Last year was a breakout season for Kevin Youkilis. He hit .288 with a .390 OBP. He was a versatile presence in the lineup, getting at-bats in all slots except leadoff and 9th. He knocked in 83 runs and scored 85. He also added 16 homeruns to the mix.
My one knock on Youk is a lack of consistency. He came out of the gate red hot, heated up to a supernova, then cooled off for the rest of the year. Youkilis had 152 hits, and nearly a third of them (45) came in the month of May. Half of his homeruns (8) were hit in April and May.
However, he picked it up for the post-season. In the ALCS, he hit .500 (14 for 28) with 3 homers, a double, a triple, 7 RBI, and 10 runs scored. If it hadn't been for Josh Beckett, he had a good case for ALCS MVP.
He was also a solid defensive player, winning the Gold Glove. The last Red Sox first baseman to win the Gold Glove was George Scott in 1971. Youk didn't make a single error at first base in 2007.
Pretty much every offensive number improved for Youkilis in 2007. He had more doubles, more homeruns, more RBI, higher average, higher OBP, and higher slugging.
One strange thing about his stats in 2007 was that he walked fewer times than he did in 2006. He also struck out fewer times. He's seeing fewer pitches, as you might have guessed. In '06, he saw 4.42 pitches per plate appearance. In 2007, it was down to 4.27. Youkilis is known for his ability to work a pitcher, but I don't think this dip in pitches is much to be concerned about. His strikeout to walk ratio saw a minuscule drop of 0.05. Basically, more of his at-bats are ending in hits, instead of walks and strikeouts; which is a good thing.
Youkilis fits in very nicely as the #2 hitter on this team. Last year, he hit 5th and 6th a great deal thanks to JD Drew's struggles. But to me, he's a perfect #2 hitter. He gets on base, he has some pop of his own, he works pitchers, he sets up for the big hitters. Batting #2 last year, he hit .305, with an OBP of .414. Those are great numbers for a #2 hitter.
But Youkilis might not stay at first-base all year. He's the #1 backup for Mike Lowell. Youk played 13 games at third last year, and 16 the year before. When Lowell gets a day off, look for Youkilis at the hot corner.
This means that Youkilis will be replaced at first by Sean Casey. Sean had a decent year with Detroit, hitting .296. He doesn't have the same power as he did earlier in his career, but perhaps some time on the bench, some favorable matchups, and the Green Monster sitting 310 feet away will change that.
Casey brings nothing but positives to the table. He's a well-liked guy, he's been around the block, he knows how to hit, he wanted to be here, he's got post-season experience (hit .529 in the '06 World Series), and he's a solid fielder.
Look for Casey to get more time than you'd think he would. With him, Francona can sit Youkilis or Lowell against tough righties and give them some extra rest.
Of course, for the games in NL ballparks, David Ortiz will probably see some playing time at first. Last year, the Sox worked out a platooning situation, sitting either Youk, Lowell, or Papi in National League parks. This year will probably see more of the same.
I am very curious to see if Casey keeps 21 as his number. The last Red Sox player to don that number appeared in front of Congress yesterday.
First-base is the deepest position on the Red Sox.