Who’s the Better Option at Third: Alex Rodriguez or Kevin Youkilis?

As we head into the middle of January, we’re a mere two days away from Alex Rodriguez’s hip surgery date, which will leave him out of commission until at least after the All-Star break. Given the void at the position (and possibly beyond, based upon the somewhat pessimistic assessment of his surgeon), the Yankees went and signed Kevin Youkilis. While the image of ARod’s horrific post-season is still fresh in everyone’s mind, and it may be easy to dismiss his contributions in favor of anyone else, even if that means a formerly-hated rival from Boston. But that said: will Kevin Youkilis be an upgrade over A-Rod?

Kevin Youkilis might actually be a better option for the Yankees at third in 2013 than Alex Rodriguez. (Image: David Richard, US Presswire)

Based on the Jan. 9, 2013, RotoChamp projections, ARod is projected to hit .269/.356/.433 in a mere 245 at-bat as he returns from surgery. That is good enough for 40th place out of all available third basemen in the major leagues. He is also only projected to hit 10 homers with 38 RBI. All of this supposes that ARod, 1) will be able to handle the workload of 245 ABs when he returns to action, but more importantly, 2) will not experience any delays in his return to action. As we saw with Andy Pettitte — who, although he is older than A-Rod, experienced a significantly lesser injury in a clean break — older players can greatly vary with their injury returns, including set-backs and slow return progress.

By contrast, Youk is projected via RotoChamp to hit well enough for 22nd in the majors, batting .267/.373/.451 in 430 ABs, with a respectable 18 homers and 65 RBI. All told, offensively, it might be that Youkilis will merely be a place-warmer for A-Rod until the regular third basemen returns. Their offensive numbers, at least through projections, look similar. (That said, I do believe, given the scope of Rodriguez’s injury, that the offensive power numbers might be a bit high in such limited action.) Youkilis will probably realistically be about what A-Rod produced during the regular 2012 season, which, in the grand scheme of things won’t hurt, but won’t help the Yankees, either.

Where the issues might occur in the discrepancy between Rodriguez and Youkilis would be defensively, but it might not be the way you’d think. For instance, Youkilis last year had a 2 Rtot rating as a third baseman in 2012; ARod was a -6, even despite not having a full season to stay fresh, combined with his regularly-scheduled off-days throughout the season. (Note: all metrics look at Youkilis’ totals for playing third only, even though he did play first at various points throughout 2012.) With Youk’s 177 assists, nine errors, 20 DPs in 894.1 innings, to ARod’s eight errors and 119 assists in 709.1 innings, it might be that Youkilis will be a better option defensively for the Yankees. While Rodriguez hasn’t been a terrible third baseman at all, it would appear that Youk might be the better defensive option at third (ironically, for a guy who was accused of not having “it” anymore by former manager Bobby Valentine).

Given the projected wash offensively and the better defensive numbers, it might be that the loss of Alex Rodriguez won’t be as dramatic in 2013 as it was coming off his earlier hip surgeries, with the void even more tempered by the acquisition of Kevin Youkilis. A-Rod’s production has clearly declined, regardless of the hip, and even at four years younger, Youkilis might be able to prove as an effective stop-gap that might prove better than the regular third baseman, if only for this year.

So, what do you think Yankees fans: who will be the better option for the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez or Kevin Youkilis?

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