Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Kubel and the Platoon

For pretty much the entirety of the Twins season to this point, Ron Gardenhire has had to play a daily game of mix-and-match with Jim Thome, Delmon Young and Jason Kubel. With Cuddyer as the regular right-fielder and Denard Span out in center, that leaves just the one outfield position and the DH spot to divide between 3 guys. Gardenhire has done a pretty good job of captaining this log-jam, but one player who has undoubtedly suffered as a result is Jason Kubel.

Most Twins fans know the Jason Kubel story. He was drafted out of high school in the 12th round of the 2000 amateur draft and proceeded to rake during six seasons of minor league ball compiling a .320/.385/.499 line in 1,654 MiL at-bats. During his 1st year with the Twins he was injured but has increased both his production and playing time for the past 3 seasons. Last year was a bit of a breakout year for Kubel as he established himself in the middle of the lineup with a .300/.369/.539 line to go along with 28 HRs and 103 RBIs. Though last year was incongruous with the previous two seasons, I believe that Kubel's minor league track record suggests that his potential was shown more by last year's performance than it was by either of the previous two seasons. Which brings me back to the platoon he finds himself in this year.

To say that Kubel has started this season slowly would be putting it lightly. He's currently hit in 8 straight games and that has raised his batting average to a meager .229. More curious than that is the fact that only 6 of his 25 hits have gone for extra bases and of those, he has only 3HRs so far this season. Since he hit that glorious grand-slam against the Yankees on Sunday he has been in the lineup everyday, but prior to that he was sitting every other day in favor of Thome or Young. I don't think that it would be too far of a stretch to suggest that this inconsistent playing time has hindered Kubel at the plate and contributed to his slow start.

I don't envy Gardenhire's position here. On the one hand you have a guy in Delmon Young who the organization gave up a lot to get and who is still young but has struggled to this point both in the field and at the plate. On another hand you have another guy in Jason Kubel who has proven he can perform at an elite level offensively, but is realistically more of a DH than an outfielder due to a lack of speed and a less-than-stellar arm. On the third hand you have no-doubt-about-it Hall of Famer Jim Thome who the club specifically brought in to bring left-handed power to the lineup, but who can only DH. The platoon splits make things look obvious. Young has a better career OPS against lefties (.808) than Kubel (.675). Kubel has a better OPS against righties (.846) than Young (.717). Thome is best against righties, sporting a ridiculous career 1.043 OPS.Yet, Kubel's struggles at the plate so far this season are real.

What's the solution?? I don't know that there is one short-term, but I feel that if the Twins don't pick either Delmon or Kubel to be an everyday player, they end up hurting both guys from a production standpoint. A trade is pretty much out of the question because Young is still too, well, young to give up on and the return on their original investment would be very low. Thome will likely only play one season for the Twins and this will all be a moot point next year. If you ask me, I'd rather have Kubel's more-than-capable bat in the lineup everyday even if you do give up a little bit defensively. What do other people think?

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