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Youkilis vs. Swisher in Final Vote

As I write this, Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox first baseman, has overtaken Nick Swisher in the fan vote for the All-Star game. With all due respect to Swisher’s boosters and the manhood issues inherent in any my-player-is-better-than-yours tilt with Boston fans, Swisher isn’t having the season Youkilis is. The All-Star selections this year have been painful -- Omar Infante? -- and Youkilis’s exclusion was a mistake that needs correction. You can’t say the same thing about Swisher.

Let’s look at the players on the ballot, not just Youk and Swish but the other three players as well:

Youkilis 339 .299 .416 .586 17 51 .335
Konerko 319 .299 .386 .562 20 38 .320
Swisher 332 .296 .375 .509 13 34 .303
D. Young 280 .298 .332 .488 9 15 .289
M. Young 373 .306 .351 .484 11 25 .285

As usual, the last category is the park- and league-adjusted True Average, the stat which the cognoscenti used to call Equivalent Average or EqA. Youkilis outranks Swisher in every measure of production listed above.
Clearly, this conversation has to be restricted to Youkilis, Konerko, and Swisher. Consider where they rank among the players at their position. With apologies to Billy Butler (and Mark Teixeira, too -- have a better second half, lad) there are only four first basemen in the AL having MVP-type seasons: Justin Morneau, Miguel Cabrera, Youkilis, and Konerko. Swisher’s place among his right field peers is solid but less distinct. He’s in a crowd with Magglio Ordonez, David DeJesus, Shin-Soo Choo, Ichiro, J.D. Drew, and others. Expand your focus to the larger population of outfielders and even more hitters having good-not-great seasons wash out the picture. Were the argument restricted only to outfielders, Swisher would have a case, but not one dramatically more compelling than those mentioned above, not to mention Alexis Rios.

Longtime readers will recall that I have long been a Swisher booster, and that remains the case. However, I have a must remain objective. Fans are not obligated to have the same loyalties, but I’ve always figured that informed partisanship is superior to blind, undiscriminating worship. That kind of slavish devotion is for dogs, not baseball. It’s a bit like what G.K. Chesterton said about patriotism: "‘My country right or wrong’ is a thing no patriot would think of saying. It is like saying, ‘My Mother drunk or sober.’"

Thus: Nick Swisher right or wrong? Right for the Yankees, a very fine player having his best year. Wrong for the All-Star game if pitted against Kevin Youkilis, also a very fine player having a better year.

I’m not saying I have supernatural powers or anything like that. On the other hand, if you’ve experienced coincidence so many times that it’s not coincidental anymore, you might start to believe in some kind of determinism being at work in your life.

Sometimes, depending on her mood, I have a younger sister. She is almost four years younger than me. Our town growing up had a three-year high school, grades 10 through 12. Thus I graduated and she entered in June and September of the same year. Kids that I knew as juniors my senior year would be seniors her sophomore year, and so on.

That last year, there was a guy I knew, a year younger, who would sometimes trail around after my group of friends. Some writers would say, "like a puppy" here; I would say, "like a tick." Call him Omar. Omar was a strange bird, by which I mean that he was a human male with the face of an owl. He was also nervous, geeky, and powerfully stupid. When I graduated, I looked forward to leaving many people behind forever, some with more intensity than Omar, but none with more pleasure. On more than one occasion, I told my good friends, "When my sister is here next year, I don’t care who she goes out with as long as it’s not Omar."

You know what happened next, right? Suddenly Omar was everywhere in my life. In my house. In my chair. Eating my food. Tumbling out of cabinets. Standing in the shower when I pulled back the curtain. Hovering just below the ceiling. Omnipresent, morning until night, or until my father lost his temper and kicked him out (thanks for that, dad). There were many evenings that I would come home for dinner, unlock the door, see that Omar was still there, turn around, lock the door, get in my car, and go out for pizza.

A year or two later, Omar having moved on somewhere in the interim, I was talking baseball with friends. At that time, the Yankees needed a third baseman. Heck, they needed just about everything. The Yankees had no regular third baseman in 1991, trying Mike Blowers, Randy Velarde, Pat Kelly, Jim Leyriz, and more, including an extremely reluctant Steve Sax. This ragged band hit .220/.286/.306, and it was considered an automatic that the Yankees would acquire a third baseman during the offseason. "I don’t care who they get," I said to the very same friends who I had spoken to about Omar, "as long as it isn’t Charlie Hayes." Not only did the Yankees then go get Charlie Hayes, to that point a .247/.276/.361 career hitter, they got him twice.

So, you can see why I might be reluctant to discuss the following with you: when trade rumors have gone out across the land, what one hears is that the Yankees very much want to bolster their bench, and among their targets are Ty Wigginton and Willie Bloomquist. We can talk about Wigginton another time, but let me once more risk invoking those powers that seem to hear me when I say things like this: "I don’t care who they get, as long as it’s not Willie Bloomquist."

Bloomquist has two skills: versatility and speed. All the other usual stuff, like getting on base and hitting with authority, elude him. He’s a career .263/.317/.334 hitter. In the three years that Clay Bellinger spent as a miserable utilityman for the Yankees, he hit 12 home runs in 311 at-bats. Bloomquist has also hit 12 home runs, but in 1763 at-bats. With no power, pitchers can challenge Bloomquist so he doesn’t walk much. To invoke Gertrude Stein, there’s just no there there.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with having a versatile player on your bench to use in an emergency, but the problem is that injuries come up and someone always thinks it’s a good idea to make that bench guy a regular. That’s where the problems begin, because a player like Bloomquist (or Bellinger, or Miguel Cairo in most years) can really damage your offense through sub-replacement-level hitting. Basically, there are a lot of good things that are very unlikely happen, like a double, triple, or home run. That’s a high price to pay for versatility, too high a price.
Will the universe again challenge one of these absolute statements? Will Brian Cashman be too wise to make such a self-defeating deal? These and many other questions to be answered in the next few weeks. You know, it just occurred to me: with my luck, they won’t get Bloomquist, they’ll get Omar.