Archive for Jason Kubel
With Ichiro Suzuki back in the fold, the Yankees are set in all three outfield spots minus a right-handed complementary piece. They are still lacking a DH though, and given the offensive hit they’re expected to take behind the plate and in right field, finding a legitimate offensive producer for the DH spot is quite important. Raul Ibanez had some amazingly clutch homers in September and October, but his regular season performance (102 wRC+) didn’t wow anyone.
The Diamondbacks have been a popular team this offseason, mostly because they keep floating Justin Upton’s name in trade rumors. GM Kevin Towers has already dealt outfielder Chris Young (for Heath Bell) and top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer (for shortstop prospect Didi Gregorious), plus he’d made a handful of stealthy free agent signings (Brandon McCarthy and Eric Chavez). Upton’s name continues to pop up in trade talks, but both Steve Gilbert and Ken Rosenthal recently reported Towers is more likely to trade Jason Kubel.
Most Yankees fans remember the 30-year-old Kubel for his grand slam off Mariano Rivera a few years back (video), and to a lesser degree his dreadful postseason performances against New York while with the Twins (2-for-29 with 13 strikeouts). He signed a two-year, $15M deal with the D’Backs last winter and rewarded them by hitting .253/.327/.506 (115 wRC+) with a career-high 30 homers. Let’s see if he’s a fit for the Bombers…
- Kubel, a left-handed batter, hits righties pretty hard. He posted a .264/.348/.540 (129 wRC+) line against them this past year and .267/.338/.485 (119 wRC+) over the last three years. As his spray charts show (2012, 2010-2012), he’s primarily a pull hitter against righties and that will play very well in Yankee Stadium.
- Despite the modest OBP, Kubel works the count very well. He saw a career-high 4.25 pitches per plate appearances in 2012, and over the last three seasons it’s 4.13 P/PA. That’s up there in Kevin Youkilis and Nick Swisher territory. Kubel drew a walk in 11.4% of his plate appearances against righties this year and 9.7% over the last three years.
- Outside of a foot sprain that cost him two months in 2011, Kubel has avoided the DL every year since knee surgery cost him the entire 2005 season.
- There’s a $7.5M club option ($1M) buyout in Kubel’s contract for 2014. It’s affordable enough that even if his team doesn’t want him in 2014, they would be able to exercise the option and find a trade partner.
- Kubel is a platoon bat. He hit just .234/.291/.446 (90 wRC+ and 29.6 K%) against southpaws this season and .239/.304/.403 (90 wRC+) over the last three years. That’s not an Ibanez-level split, but it’s still below-average.
- The various defensive metrics all agree that Kubel is a poor defender in both outfield corners. He has plenty of experience in each spot and this isn’t a sample size issue. He’s a terrible defensive player.
- Speed? It’s not happening. Kubel has eleven stolen bases (in 17 attempts) in nearly 900 big league games, and he’s taken the extra base just 30% of the time his career. That’s well-below-average and awful.
Towers is the president of the anti-strikeouts fan club, which is why he’s traded Mark Reynolds and Chris Young while letting Adam LaRoche walk as a free agent since getting the job in Arizona two years ago. Kubel’s strikeout rate has climbed in each of the last five years, topping out a career-worst in 2012, so perhaps that’s why the club is more inclined to move him than Upton. Both guys will whiff 120+ times a year, but Upton offers a ton more upside and a more well-rounded game in general.
The $7.5M price tag for 2013 isn’t cheap, but the Yankees would be able to maximize Kubel’s value by sticking him at DH and letting him take a couple hundred at-bats against righties. The short right field porch with his pull-oriented approach should result in some big power numbers, enough to replace Ibanez and make up for some the offense lost by going from Nick Swisher to Ichiro. He can also fake the outfield in case of emergency and is right in the prime of his career, so age-related decline is not a concern.
There haven’t been many trade involving one year of a left-handed platoon-ish DH in recent years, so we don’t have many comparables. Arizona acquired their shortstop of the future in Gregorious but they still need a long-term third base answer, though they’re unlikely to get that type of player back for Kubel. For Upton? Sure. But not Kubel. The hard-throwing but erratic Tony Sipp is their only lefty reliever, so maybe the eminently tradeable Boone Logan and a solid (but not elite) prospect would work for the D’Backs. I didn’t like the idea of Kubel as a everyday right fielder, but he sure does fit New York’s need as a left-handed DH.
