Thursday, October 21, 2010

Losing the Fever?

"I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more Kubel."
-Christopher Walken on my sidebar.

I went to a game this summer with an out-of-town friend who'd come to check out Target Field.

He was amazed by the stadium, but sometime during the second inning he paused with alarm while sipping his beer.

"Are the fans booing one of their own players?" he asked.

I was confused. Then I noticed Jason Kubel was batting. "Oh, no," I chuckled, "they're saying KUUUUUUBES."

"I see," he sighed with a sense of relief. "I didn't think Minnesota fans would do that."

If only he could see us now. Kubel went 0-for-8 in the ALDS this year, giving him a 2-for-29 career mark in the playoffs, and now I can barely find a Twins fan who doesn't want him shipped out during the offseason. Granted, Kubel had a fairly substandard season this year, but he did rank second on the team in home runs, and second in RBI. It's not like he wasn't producing. What is wrong with these people?

Due to his anemic postseason numbers, there seems to be some question about Kubel's fortitude. This blows my mind. Kubel, as a major-league player, has an OPS sixty points higher with runners in scoring position than with bases empty. A career .394 hitter with the bases loaded, Kubel has hit seven grand slams. He's delivered some of the most memorable clutch hits of the past two seasons. He single-handedly broke the Yankees' spell over the Twins with a game-winning grand slam against Mariano Rivera in Yankee Stadium. It's silly to think that this man folds under pressure.

So, to what can we attribute Kubel's dismal postseason results? My guess would be circumstances and a lack of luck.

Kubel's first playoff experience came in 2004, when he was a 22-year-old rookie with one whole month of big-league experience under his belt. He went 1-for-7 with a double and an unforgettable late-inning strikeout against Mariano Rivera. Painful, but it's hard to hold that performance against him.

Kubel's next postseason experience didn't come until 2009, when he participated in the first of two consecutive ALDS sweeps against the Yankees. In six games between the two series, Kubel went 1-for-22 with 11 strikeouts. Ugly numbers, no doubt. But four of those six games were started by CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, both outstanding left-handers.

He is miserable against lefties. It's no secret, but it doesn't make him a bad player. He was also arguably the most dangerous hitter in the league against right-handers in 2009, and slugged 19 homers against them this past season even in a down year. Given that around 70 percent of the league's pitchers tend to throw with their right arm, a player like that has plenty of value.

The Twins have a $5.25 million option to retain Kubel's services for next season. Sure, they could buy it out for $350,000 and let him loose. But who's going to make up his 20 home runs in 2011? He's hit at least that many three years in a row and it's not often that the Twins come across players with such consistent power production. What happens if he goes somewhere else (say, to the White Sox, who sorely need a power-hitting DH) and has another season like his spectacular 2009? The Twins would look every bit as foolish as the Sox did this year for letting Jim Thome slip away to a division rival.

I'll concede that Kubel's upcoming salary is somewhat substantial for a player who can't competently field or hit right-handed pitching. If he doesn't improve on his performance from this year, it'd be a poor use of funds. But the Twins are already pumping far more money into Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, against all of whom Kubel looks like an incredibly safe bet. We know what the slugging lefty is capable of and earlier this season hometown fans were offended by the thought that he'd be booed at a home game.

Just because he failed to come through in eight postseason at-bats -- most of them unfavorable match-ups -- those same hometown fans are ready to run him out of town? It's a complete overreaction that hopefully will not gain any consideration from the front office.


The Mix said...

Great post. Completely agree. I understand the draw to boo for most fans. Most fans strictly run off of emotion concerning players...setting aside logic. That said, if Kubel has a great first couple weeks of 2011....his 2010 season (including the playoffs) will be all but forgotten by the fans.

Corey said...

yay i can't wait. Kubel will have a decent-nothing-special 2011 and we'll get to watch him disappear in the playoffs. That's how you play content for a division title and first round sweep. What good are players if they can't perform in the playoffs? Aren't those what count?

Steve Arrowood said...

It's tough to be a Twins fan since the early 90's. The past decade they have gotten to the playoffs often, then always flop.

I am interested if they will continue to raise their spending in upcoming years thanks to the financial influx from their new stadium. They do need to shake up their team build 'mold' so that they are not consistently slapped around in the post season like a wet little napkin.

Still waiting for 1 & 2 lights out starters and a couple power slammers. Can we bring back Morris and Hrbek?

Ed Bast said...

I'm torn on Kubel. I think his value actually goes down if he has to play the field. But if Thome comes back, and Morneau comes back, what to do? Thome's better than Kubel, but he can't handle a full season any more. He wore down at the end of this year. Then you've got Cuddy. Hmm.

