Monday, July 09, 2007

Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

After a wild weekend in Chicago, the Twins ended up right where they started -- two games above .500 and scratching their heads over a supremely inconsistent offense. The Twins racked up 32 runs in their two games on Friday thanks in large part to the 13 extra-base hits (including eight homers) they amassed, but in their next two games on Saturday and Sunday they managed just four runs on two extra-base hits (with the only home run coming off the bat of Justin Morneau in yesterday's game).

It's crystal clear that the Twins need to add another reasonably decent bat to the mix, because depending on Morneau, Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer to carry the load each game will continue to result in the type of ridiculously up-and-down results we've seen over the past couple weeks. There is little doubt that Terry Ryan will be working the phones hard over the next couple weeks in order to bring in a bat that can reduce the need to depend on Nick Punto and Jason Tyner as regular players.

Of course, bringing in one player won't turn around the team's fortunes single-handedly. Several players need to step it up at the plate in the second half. Contrary to popular belief, Michael Cuddyer's first half has been a bit of a disappointment in some respects. While he's getting on base at a good clip and is on pace for around 100 RBI, Cuddyer is the team's clean-up hitter and he's slugging just .433. After hitting 41 doubles and 24 home runs last year, Cuddyer is on pace for just 28 doubles and 18 homers this year. Cuddyer also hasn't been the lefty masher he was last year, with a .274/.349/.432 line against southpaws through the break this year after batting .297/.376/.518 against them last year. It's tough to be disappointed with Cuddy's overall game, as he's hitting for a decent average and his arm has been an asset in right field, but in the second half he really needs to get back to doing the things that made him so valuable offensively last season.

Another guy that really needs to pick things up in the second half is Jason Kubel. He seemed to have a breakout day on Friday when he went 4-for-7 with seven RBI and a pair of walks during the doubleheader, but he struggled yesterday, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. While things have gotten better lately, Kubel enters the All-Star break with a .250/.302/.404 line with strikeouts in about 20 percent of his at-bats, and that's obviously got to improve. The good news is that Kubel slugged .469 in June and he's slugging .520 so far in July. Even though the batting average and plate discipline haven't come around, it's great to see Kubel flashing a relatively consistent power stroke, especially in this lineup. A big second half for Kubel could provide an immense boost for this offense as the stretch run approaches.

If the Twins can bring in a bat to provide some production at third base or DH while guys like Cuddyer and Kubel kick their game up a notch (which they're both certainly capable of), I like the Twins' chances of being competitive for a playoff spot right up until the end of the season, especially if Johan Santana goes on another one of his patented second-half tears and Matt Garza continues to pitch the way he did on Friday night.

7 comments:

Sean Schulte said...

Another thing to watch for is Bartlett. Both Kubel and Bartlett are among the league leaders in line drive percentage, with over 25% of their balls in play being line drives.

At the same time, they both have very low batting averages on balls in play, which should not be the case for someone hitting line drives.

This suggests that they will both regress towards the mean, which means that those line drives will start falling for hits and their batting averages will jump accordingly.

Kubel doesn't have to get better right now; first he just has to stop being so absurdly unlucky. If you're hitting a line drive 25% of the time, you're in line to get a lot of hits.

Nick N. said...

At the same time, they both have very low batting averages on balls in play, which should not be the case for someone hitting line drives.

This suggests that they will both regress towards the mean, which means that those line drives will start falling for hits and their batting averages will jump accordingly.


Yes, but we've been saying that all year and they're both still batting around .250.

Kubel doesn't have to get better right now; first he just has to stop being so absurdly unlucky. If you're hitting a line drive 25% of the time, you're in line to get a lot of hits.

Bad luck is a part of it, but the fact remains that Kubel is striking out way too much right now and showing very poor discipline at the plate. Those things are both fully under the player's control will almost always lead to a low batting average. Kubes had a K/BB ratio that was nearly even throughout his minor league career; right now he's striking out almost three times as often as he's walking. No good.

Nick M. said...

In looking at the numbers, Kubel really didn't have outstanding patience in the minors, so I'm not surprised that his isolated discipline is sitting at 0.52. If you just look at his longest minor league seasons (2002 and 2003), Kubel's isolated discliplines were 0.59 and 0.63. Given that minor league pitchers probably don't have as great of control and Kubel was able to light them up better, the difference is negligable. Really, the surprise has to be his high strikeouts. Even without great patience, those who limits their strikeouts tend to be more effective.

Nick N. said...

I never expected Kubel to draw a lot walks in the big leagues, I just expected him to limit his strikeouts and maintain a nearly even K/BB ratio. So far as a major leaguer he has struck out 100 times in 520 AB while drawing just 36 walks.

ubelmann said...

Yes, but we've been saying that all year and they're both still batting around .250.

The bad luck that they had in the past isn't going away. Once you've had a run of bad luck for a month or so, it's very unlikely that your season numbers will look like they ought to.

PrOPS was invented by J.C. Bradbury because he felt that Chipper Jones was hitting the ball hard in 2004, but that he'd had bad luck for the entire season. The next season rolled around, and he picked up right where he left off. You can be unlucky for as much as an entire season. It happens. And we're not even talking about a half of a season here. Gardy's "protected" Kubel so much that he doesn't even qualify for the league rate statistics titles.

Over the last 28 days, Kubel's batting .273, which is closer to his PrOPS average of .288 than it is his season average of .250. Overall, in the last 28 days, Kubel has hit .273/.333/.470, which looks a lot like his PrOPS line of .288/.336/.447, which is also very similar to what PECOTA thought he could hit this season (.285/.342/.460). Going forward, Jason Kubel is not the problem. Jason Kubel is one of the answers, but he is not the problem.

right now he's striking out almost three times as often as he's walking. No good.

It's just not that simple. Some of the better hitters with a higher strikeout rate than Kubel and a lower walk rate:

Hunter Pence
Ryan Garko
Alfonso Soriano
Howie Kendrick
Carl Crawford
Xavier Nady
Sammy Sosa
Jeff Francoeur

If you raise the threshold for walk rate from 6.8% to 8.0%, you also add Mike Cameron and Curtis Granderson, amongst others.

Those are productive major league hitters. There's nothing that says you can't be a valuable hitter AND strike out a lot. Kubel has to hit for a decent average to be a good hitter, but he has a track record that says he can hit for a decent average, and he's been hitting a lot of line drives this year.

Basically, Kubel is 9 singles and 1 double off of what PECOTA thought he could do before the season, and what PrOPS thinks he deserves based on his balls-in-play this season. Is it really that hard to fathom that he could have been unlucky to the tune of less than one hit per week? And are those 10 missing hits really enough for you to think he can't hit .285/.335/.445 over the second half of the season?

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