For most players, the season Kevin Youkilis had in 2011 where, in 120 games, he hit .258/.373./.459 with a .366 wOBA would have been a dream season for which they would have expressed extensive pride.
However, for a player of Youkilis’s ability, his production in the 2011 season came as bit of a disappointment, despite the fact his wOBA average was still 35th in the major leagues out of 145 qualified batters, when compared to how he had performed at the plate during his three previous seasons when he destroyed major league pitching.
Relative to those three seasons, Youkilis’s 2011 batting average of .258 represented a 17.3 percent decrease from his .312 batting average in 2008, a 15.4 percent decrease from his .305 batting average in 2009, and a 16.0 percent decrease from his .307 batting average in 2010.
Youkilis’s 2011 season fared a little better in on-base percentage as his .373 on-base percentage in 2011 was a 4.4 percent decrease from his .390 on-base percentage in 2008, a 9.7 percent decrease from his .413 on-base percentage in 2009, and a 9.2 percent decrease from his .411 on-base percentage in 2010, but the decline was still evident in 2011.
Most of all, Youkilis failed to match his three previous seasons in slugging percentage as his 2011 slugging percentage of .459 was a 19.3 percent drop from his .569 slugging percentage in 2008, a 16.2 percent drop from his .548 slugging percentage in 2009, and an 18.6 percent decrease from his .564 slugging percentage in 2010.
As should be obvious from his percentage declines, Youkilis had the most uncharacteristic problems on balls that he put into play, which directly affected his batting average and slugging percentage. The fact he only managed a .296 batting average on balls in play, the lowest of his career since his rookie campaign, confirms the difficulties he had in hitting the ball with the usual type of authority we have grown accustomed to seeing from him.
Part of the reason for his Youkilis’s struggles could have been the types of balls he was hitting when he did made contact. For 2011, he had an inordinate amount of ground balls and a lower number of flyballs than had been his wont.
According to FanGraphs.com, while his ground ball percentage of 41.8 percent was the highest of his career, his fly ball percentage of 38.2 percent was the lowest of his career, and Youkilis has always been a better hitter on fly balls than ground balls so by hitting ground balls, he was robbing himself of production.
Through the three 2008-10 seasons, on ground balls,Youkilis hit .250/.250.284 with a .236 wOBA, .266/.266/.297 with a .248 wOBA, and .261/.261/.288 with a .243 wOBA respectively, inferior to the .323/.309/.935 with a .494 wOBA, .306/.299/.888 with a .478 wOBA, and .316/.307/.882 with a .485 wOBA he hit on fly balls.
In 2011, on ground balls, Youkilis hit .243/.243/.271 with a .226 wOBA so he not only hit more than his usual amount of ground balls, but he also hit worse on them. His .306/.297/.887 with a .483 wOBA was not such a departure from the previous three seasons, but he did not hit as many fly balls with which to help himself.
Even on line drives, Youkilis was not the same hitter, hitting only .582/.582/.746 with a .579 wOBA on them in 2011. Each one of those numbers represented the lowest such marks of his career.
It was definitely a perfect storm of decreased hitting value for Youkilis in 2011 as he largely failed to match up to his previous statistics, and he will definitely be looking to improve on those numbers in 2012, but at the age of 32, it is not even certain that he will be able to get back to his previous hitting heights.
The 2011 season might indeed represent a decline in his hitting ability that will continue throughout the rest of his career. What he does in 2012 will certainly provide a clearer answer so we should all keep a close eye on how he performs.