Monday, March 24, 2008

Position Analysis: Designated Hitter

Likely Starter: Jason Kubel
2007 Stats: .273/.335/.450, 13 HR, 65 RBI

Everyone's "Pick to Click" in '08... again.

Potential Backups: Craig Monroe, Jon Knott, Randy Ruiz, Joe Mauer

Designated hitter is one of only four offensive positions where the Twins won't likely be ushering in a brand new face this season, but that doesn't mean there isn't reason for optimism. Last season, many of the team's DH at-bats went to punchless hitters like Jeff Cirillo, Mike Redmond and Jason Tyner. This year, Jason Kubel figures to take over full-time, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this will be a very good thing.

Buried beneath his mediocre 785 OPS of last year, we find that Kubel was the team's best hitter during the second half, when he raked to the tune of .303/.379/.511, and that he hit .302/.385/.500 when serving as designated hitter. Both of these trends suggest that Kubel has a big year in store if Ron Gardenhire sticks with him. Then again, it seems like we're saying this every March.

A .320/.385/.499 hitter in the minors, Kubel debuted in the majors at age 22 and projected to be a long-time stalwart for this offense along with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Yet, a knee injury suffered in the Arizona Fall League in 2004 derailed Kubel's progress, and he has struggled to return to form. He missed the entire 2005 season while rehabbing, and has struggled to find consistency over the past two years. Much of the time, there was a vicious circle taking place where Kubel would have a tough stretch and would then find himself out of Gardy's lineup. In the second half last year, things finally seemed to click, which gives hope that 2008 could be a very big year for him. If Kubel can keep his K/BB ratio close to even, he'll probably hit .300-plus with good power, thanks to his ability to make good hard contact and spray line drives all over the field.

At his best, Kubel can hold his own against lefties, but Gardenhire will likely start Craig Monroe frequently on days where the Twins face a left-hander. That's not a bad thing; Kubel hasn't proven to be particularly durable since returning from the injury, and mashing lefties was essentially the sole reason Monroe -- a career .273/.319/.495 hitter against southpaws -- was brought in during the offseason. Between those two, I suspect the Twins should be able to get at least an .850 OPS with legitimate power, something this organization has historically struggled to extract from the DH slot.

Predicted 2008 Hitting Line for Kubel: .310/.380/.500, 20 HR, 85 RBI

6 comments:

neckrolls said...

I put Kubel on my fantasy team hoping for those very numbers you projected. I hope his performance so far this spring compared to Monroe's doesn't keep him out of the lineup.

Beau said...

I wonder, too, if Kubel could turn out to be Tim Salmon...as far as getting off to slow starts is concerned.

lookatthosetwins said...

Wow, if our lineup really hits like you predict, we really could win 90 games this year.

But for that to happen, it would take EVERYONE to hit like you predict, and as we all know, injuries and big slumps happen to everyone, so it's hard to say if that could really happen. Not to mention how up the air our starting pitching is this year! I think that 90 is possible, but probably just as likely as 70. Just my opinion based on... well... nothing really. Just my opinion.

Nick N. said...

I'm fairly confident the offense will be strong this year... but I still think they'll have a tough time winning anywhere close to 90 games because the pitching will likely be very shaky.

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