The 2013 season is just 13 games deep and certainly not old enough to get a clear picture as to which teams will sit atop their divisions when all is said and done. That being said, in the New York Yankees case there is one player who has become the front-runner for the team's MVP award.
Some true-blue Yankees fans will wince when they read this, but Kevin Youkilis has established himself as the critical piece to anything this version of the team will accomplish.
The former Red Sox and White Sox player leads the "Bombers" in hits (16) and batting average (.348), sits second in RBI (seven), third in OBP (.412) and runs scored (eight) and fifth in slugging (.565). In the field he has been solid—making two errors in 31 chances between third base and first base.
It would appear that the fire he once carried as a hated rival now burns in pinstripes.
Why Youkilis is the early choice as the Yankees MVP lies in what his numbers represent to the club.
He has come out of the gate hot and has afforded Manager Joe Girardi the luxury of placing batting star Robinson Cano second in the order. "Youk" has become the protection in the lineup that the Yankees seemingly lacked entering the season.
Pitching around Cano isn't going to work if you have a .348 hitter sitting in the on-deck circle. Already this young season there has been seven times when Youkilis followed a Cano walk or hit with a walk or hit of his own. To date, Cano has only been intentionally walked once and is hitting .327 with four HR and 11 RBI. Those numbers are only made possible because Youkilis is hitting so well.
Hitting with runners in scoring position was a thorn in the Yankees side in 2012. The team struggled with men on base, hitting just .256 and ranking 17th in MLB.
Youkilis is hitting .400 with RISP with both of his home runs coming in that situation. With no one on base his batting average is a respectable .292, but once a runner gets on in front of him—whether it is in scoring position or not—his average jumps to .409. To say that he has been a clutch hitter would be an understatement.
If you need someone to get a rally started, Youkilis has been the man there as well. He is hitting .400 when leading off an inning.
Cano may be the one who garners the media's attention and whose swing is used as the standard for hitters, but Kevin Youkilis is the engine behind this lineup's success.
In addition to what he has provided in the lineup, Youkilis gives Girardi depth in the field. Not only does he man a solid third base, but he allows the Yankees Manager to rest first baseman Lyle Overbay. In his career, the Yankees third baseman has played 608 games at first with a .997 fielding percentage. On days when Girardi wants to sit Overbay, there is no drop-off in talent.
Only playing out the season will determine who the 2013 New York Yankees MVP is.
Given the way the campaign has started, one player has shown a leg up on everyone else: Kevin Youkilis.