Yesterday I examined Nick Swisher‘s unfortunate results from the left side of the plate and argued that he’s a likely candidate to do better in the coming year. I also mentioned that Carlos Beltran was a fan favorite as a trade target. You don’t need me to explain why he’s a favorite as a trade target, but I’ll do it anyway. Beltran has always played excellent defense, he’s a switch-hitter, and he hits for power. He’s the lifetime owner of a .371 wOBA, a .282/.359/.495 batting line, and 289 home runs. This year he’s doing a touch better with a .284/.371/.512 line, a .382 wOBA. He’s showing a bit more power despite coming off a serious knee injury and hitting half his games at Citi Field. As trade targets go, you really can’t do too much better than Carlos Beltran. He’s a free agent after this season and he’s doing his best to set himself up for another nice payday. It’s not like he exactly needs another payday, having pulled in $119M from the Mets over the past seven years, but hey, I’ve lived in New York. Life ain’t cheap.
Plenty of teams will be in on Beltran this summer. Plenty of teams could use a half-season rental of a switch-hitting, power-hitting good defender. The primary deterrent to acquiring Beltran is likely his steep salary, but the Mets have indicated that they’re willing to absorb some of that salary in exchange for better prospects. Now, this could simply be posturing to get more teams involved and extract more from interested parties, but it’s hard to know for sure. The Mets may have more financial flexibility now that they partnered with David Einhorn. They may not be an East Coast version of the Los Angeles Dodgers anymore – they may be able to eat some of his contract.
This is a long way of saying that this confluence of factors – Beltran’s skillset and the Mets’ flexibility of demands – may mean that another team snatches Beltran from Queens before the Yankees can get their sticky little fingers all over him. But the Yankees could find a decent replacement in Twins outfielder Jason Kubel.
All the stars are lining up for Kubel to get traded this summer: he’s on a losing team, he has a decent in-demand skillset, and he has an expiring contract after this year. Twins’ blog The Bat Shatters makes the case for keeping Kubel, and summarizes the arc of his career nicely:
Kubel destroyed Minor League pitching for 4 years before getting a shot at the bigs in 2004. He didn’t disappoint, hitting .300/.358/.433 as a 22-year-old in 23 games with the Twins. That fall, he endured a serious knee injury which kept him out of baseball for the entire 2005 season, and while he re-emerged with the Twins in 2006, the results were nothing like before. Kubel struggled for a couple of seasons in 2006 and 2007 before putting it all together in 2008. In ’08, he hit .272/.335/.471 with 20HRs and 78RBIs while seeing part-time action in the outfield. In 2009, he had his ‘breakout’ hitting .300/.369/.539 with 28HRs and 103 RBIs. In a contract-year last season, he only managed a .249 batting-average, but did surpass the 20 homerun plateau for the 3rd straight season while driving in 92 runs…
Over the last three years, Kubel has the 11th highest OPS (.883), the 11th highest batting average and the 8th most HRs against right-handers…among all of the outfielders in baseball. You won’t find his name on the WAR leaderboards, but that’s because his defense is so atrocious. If he was strictly in a DH role, his value would increase. Without Thome next year, the Twins will likely have an opening at DH, a role Kubel is familiar with and could probably excel in.
I’m not trying to make it sound like Kubel is a superstar player. He’s not. What I am trying to say is that Kubel, as a left-handed hitter with power, possesses an offensive skill-set that is not all that common in MLB, and is not easily replaceable if they trade him or let him go.
As Krueger notes, Kubel hits right-handed pitchers well, the type against whom Nick Swisher has struggled lately. Kubel is the owner of a career .286/.345/.499 line against right-handed pitchers. By way of comparison, Beltran is a career .293/.364/.529 hitter against right-handed pitchers. Kubel is playing for a paltry $5.25M this year, a far cry from Beltran’s hefty salary, and he’ll be a free agent when the season is done. He isn’t as good against left-handed pitchers (.664 OPS against), but if he’s deployed properly he could do some damage in the Yankee lineup and bop a few fly balls over that short porch in right.
Kubel may cost less than Beltran for an acquiring team (depending on how much money the Mets eat), and this is for good reason. He’s not as good in the field as Beltran, and he’s not capable of hitting left-handed pitchers nearly as well as Beltran can. But he’s not a scrub: he has a solid bat, he’s cheap, and he’s a free agent at the end of the year. He currently profiles as a Type B free agent, so the Yankees could offer him arbitration and pocket the picks if he declines. If he accepts it’s not the end of the world – he only makes $5.25M in 2011, and the Yankees could always trade him elsewhere.
