What's Next for Jason Kubel?

2008 will be a pivotal year in his career with the Twins.

Once upon a time, Jason Kubel was one of the best hitters to come through the Twins minor league system in many, many years.  Now a major injury and some years removed from all the promise, Kubel's role has moved from starting left fielder to (hopefully) full-time designated hitter.  Questions of his productivity are as open as before, but with the acquisition of Delmon Young, his opportunities for plate appearances will largely be limited to how many DH opportunities he has.

Something happened the last third of 2007 where Kubel absolutely caught fire.  Hitting .364/.438/.509 in August and .325/.404/.584 in September was impressive, but was it a switch flipping somewhere in Kubel?  Was it luck?

If any luck was involved for Jason in '07, it was bad luck.  Over the course of the season his LD% was 22.1, which is a strong mark.  His BABIP was only .305, which is low considering how hard he'd been hitting the ball.  August and September helped move his BABIP back in the right direction, but in a year where 22.1% of his hits were line drives his BABIP could easily have been 30-40 points higher.

None of this means Kubel is in line for a breakout season in 2008.  This depends on repetition or improvement on those peripherals as much as it depends on his playing time.  Here's how the oracles project Jason.

System   AB   2B  HR  BB  SO   Avg   Obp   Slg
ZiPS    447   28  15  43  85  .268  .332  .436
PECOTA* 475   28  14  40  88  .275  .337  .449
CHONE   406   25  13  37  72  .273  .333  .441
James   428   28  15  40  75  .276  .337  .456
Marcel  411   26  13  37  78  .270  .330  .440

Jesse   483   37  19  52  86  .280  .350  .478

*=Plate Appearances in lieu of At Bats

Once again it looks like my homer mindset has made me a bit more optimistic, roughly matching up with PECOTA's 75th percentile projection.  Raise your hand if you're shocked.

What differentiates my prediction from the rest is, mostly, based on how many doubles I'm expecting.  He notched 31 in 418 at-bats in 2007, which tells me that as long as he gets as much playing time as I'm hoping for, 37 is well within reach.

It will be a very telling summer for Jason.  If he struggles out of the gate, Gardenhire will likely reduce his playing time, which could signal the beginning of the end for Kubel's tenure with the Twins.  While he's eligible for arbitration, his lack of versatility in the field would play against him in this scenario.  If he's off at the gun, he'll have little trouble exceeding the projections above.

Delmon Young's addition, and to a lesser extent the addition of Craig Monroe, leaves a smaller margin of error for Jason.  This puts more pressure on him this year than in seasons past, and we're going to find out over the coming weeks if he's able to excel under duress.  I believe he will, and I believe he'll be a solid supplemental bat to a potent middle of the order.

PECOTA's top ten comps for Jason Kubel, Age 26

Norm Miller, 1972:  By age 26, Miller's career was already over.  It was the last season he'd register more than 100 at-bats (just 107), and he hit a less than satisfactory .243/.331/.393.

Lee Thomas, 1962:  In his second season as a regular, Thomas nearly duplicated the success of his first year.  If Kubel has a year like Thomas we'll all be happy, as in 583 at-bats he belted .290/.355/.467 with 21 doubles and 26 home runs.

Willie Montanez, 1974:  Montanez had hit 30 homers as a 23-year old, but would never duplicate that power again, particularly not as a 26-year old in '74.  He did post a to-date career high OBP however, and had a solid (if powerless) offensive year.  In 527 at-bats he hit .304/.343/.410 with seven homers and 33 doubles.

Paul O'Neill, 1989:  "Daddy, daddy, look what I drew, I drew a picture of a baseball player!"

"You sure did, he looks like Paul O'Neill!"

"It is Paul O'Neill, in 1989 when he hit .276/.346/.446 with 15 homers and 26 doubles for the Reds!"

Jim King, ????:  King played for San Francisco in 1958 at age 25 (.214/.343/.393), but then missed two seasons.  Upon his return in 1961, at age 28, he posted an OPS of .812...by far his career high.

Ryan Langerhans, 2006:  In his last full season with the Braves, Langerhans struggled to duplicate the moderate success of '05.  In just 315 at-bats he posted a .241/.350/.378 line.

Geoff Jenkins, 2001:  Jenkins had his career year in '00, and was unable to repeat that success at age 26.  His line wasn't bad however, as in 397 at-bats he hit .264/.334/.474 with 20 home runs and 21 doubles.  This would essentially be Kubel's '08 projection with more power.

Ed Kirkpatrick, 1971:  Kirkpatrick entered the league in 1962 at age 17, but he never had much success.  His longevity had more to due with his versatility, as he played every position in his career except shortstop and pitcher.  In '71 his line was a miserable .219/.308/.332.

Mel Hall, 1987:  In '86, Hall had a very good season, posting an .839 OPS.  At age 26 he wasn't as successful, hitting .280/.309/.439 with 18 homers and 21 doubles.  Both power and on-base skills regressed significantly.

Dave Nilsson, 1996:  Nilsson had a very good career as, mostly, a part-time player.  His career year came in '96, with an electrified line of .331/.407/.525 in 453 at-bats (he topped 400 AB's in a year only twice).  17 home runs and 33 doubles matched a good walk-to-strikeout ratio.  Nilsson's career came to an end after 1999, but he did post a career OPS of .817.

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