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  • The Trouble With Counting on Kubel

    Although he was signed to a non-guaranteed minor-league deal, the Twins appear to have big plans for Jason Kubel.

    "We brought him over here for a reason," said Ron Gardenhire recently.

    That reason is to add a powerful veteran bat to a lineup that ranked 11th in the AL in OPS and 12th in runs scored last year. Kubel has a lengthy track record of slugging success, with six straight seasons of above-average production leading up to 2013, and he has familiarity within the organization.

    But relying on Kubel to provide a much-needed offensive upgrade is very risky business.

    We all know that last season was a struggle for the 31-year-old. He was designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks in August with a .610 OPS, and he then landed in Cleveland, where he limped down the stretch with three hits and 10 strikeouts in 23 plate appearances.

    Kubel spent much of the campaign dealing with a quad injury, to which he largely attributes his poor results. At full health, the hope is that he'll be able to rebound and regain the explosiveness in his bat that has long made him an asset.

    No one's hoping that happens more than me, because I was an enormous Kubel backer during this time here and -- as a Twins fan -- I obviously want to see the club score more runs.

    However, for multiple reasons, Kubel seems like a somewhat shaky bet to provide strong production as a regular at this stage in his career.

    KKKKKKKKKubel

    Strikeouts were a glaring issue for the Twins in 2013, when they ranked second in the majors in whiffs with a whopping 1,430. They broke their franchise record for strikeouts with more than a month left to play.

    Unfortunately, strikeouts happen to be the No. 1 warning flag for Kubel, whose ability to make contact has steadily deteriorated in recent years. Here's a glance at his strikeout rates since his best season in 2009:

    Year | K-rate
    2009 | 18.3%
    2010 | 19.9%
    2011 | 21.4%
    2012 | 26.4%
    2013 | 31.7%

    Yikes. Last year's mark really jumps out. Among 316 MLB players to make 250 or more plate appearances, only seven fanned more frequently. Even though Kubel managed a robust .311 batting average on balls in play, he still hit just .216 overall. That's the nature of things when you head back to the dugout without putting the ball in play nearly a third of the time.

    So the Twins need to hope that Kubel can cut back on the K's and start at least putting the ball in play. With better health, he may be able to do so, but his career trend suggests that last year's contact issues might go beyond injury side-effects.

    Left Behind

    Kubel has always been a liability against left-handers. Local fans will recall this from his days in Minnesota, and it hasn't gotten any better. Last year, the D-Backs and Indians did their best to shield him, limiting him to 40 plate appearances (out of 291) against southpaws.

    When he did have to stand in against a same-sided pitcher, the results were brutal, as Kubel went 6-for-37 with one extra-base hit (a double), three walks and 16 strikeouts.

    Ron Gardenhire has never been known for employing strict platoons, but it should be plenty clear that Kubel can't be facing lefties. Since he isn't a very good runner or defender, this leaves him with a pretty limited value offering. He needs to mash right-handed pitching in order to merit any kind of regular playing time.

    On the bright side, that has been Kubel's greatest skill throughout his career. He's a lifetime .275/.340/.483 hitter with 118 homers against RHP, and when at his best he has ranked among the game's very elite righty mashers.

    But of course that wasn't the case last season, as he hit just .225/.304/.358 and struck out in 30 percent of his appearances.

    This is the key area where Kubel can and absolutely must improve by leaps and bounds. If not, it's going to be tough to justify a spot on the 25-man roster, much less a spot in the starting lineup.
    This article was originally published in blog: The Trouble With Counting on Kubel started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 44 Comments
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      Good article. I'm not actually counting on Kubel at all, much less the way some here seem to be counting on him. Frankly, I'm not sure he stays on the club for very long at all.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      I don't expect much from Kubel. He is essentially replacing Doumit who put a .710 OPS last season (which is close to the numbers that hurt Kubel put) and Parmelee whose healthy numbers in 2013 (.228/.309/.354, 24.3% K%) were almost identical to Kubel's. I suspect that at some point in the season Willingham will be the full time DH and (hopefully) by mid-season Plouffe takes over. I just don't want to see (m)any of those guys on the field any more.
    1. sandbun's Avatar
      sandbun -
      It kinda worries me that the Twins/Gardy are talking him up. I thought he was fine to bring in for a look, but certainly had no expectations that he would actually make the team. If he did it was a bonus, otherwise it was a chance to show we appreciated him before he goes off into the sunset.

