So Kevin Youkilis homered again last night. It's getting to the point where you'd have to say Youkilis has made a real jump in his performance. Considering that prior to 2008, he was still a very valuable offensive player, this represents a jump into baseball's elite. A 144 OPS+ and top-flight defense at first base is quite impressive.
Compare this to Hank Greenberg, and it still falls short, of course. Greenberg put up full-season OPS+ of 156, 169, 172, 169, 156, 163, and in his final year, 132 at first base. Now, his defensive reputation seems to indicate he wasn't in Youkilis' class as a fielder, which narrows the gap somewhat.
But to fall a bit short of Greenberg, whose production makes him an inner-circle Hall of Famer, even as the war kept his career totals from the lofty ones put up by, for instance, Lou Gehrig (who was so reluctant to fight in the war that he contracted his own disease back in 1939) is impressive.
The problem Youkilis has with Hall of Fame possibilities are two-fold- one, he doesn't seem like he'll put up the kind of 40-home run seasons that draw the attention of Hall voters for first basemen. Two, his late-career start-he didn't debut until age 25, and didn't start until age 27-makes it very difficult to pile up the kind of career stats looked for in lieu of a sustained period of absolute dominance.
If Youkilis has made the leap from 110 OPS+ player to 140 OPS+ player, he'll need to sustain that performance until roughly age-36 to merit Hall consideration. That would put him in the neighborhood of 2100 hits- figure a normal decline from there gets him to about 2500. Averaging 25-30 home runs from age 30-36, assuming 30 this year, gets him to between 220-250 home runs. But he'd end up with an OPS+ in the 125-130 range. Tony Perez is at 122. Eddie Murray was at 129. Add a run of gold gloves into the mix, and Youkilis is certainly in the discussion.
Clearly, this is a long shot. But for a player who looked to be a poor man's Dave Magadan, it's astounding how far he's come.