As it stands right now the Yankees have the corner outfield and DH spots manned by capable hitters, and I’m not sold that the team needs to do anything in the trade market to bolster the offense. I’d far rather see them call up that kid in Scranton that everyone won’t shut up about. But if something changes – if Posada, Gardner or Swisher get injured, or if Montero is traded – then Kubel might be a good fit. If the Yankees are looking for another outfielder-DH-bench bat type with thump and don’t want to pay the high price likely commanded by the Mets for Beltran, they could do worse than Kubel.
The Twins finished the regular season with the fourth best record in baseball (94-68) and on a three-plus month hot streak that saw them go 47-25 down the stretch. They did that primarily by crushing their own division and the AL West, because their 15-18 record against the AL East is hardly awe-inspiring. Like every other team they have their flaws, some more noticeable than others. Exploiting those weaknesses is going to be important for any team playing the Twins, and it just so happens that they draw the Yankees in the ALDS.
Here are two of Minnesota’s biggest drawbacks, two things that the Yankees wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of in years past because they lacked a little something called speed.
Running On Carl Pavano
Yankee fans are well aware of their team’s problem with allowing stolen bases. Jorge Posada and Frankie Cervelli hardly ever throw anyone out (just 17.3% combined), and some pitchers on the staff seem allergic to holding runners (coughA.J. Burnettcough). The Twins have a bit of a stolen base problem of their own, and it comes in the form of former Yankee Carl Pavano.
Pavano, who has always been slow to the plate, allowed 31 stolen bases in 39 opportunities this year (79.5%). Essentially one out of every seven baserunners with an opportunity to steal have at least attempted it, and most of them were successful. Joe Mauer, who threw out 42.2% of attempted basestealers from 2004-2008 is down to just 26.2% over the last two seasons. He also battled some shoulder soreness this summer, so he’s more susceptible to the stolen base than ever before. Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Derek Jeter need to take advantage in Game Two and swipe bases whenever possible.
It’s not just about stealing bases to get runners in scoring position either. Pavano is a ground ball pitcher (51.2% grounders this season) and has gotten a double play in 11.5% of his opportunities this year, so swiping some bases will help avoid those twins killings, particularly when Jeter and his league leading 65.7% ground ball rate are at the plate. Run boys run.
Jason Kubel’s Defense
Justin Morneau’s injury hurt the Twins in more ways than one. Sure, replacing his .447 wOBA is basically impossible (though Jim Thome did a helluva job trying), but it also forced an unfavorable defensive shift. Michael Cuddyer stepped in as the everyday first baseman, pushing Jason Kubel into rightfield full-time. There’s a reason that 60% of Kubel’s starts in 2008 and 2009 came as a designated hitter, and that’s because the man is awful with the glove.
Over the last three seasons, his -17.5 UZR in right ranks 35th out of 39 qualified fielders (min. 1,000 innings), and that’s mostly because of an awful range score (-14.5). Kubel simply doesn’t get to all that many balls out there, and that’s a bit exacerbated by spacious Target Field. Beyond just catching the ball, his throwing is a big time liability and something the Yanks can absolutely take advantage of.
In baserunning situations such as first-to-third on a single, first-to-home on a double, second-to-home on a single, and sacrifice flies with the runner at second and/or third, Kubel’s “hold” rate is just 39.3%. The league average is close to 46%. His “kill” rate checks in at just 3.4%, well below the 6% league average. A “hold” is when he limits to the runner to just one base on a single or two on a double (so first-to-second on a single, not first-to-third, etc.), nothing more. A “kill” is when he actually threw a runner out attempting to take the extra base.
Clearly, Kubel’s arm is something guys like Gardner, Granderson, Jeter, Robbie Cano, and even Alex Rodriguez need to exploit. He’s very unlikely to throw them out trying to take the extra base, so they should push the envelope as much as possible, particularly with Francisco Liriano on the mound. They simply won’t get many opportunities to generate extended rallies against him, so they have to create offense in other ways.
It’s also worth noting that Delmon Young is equally awful in left, with a -43.3 UZR over the last three seasons (dead last among qualified fielders). His hold rate on first-to-homes on a doubles, second-to-home to singles, and sacrifice flies to score a run (it’s not often a runner goes first-to-third on a single to left, or advances from second on a sac fly) is just 38.3%, his kill rate 5.3%. Like I said earlier, run boys run.
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I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s not just the Yankees that have weaknesses heading into the playoffs. In addition to the above, the Twins are likely to be without top setup man Jon Rauch because of a knee injury (though he had it drained and claims he’s good to go), and their bullpen had the fourth worst strikeout rate in baseball this year at 6.74 K/9. If you’re going to let the Yanks put balls in play in the late innings, bad things will happen. With any luck they’ll take advantage.