Sports

MLB Analysis: What Sort of Impact Will Kevin Youkilis Have on the White Sox?

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The trade of Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox ended a remarkable run by one of MLB’s best on a team that reinvented itself. The Boston Red Sox are no longer the American League’s version of the Chicago Cubs. They know how to win in Boston, and how to win it all. And Kevin Youkilis was a big part of Boston’s transformation. But Youkilis has struggled with injuries recently, and it appears he was also struggling with Boston’s new manager, Bobby Valentine.

So now Youk plays 3rd base for the ChiSox. It will be interesting to see if Youkilis is the beneficiary of that non-specific, subjective baseball phenomenon known as “New Team Bounce.” I hope so. This is a guy who plays hard and loves the game, and I wish him success.

This “New Team Bounce” (NTB) is a curious thing. It’s tough to figure out who will get it and who won’t. Some NTBs have been almost ridiculous. Cody Ross went from being waived by the Florida Marlins to hitting 5 home runs in the 2010 post-season for the San Francisco Giants during their remarkable run to the world championship. That’s serious NTB right there.

After his 2009 stint with the Detroit Tigers, Aubrey Huff looked like 2010 would be his last year in the bigs. But Huff carried the Giants for the month of August in 2010, and, along with Cody Ross, enjoyed the kind of monster NTB that translates into a World Series ring. Even Manny Ramirez got some nice NTB when he went from the Red Sox to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Makes you doubt the whole Karma thing, doesn’t it? Ramirez, in 53 games for the Dodgers in 2008, had 17 homeruns and 53 RBI. Weird as it sounds, Big Tough Manny’s NTB might have been aided by a female fertility drug. But hey, NTB is NTB, right?

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Some guys are just too old for NTB, and the fact that they get none is no surprise. For instance, there just isn’t enough NTB in the universe to bring Jamie Moyer back. Other guys can’t seem to make their NTB last beyond a couple of games when they do get it. Dontrelle Willis, one of my favorite people in MLB over the last decade, could use some extended NTB big time, but little seems to come his way. Too bad. From where I sit, he seems like a great guy.

Some teams seem to live on their players’ NTB. Besides the 2010 Giants, the 2012 Oakland Athletics are getting more than their share of player NTB. Brandon Inge, who started the year 2 for 20 in his 12th season with the Detroit Tigers, was waived and picked up by the A’s. He’s only hitting .235 for the A’s, but he does have 6 home runs, including 2 grand slams, and 33 RBI in 36 games. That’s decent NTB. Oakland’s 1st baseman du jour, Brandon Moss, whom the A’s picked up as a free agent this winter, has 7 home runs in his first 18 games for the team. Again, that’s some decent NTB, from two guys, on the same club at the same time.

So what kind of NTB can Youkilis expect? I have no idea. After predicting last week that the Dodgers would remain ahead of the Giants, I’m out of the prediction business. Besides, there is no official stat focused on a player’s NTB. So let’s invent one. We’ll call it UBR for Ultimate Bounce Rating. I don’t have all of the details figured out yet, but here are some possible factors: A player would get an uptick in his UBR if his new team allows him to play the position that coincides with his best offensive numbers. For example, Adrian Gonzalez would get a bump in his UBR if his new team allowed him to play first base. A player also gets an increased UBR if his release was based more on personality conflict with management than on overall performance. However, a player would see his UBR take a hit if the reason he’s being dealt is that none of the players on his old team can stand him. The new team’s ballpark would also figure into a player’s UBR. Hitters who can foul off pitches forever until just the right one comes along will see their UBR crash if they get traded to a pitcher-friendly park with a ton of foul territory like the Oakland Coliseum. This list is not exhaustive; it’s just meant to get the ball rolling.

While I’m on a roll here, I have another proposal relating to NTB: Each MLB team, starting with the 2014 season, will get an extra roster spot for a “Designated Bouncer” or DB. The 26th guy on the team will be someone who plays for the team for exactly 2 months. If during that 2 month period he is released, the team can only replace him with someone from their minor league system who is also a DB. At the end of each 2-month period, the team’s DB has to be dealt to another team, but only for another DB. And, just to make sure he has the best shot at some decent NTB, no DB could be dealt to a team he has played for during the 2 previous years. Each year there would be three DB trading dates on which every team would have to deal their DB to another team. That way, the DB could get a new NTB every two months. It will only take a couple of years for DBs to establish bona fide UBRs based on a meaningful sample of NTBs; in other words, MLB GMs, AL & NL, would learn their league’s DBs’ NTBs ASAP, IMHO. Still with me? The new trading dates will be April 15th (let’s face it, you can usually tell about 2 weeks into a season whether a guy’s going to stink up the field long term or not), June 15th, and August 15th. The August 15th DB trading date would be the most frantic as pennant races are usually shaping up nicely by then.

Try and tell me this isn’t a great idea. Don’t fans love it when a new guy comes to town and performs? And if a team’s DB is a flop, no problem. He’s only on the team for 2 months, and he’s not on the 25-man roster. This could be a whole new career for some ballplayers. A guy could be traded three times a year for 10 years and never play for the same team twice. He could be a different city’s hero every 2 months! What a great opportunity! My guess is that plenty of MLB regulars would love a shot at being a DB. The constant change of pace would sure beat wallowing in last place on some godforsaken perennial 69-93 franchise, playing in front of thin crowds who, when it comes right down to it, blame you and your big fat contract for the team’s mediocre performance.

When Bud Selig gets done doing whatever other weird stuff he’s contemplating doing to MLB, my guess is he’ll be ready for one last weird thing. Don’t be surprised if that one last weird thing is the all-new Designated Bouncer program. Remember, you heard it here first.

Jonathan Dyer has been a baseball fanatic since playing Little League in the 1960s, and he’s been following the Oakland A’s since moving to the Bay Area in the late 1970s when he watched Rickey Henderson play for Billy Martin. Dyer, the author of three novels, now brings his long-term perspective to writing about baseball, connecting the modern game to its historic context. You may email Jonathan directly at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @dyer_jp. You can follow his progress on two new novels he’s writing at www.booksbyjonathandyer.webs.com