I'd really like to see Young in RF, platoon Cuddy and Kubes in left and Kubes, Cuddy, Thome at DH.

If Thome doesn't come back, then Kubes is a full time DH.

None of the above scenarios make us better equipped to win in the playoffs, however.

For the record, it would be nice if we had some position prospects in the minors. When Ben "Denard Span Lite" Revere is your only hope, it might be time to re-evaluate your drafting philosophy.

Anonymous said...

"He is miserable against lefties."

So it is gardy's fault for having him start against lefties? i thought you were the biggest gardy backer this year.

i would have rather seen repko in there against lefties.

Anonymous said...

"So, to what can we attribute Kubel's dismal postseason results? My guess would be circumstances and a lack of luck.
Kubel went 1-for-22 with 11 strikeouts."

I don't think luck has anything to do with it when you strike out half of the time.

Anonymous said...

"Kubel went 1-for-22 with 11 strikeouts. Ugly numbers, no doubt."

Wow. That is an exercise in understatement.

Kubel is a competent hitter, but what the Twins need is change. Let's face it: this current group of hitters just does not get it done in October. It isn't happening.

We need some new faces, and some of the old, 1 for 22 faces, need to go (other than Mauer, Morneau, Young, and Valencia).

Ed Bast said...


I agree that we need new faces. Unfortunately, the Twins have handcuffed themselves with some bad contracts and poor drafting - there isn't much we can do. Cuddy, Span, Blacky - these guys aren't going anywhere. With Mauer, Capps, Nathan, Cuddy's contracts, they will have very little flexibility in the FA market. Their farm system is bereft of hope until, what, 2015?

Gardy will get extended, probably to a Supreme Court judge-esque lifetime contract.

Unfortunately, we're stuck with Mother Gardy and his flock of lambs for the foreseeable future.

Anonymous said...

Kubel is not the Twins' problem. I'll not say he is a gifted fielder... far from it. But I will say he is a better outfielder than Cuddyer and Young. Span has better speed but that is his only advantage defensively over Kubel.

Give him a four year contract and trade him before the fourth year. In the meantime, limit his atbats vs lefties and hit all the outfielders a lot of fungoes.

Anonymous said...

Really? Kubel is a career .394 hitter? Because that would both (a) be impressive and (b) make his hitting-below-the-legal-limit-in-the-postseason situation all the more frustrating.

millie said...

to Ed Bast:
Cuddy will never play LF. He is deaf in his left ear.

Anonymous said...

and blind in his right eye

Anonymous said...

Kubes a good player and a no brainer at 5.5 mil. But he has to be platooned, thats alwasy been true.

Anonymous said...

"It's silly to think that this man folds under pressure."

I think his postseason average speaks for itself.

Nick N. said...

What good are players if they can't perform in the playoffs?

Look, I know that the Twins have made the playoffs with such frequency over the past decade that fans have come to take it for granted, but you actually have to GET to the postseason before performances there can be considered. Kubel's been a big part of the reason that the Twins have won the division in each of the past two years.

Really? Kubel is a career .394 hitter?

Oops, meant to say with bases loaded. Fixed.

So it is gardy's fault for having him start against lefties? i thought you were the biggest gardy backer this year.

Repko's career OPS against lefties is only 20 points higher than Kubel's. Once Gardy is provided with a legitimate option to use over Kubel against southpaws, we can start complaining about that.

I think his postseason average speaks for itself.

No, it is a 22-at-bat sample that reminds us he is very bad against lefties.

Anonymous said...

come on guys, he has been unlucky in the playoffs. just like i am unlucky that i don't get any work done when i am taking a nap.

Anonymous said...

"Repko's career OPS against lefties is only 20 points higher than Kubel's."

so his OPS is higher, he is a billion better on defense and can run the bases, yet he is not a better option? he may not be great, but he is better than kubel when there is a lefty on the mound.

rghrbek said...

Nick, thanks for the post.

The Twins got themselves into this mess. They have to pick up Kubel's option. It's just too cheap not to. With no Thome and possibly no Morneau, they need somebody who can hit the ball out of the park.

Kubel has stunk in the playoffs, we get it. However, I blame Gardy for putting him in dumb situations. He gave him 6 at bats in his first big league playoff game in 2004. As nick points out, he had a month of service with the big league club up to that point.

Young kid, in New York, epic game, and he goes 0 for 6 with 3 k's. 09 & 10 playoffs, Gardy has him in there against two lefties, who are pretty good, for 4 games. It just makes sense why Kubel hasn't done well.

Again, we need him right now during the regular season. Until we get some legit RH options to play and hit (not repko or tolbert) against dominant lefties in the playoffs, they will keep trotting him out there to face CC and other lefties. Hopefully all these playoff failures haven't wrecked him.

