Leading (Off) by Example

“YOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUK”

For those of you who have been to or seen a Red Sox home game this season, you know what this means. In fact any Red Sox fan will know exactly what I’m talking about. The rest of you are probably completely confused.

Well that chant has been heard all around Fenway this season as Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis continues to impress fans and players alike. When Coco Crisp went on the DL earlier in the season, the Red Sox were caught in a bind. The man they traded for to fill the empty leadoff spot previously held by Johnny Damon was now empty once more. Most managers would turn towards a “typical” leadoff hitter. Someone with speed, someone with experience, someone who could wreak havoc on the base paths. Well manager Terry Francona decided to try something different. He decided to go with someone who didn’t do any of those things.

Kevin Youkilis is anything but a speed burner. In fact, in 130 career games, he has 0 steals in 2 attempts. But one thing Youkilis does do – that I believe is even more important than speed – is get on base. I took the liberty to calculate how he’s done this season in the 9 games he’s been in the leadoff spot and I think you’ll see what I mean:

.354 (11-31), 8 runs, 6 RBI, 6 walks

That’s pretty impressive for someone who has never had that responsibility. Then I decided to take it one step further for any critics who think it’s more important to have speed at the top of the lineup. So here are five of the “best” leadoff hitters in the game and how they have faired this season in relation to Youkilis:

Carl Crawford
AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
.262 / .338 / .311 / .649

Juan Pierre
AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
.271 / .295 / .339 / .634

Rafael Furcal
AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
.230 / .347 / 246 / .593

Ichiro Suzuki
AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
.232 / .329 / .304/ .633

Johnny Damon
AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
.293 / .373 / .466 / .839

Kevin Youkilis
AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
.346 / .435 / .519 / .955

I don’t know about you, but I want a guy who’s actually going to be on base for the middle of the lineup. Just look at what horrible on base percentages Ichiro, Pierre, and Crawford have. That’s not helping at all.

In fact if you want to see some of what Youkilis has brought to that spot this season, find a clip of his first at bat of last nights game. I follow the Red Sox closely and have gotten a chance to see many of his at bats this season, but that at bat last night showed just why he has been so invaluable this season to the Sox.

Scott Kazmir was on the mound for the Devil Rays in last night’s ballgame. Kazmir is one of the brightest young left handed pitchers in baseball today and has always faired well against the Red Sox. Kevin Youkilis stepped up to plate to start the game in the home half of the first inning. He took his normal spot at the very back of the batters box and proceeded to work Scott Kazmir like a 10 year vet. He fouled off tough pitch after tough pitch and drew a 3-2 count. After nine grueling pitches, Youkilis took a 3-2 fast ball and drove it off the Green Monster in left center field for a leadoff double. Not only did this help wear down the young pitcher, but it also gave his teammates a chance to see some pitches before stepping to the plate. A beautiful at bat for a leadoff hitter. You just don’t see that as much anymore.

So you can see what makes him so valuable at the top of the order for the Red Sox while Crisp gets healthy. While Kevin Youkilis won’t send the opposing pitcher into fits having to keep an eye on him on the base paths, he sure will give him a headache at the plate.

In addition to their stellar starting pitching this season and despite Manny Ramirez hitting .259 this season with 0 home runs, Kevin Youkilis is a huge reason why the Red Sox have the best record in baseball this season.

After all, speed doesn’t do any good when you’re sitting on the bench.

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