I-or-shouldn't-I game to see if I would post it here. In my indecisiveness, you beat me to it.

Don't worry folks, we've got some John Donovan on the way! Stay tuned for later this afternoon.....

dan-bob said...

bowler hats are instant comedy