      "Last year, the D-Backs and Indians did their best to shield him, limiting him to 40 plate appearances (out of 291) against southpaws."

      Wow, they platooned him, and he still put up that poor of a line? Ouch.

      Also, as always occurs to me when discussing how Gardy refuses to platoon players, how many teams have managers where the team can sign a guy who might be helpful if used right, but the fans have to worry about the manager screwing it up, therefore making it better if the team doesn't sign that guy even though he could improve the team?
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      When Plouffe moves off 3rd in favor of Sano a platoon with Kubel would be killer. I hope his struggles last season are behind him. It will be an interesting story to watch, because Kubel is somewhat of a crier.
    1. Dman's Avatar
      Dman -
      I've never been a huge Kubel fan. Personally I think they should be playing the younger guys. This sounds like a typical TR bounce back year to build value scenario. The problem is we have enough of those guys as it is right now.

      I hope Kubel is on a short leash but knowing Gardy and the Twins he probably gets most of the season to prove himself. Maybe things will work out and they can trade him for something around the deadline but he is not a long term answer for this team.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      I love that they signed Kubel, and got him on a minor league deal. I think he's a given to make the roster, but it's not guaranteed. He's only 31, and in 2012, he launched 30 homers. Last year he was hurt. Don't get me wrong. He's not a given, and they have lots of other options if he doesn't pan out, but this is the kind of signing the Twins should (and all teams should) be excited about.
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      Kubel should not be given any more than 270 ABs in all likelihood. He's back in the AL, but unfortunately in an unfavorable environment for lefties (Target). I feel like he needs all the stars to align for a bounce-back, but my expectations are still about a .780 OPS if he wants to stay with the big club.
    1. jharaldson's Avatar
      jharaldson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      I don't expect much from Kubel. He is essentially replacing Doumit who put a .710 OPS last season (which is close to the numbers that hurt Kubel put)
      Kubel had a .610 OPS, that 100 points lower and not what I would call close. Even in Kubel's limited time last year he was worth almost 2 less wins then Doumit so I view this as a clear step down.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.asp...yers=2113,2161
    1. SpiritofVodkaDave's Avatar
      SpiritofVodkaDave -
      I think Kubel was a great signing and I think he will be a helluva DH (platoon).

      I think he and Hughes are going to be the two guys that have very huge bounce back years. Now I don't see 30 HR in target field, but I think he gets 20 HR, .765 OPS (.790 OPS if they protect him against LHP)
    1. jharaldson's Avatar
      jharaldson -
      What was Kubel's injury last year. I googled "Kubel 2013 Injury" and all I found was a strained quad. Was there something serious that I did not find? I have a hard time thinking a muscle pull in April could really be an excuse for the season he had.

      http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/player/...?q=jason-kubel
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      meh, those SO trends lead me to think he's not very good anymore. If he's their primary DH, they'll continue their trend of being one of the worst hitting DH teams in the league.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Kubel on a minor league deal was a pretty good bargain, probably one of the best of the offseason.

      Still, I don't know that anyone is really counting on him other than Gardy, who likely is happy with the familiarity and the veteran status. It's TBD if Ryan is counting on him. After all, Ryan has a $2 million incentive to not bring him north with the club right out of the gate.

      If all things are equal and that last roster spot comes down to Kubel or Parmelee, Parmelee probably has the edge. You don't lose Kubel if you send him to Rochester, and you save having to pay a hefty bonus.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      Kubel on a minor league deal was a pretty good bargain, probably one of the best of the offseason.

      Still, I don't know that anyone is really counting on him other than Gardy, who likely is happy with the familiarity and the veteran status. It's TBD if Ryan is counting on him. After all, Ryan has a $2 million incentive to not bring him north with the club right out of the gate.

