Monday, October 13, 2008

Jason Kubel: The Next David Ortiz?

When around fans of certain teams, simply saying a particular name aloud can cause a visible cringe or an audible groan. For Red Sox fans, "Bill Buckner" or "Bucky Dent" can get the job done. For Cubs fans, "Steve Bartman." For Giants fans, "A.J. Pierzynski." And the name that will always hit home for Twins fans is David Ortiz.

We all know the story. Ortiz was an under-performing slugger who the Twins elected to release after the 2002 season. Ortiz signed with the Red Sox and exploded. He developed into a perennial MVP candidate and perhaps the best designated hitter in the game. In six years since leaving the Twins, Ortiz has hit .297 while averaging 38 home runs and 121 RBI while helping the Sox to two World Championships and gaining a reputation as baseball's best clutch hitter. Meanwhile, the Twins have run out an assortment of failed designated hitter options -- from Matt LeCroy to Jose Offerman to Rondell White -- while never having any player come particularly close to Ortiz's average home run output.

Finally, for the first time since Ortiz's departure, the Twins look to have a legitimate DH option in Jason Kubel. It has taken the former star prospect some time to find his stroke after losing a year to a knee injury, but this season he finally started to show what he's capable of this year by hitting 20 homers, driving in 78 runs and slugging .471. Yet, for whatever reason, some fans feel that the team can't get rid of Kubel soon enough.

I have perused several message boards and blogs where fans have suggested that the Twins trade Kubel this offseason or hold off on offering him a long-term contract. Have these people learned nothing from the Ortiz fiasco? If comparing the two seems like a stretch, look more closely.

Both Kubel and Ortiz showed signs of being very good hitters while with the Twins, but both struggled with injuries and inconsistency, which caused the front office (and some fans) to sour on them. Take a look at the numbers Ortiz put up in 2002, his last season with the Twins, as a 25-year-old:

412 AB, .272/.339/.500, 20 HR, 75 RBI

Now compare those numbers to the ones Kubel posted this year as a 26-year-old:

463 AB, .272/.335/.471, 20 HR, 78 RBI

After being released by the Twins, Ortiz signed on with the Red Sox and hit .288/.369/.592 with 31 homers and 101 RBI. The following year he hit .301/.380/.603 with 41 homers and 139 RBI. And so forth.

I'm not saying that anyone should expect Kubel to turn into that type of hitter. But I cannot for the life of me understand why such a large faction of the fanbase has it in for him. This is a guy who hit 20 home runs on a team that ranked last in the league in long balls. He's a guy who hit two homers and a triple in the first game of that magnficent and hugely important series against the White Sox at the Metrodome late in the season. And he's a guy that still can improve. Kubel hit .320 in the minor leagues, there is plenty of reason to believe he can raise that average and his OBP and SLG along with it.

As Ortiz taught us, it's important to be patient with young hitters, which is why some people should rethink their eagerness in suggesting that the Twins trade Kubel or Delmon Young this offseason. I am very satisfied with the year that Kubel had and I don't feel that he's necessarily done growing as a hitter, which is why I strongly advocate that the Twins explore signing him to a three-year deal this offseason, thus locking up his remaining years of arbitration as well as his first year of free agency.

This organization doesn't produce hitters of Kubel's caliber often. It's important that the Twins do everything they can to make sure they don't let another one slip away.

10 comments:

Matthew said...

I'll try to back the trading idea a bit here, but let me first say that I'm a huge supporter of Kubel and also want him on this team long term. That being said, Gardenhire is the reason I wouldn't mind the trade idea explored.

For whatever reason, Gardy does not seem to view Kubel in the way that many of us do. Even though he is our third best hitter, I have a bad feeling he will be largely the odd man out of 5 man, 4 spot OF/DH situation we have.

The game late this year when he pinch hit Tolbert for Kubel I decided we need to explore the idea of trading Kubel because our manager does not recognize his talent.

Brett Werner said...

As someone who can see Matthew's logic above (and is frustrated by the way Kubel is used), and as someone who likes Kubel's power, I don't think we should trade Kubel unless we were getting some other DH option unless we were getting someone who hits like him or better (Dunn, Prince, etc.). And that doesn't seem likely.

My first question after reading your post was, what were their RHP/LHP splits? Having looked at those, I realized Papi's were worse, but I will say if we could trade for a RHB with the opposite splits, our lineup would be better off (given M&M are LHBs).