He is probably gone the following year anyway.

Anonymous said...

The Lambs Lie Down on Broadway!

That would make a great blog title.

WWCD said...

Revere's here next year and one of the four high paid OF's are gone. I made this prediction yesterday and was told I'm silly for liking Revere. I didn't predict it because I think Revere is better. But Gardy likes him and he's cheap (comparatively, I wouldn't mind making ML minimum) so Smith likes him. What will happen is anybody's guess and depends on the market, but I think Kubel is the most likely of the four to go.

Anonymous said...

...slapped around in the post season like a wet little napkin.

Ha! During the playoffs I don't recall one Twin step up to the plate and look like he wanted to kick ass and take names. They were flat or frightened looking.
During the off season could they all please have a fierceness chip implanted?

Anonymous said...

Ed Said: "Unfortunately, we're stuck with Mother Gardy and his flock of lambs for the foreseeable future."

10 minutes later I am still laughing at this!

Anonymous said...

Even if kubel were to go youd still have delmon, span, cuddyer. I dont see how revere frees up a spot. No chance they make cuddy a platoon dh and even if they do revere isnt a good choice to play right field which is where gardy would feel compelled to play him.

USAFChief said...

Kubel's post-season suckitude is frustrating, but I don't think you can draw any conclusions from it.

Much more worrisome to me: Kubel was not very good against anybody, RH or LH, for the entire 2010 regular season. .249/.323/.427 overall, only .260/.328/.464 against RH pitching.

Ed Bast said...

For the record, Ron Washington now has more playoff wins than Gardy. During Gardy's tenure, the only AL teams with fewer playoff wins than the Twins are: Seattle, Baltimore, Toronto, Kansas City. Pathetic.

Texas doesn't "match up" with the Yankees by position. Their payroll is at pre-2010 Twins levels. They haven't been to the playoffs in a decade, haven't won a series until this year.

Someone tell me how in the world they managed to beat the same Yankees we made look unbeatable.

Can Gardy apologists have any excuses left?

You only needed to watch 5 minutes of the ALCS to see the main difference between the Rangers and Twins: they believed they could win, we did not. It stems from the manager. It has to.

For the record, the Yankees have won 3 series during Gardy's time against teams other than the Twins. 2 came last year. How is it that everyone else, with the exception of 09, is capable of beating the Yankees? The "Yanks were way better excuse" everyone loves to throw around holds no water.

One more question: are the Rangers a World Series team without Cliff Lee?

Anonymous said...

I have been in favor of getting rid of kubel for longer than just this year. Should have traded him while his stock was good during the year.

jack rubenstein said...

He's a hell of a deal for that money. he out played cuddy in production and in right field but yet is getting a lot of heat whey he's going to make less than half for duddy.

Ed Bast said...

The Rangers payroll this year is $55 million. So far as I can tell, this is lower than every Twins payroll under Gardy.

They also had to play the "vastly superior" Yankees.

How is it possible that they are in the World Series?

I'm really confused. Maybe Gardy can explain it at the press conference for his lifetime contract extension.

Anonymous said...

The postseason busts are frustrating, Ed, but a they go beyond the manager. I don't care who you put in that spot: Joe Girardi, Joe Torre, Joe Maddon or Jow Blow, a division-title and first-round exit was the upper limit of what this team was capable of (especially without Morneau). There's no shut-down starter. No speed. And no natural born leader to take charge on the field. And you don't see many teams go deep into October with their top run producer on the shelf. You take Hamilton out of the ALCS and it probably plays out pretty differently.

Ed Bast said...

Anon, The Twins had the best record in the league without their top run producer. The Twins' lineup even without Morneau is as good or better than Texas'.

You need to explain to me why an ALDS sweep was the ceiling for these guys. Do you think SF and Texas fans are saying that right now? What did you think of their chances at the beginning of the postseason?

If a few guys don't play well for a series, okay, that happens. But when the ENTIRE TEAM plays absolutely terribly for the FIFTH CONSECUTIVE postseason, even though the players are completely different, I'm sorry, but the guy running the show is a huge part of the problem.

For all the Gardy apoligists, when does it stop being "coincidence"? I honestly want to know. When the same thing happens next year, will you still insist he's a great manager? The next 2,3,4 times times? How many more losses will you endure before you admit he may not know how to prepare a team for playoff ball?

Matt said...

Some of the Twins... sorry, all of them looked rusty or like they were in a slump. And the signals were there before the playoffs started; they go and lose a TON of games to inferior teams down the stretch in an attempt to "rest" guys.
I'm with Ed; Gardy is terrible at preparing his team for post season ball. Too bad the stat geeks don't have stats to rate managers.