      If all things are equal and that last roster spot comes down to Kubel or Parmelee, Parmelee probably has the edge. You don't lose Kubel if you send him to Rochester, and you save having to pay a hefty bonus.
      Unfortunately, Gardy's new 2 year contract and Terry's public apology for not gettting him better players means that Gardy's opinion will likely hold sway here. And really, what are the alternatives that Gardy can put out there instead? I hope for the 2012 Kubel to make a return, but I fear that the 2013 version of Kubel is closer to the real one....and that Gardy sticks with that version for too long before cutting bait (all the evidence we need is the fact that Doumit kept getting meaningless ABs when the club clearly would have been better served giving those ABs to players like Parmelee, who are/were still potentially part of the future). I think they try to sneak Parmelee through waivers.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      This year should be about finding out what the youth can do, since they punted fixing the offense at all.....and aren't likely to compete. I don't get how using Kubel helps that at all. It's hard to execute your strategy, if you don't execute your strategy.
    1. TheDean's Avatar
      TheDean -
      Agreed. Besides that the roster is a bit overloaded with slow corner OF that don't hit LHP particularly well. As a lineup, things are looking bad against LHP. Hammer, Dozier, Mauer, and Plouffe are the only ones that can actually hit lefties. Arcia, Kubel, Parm, Presley, Florimon, Herrmann all would be roster boat anchors on those days. Everyone talks about platooning, but where is the other half of these platoons going to come from if Willingham, Dozier, and Plouffe are all playing regularly anyway?
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      I have no clue as to whether he'll bounce back, but there are three things I want to see a whole lot less of by 2015: crappy lumbering outfielders, sloppy station-to-station baserunning, and most importantly, those godawful strikeouts for the wrong team.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      On strikeouts - the league has been trending upwards too. Most batters will be on an upward trend.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Unfortunately, Gardy's new 2 year contract and Terry's public apology for not gettting him better players means that Gardy's opinion will likely hold sway here. And really, what are the alternatives that Gardy can put out there instead? I hope for the 2012 Kubel to make a return, but I fear that the 2013 version of Kubel is closer to the real one....and that Gardy sticks with that version for too long before cutting bait (all the evidence we need is the fact that Doumit kept getting meaningless ABs when the club clearly would have been better served giving those ABs to players like Parmelee, who are/were still potentially part of the future). I think they try to sneak Parmelee through waivers.
      It's difficult to conceive that Gardenhire wouldn't make demands [to the effect] of having better players to manage if he is to be held responsible for the Twins' W/L record as a condition of signing a new contract. With respect to the "public apology" it seems that the addition of sooo many veteran players was to provide those "better players". "Meaningless ABs" is a vague term. No, Doumit wasn't signed to be a building block--he was signed to "win now" (at least as much as practicable--like 70+ games). Gardenhire is not, and never was to be the sort of manager to "build a team"--his job was always to "win now". So, if Doumit was played--it was to "win now". It is/was someone else's responsibility to develop the players. The extended minor league service time of most Twins-developed players indicates just that. The Twins do not use the philosophy of pushing prospects to the majors, get them 3 years or so experience, and then sign them long-term--or trade them before they get expensive.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      Once Sano is here it is pretty clear what should be done. Plouffe is a good hitter against lefties and Kubel is a good hitter against righties. Used that way the position will have a combined lifetime OPS near .830. A platoon makes a lot of sense either at DH or left field and when Willingham DH's. The odd guy out is a good late innings pinch hitting power threat.
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      As I said in another thread. Once Sano is here (June??) We have 5 guys for 3 spots (LF, RF,DH)--Arcia, Willingham, Parmalee, Kubel, Plouffe. Hopefully, Parmalee gets a chance to see if that Sept. a couple of years ago was a fluke. Arcia has to play everyday. If we platoon Plouffe and Kubel where does that leave Willingham?? I wonder if Kubel is just insurance against Parmalee or in Rochester until we trade Willingham for what little he is worth.
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