Ortiz OPS Splits (2001-5)
RHP 823 / 919 /1058 /1082 /1055
LHP 738 / 637 / 674 / 784 / 894

Kubel OPS Splits (2007-8)
RHP 810 / 833
LHP 667 / 704

So, good point. It's worth noting that in 05-07 (894 / 988 /852), Papi finally started hitting LHP, which we would need from Kubel soon (or get a killer RHB like Manny to protect him). Any thoughts on where to find one?

Anonymous said...

i think letting ortiz go had a lot to do with him getting injured all the time. maybe the same case can be made for punto.

Nick N. said...

It's worth noting that in 05-07 (894 / 988 /852), Papi finally started hitting LHP, which we would need from Kubel soon (or get a killer RHB like Manny to protect him).

I think that's pretty important to note. People shouldn't assume that just because Kubel doesn't hit lefties now, he never will. He had pretty good righty/lefty splits in the minors; I think with a little more regular experience against them in the majors he could eventually hold his own against southpaws.

Anonymous said...

It isn't that Kubel can't hit lefties, he can't hit lefthanded offspeed pitches. Kubel is also a very streaky, inconsistent hitter. He can look like Morneau one night and the next night he looks he's swinging a rope at the plate. It's very frustrating.

As for Papi, you are assuming that he would have enjoyed the same success, had he stayed with the Twins, but I would argue a contributing factor in his success has been Fenway Park. There are some significant differences between his stats at Fenway and in other ballparks.

Nick N. said...

It isn't that Kubel can't hit lefties, he can't hit lefthanded offspeed pitches.

Again, this isn't necessarily something that can't change. Wasn't the same true of Morneau early in his career?

As for Papi, you are assuming that he would have enjoyed the same success, had he stayed with the Twins, but I would argue a contributing factor in his success has been Fenway Park. There are some significant differences between his stats at Fenway and in other ballparks.

I'm not sure there's much merit to that argument. In six years since joining the Red Sox, Ortiz has hit 101 home runs at home and 127 home runs on the road. His batting averages have been better at Fenway (as is the case for most hitters at their home park), but I don't think one can really argue that the stadium has artificially benefitted his power output.

There might be some legitimacy to the argument that Ortiz would not have experienced the same success had he stayed in Minnesota due to the way he was coached here (he has stated in interviews that while playing under Tom Kelly he was encouraged to hit singles to left field rather than pulling and hitting for power). Still, my feeling is that if the organization had been patient with him and waited for him to get healthy, he'd have blossomed into a great hitter here.

Breaker said...

I have said to many people that I'm worried the Twins will get rid of Kubel and he will turn into the next Ortiz. Probably not quite in the same echelon of hitters as Ortiz, but certainly a productive hitter, which is a specimen that the Twins typically have too few of.

That said, the argument that Ortiz would have been the missing power hitter the Twins craved for so may years is a bit off. Ortiz would never have put up the numbers he has for Boston had he remained in a Twins uniform. Fenway may have a little to do with it, and coaching probably has a bit more to do with it, but having a Hall of Famer in Manny Ramirez batting behind him is what made all the difference. Ortiz got great pitches to hit, hammered them, and it eventually became 'pick your poison' with the Big Papi and Manny back-to-back in the Red Sox lineup.

Who would have protected Ortiz in Minnesota? Hunter? Koskie? Really?

I just don't see it. I do, however, share everyone's frustration at watching the team's 3rd best hitter get to play 4 or 5 days a week because Gardy doesn't like him.

thrylos98 said...

There are a lot of similarities between Ortiz and Kubel, and there are is one major difference.

Similarities:

a. the only pure LH pull power hitters the Twins had for a while (another interesting number to compare is doubles vs. HRs for both of them)

b. they both played under managers and hitting coaches who do not value pull hitting and his has reduced their performance (David Ortiz' book is a great source of anecdotal information about his years with the Twins, btw)

and the main difference:

Ortiz has plate discipline and Kubel doesn't. Incidentally, Ortiz developed that a year after he left the Twins. If Kubel develops better plate discipline (and he should because he is 4 inches shorter than Ortiz) and is let to pull the ball instead of blooping to the opposite field he can develop into a new Ortiz. But plate discipline is paramount and I an not sure that Vavra is the person to teach that based on the generalized lack of plate discipline (other than Mauer) of the Twins' hitters since he took the job

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