Monday, February 25, 2008

Escaping to Average

At some point last year, I was researching just how dismal the Twins designated hitter situation had become. (I suspect it was shortly after one of Jason Tyner's 58 at-bats there.) And, while it's certainly damning with faint praise, I found that it wasn't quite as dismal as I had imagined. Here is the OPS (On-base Plus Slugging percentage) that each team put up with their designated hitter last year:
OK, so the Twins were 60 OPS points lower than the league average, but it turns out that the DH isn't as easy a spot to fill as you might think. I mean, look at the Angels next to the bottom of that list. When they were rumored to be chasing Hunter, everyone wondered why they would do that when they had just signed Gary Matthews Jr. last year. Now we know. They certainly had a spot to fill.

So how about 2008? I'm tempted to turn this in a "Get to Know" column, but I'm also tempted to get back to my life, so let's do an abbreviated version...

I've already stated that I think the 25-year-old Kubel has a decent chance of moving up that list. A 50 point improvement seems reasonable, and puts him in the middle of that next group of players. What does that mean to the Twins? Well, if you're looking for some back of the napkin figuring...

1. +10 points of OPS over 500 at-bats is about 2 runs.
2. +10 runs over a year is equal to about one win.
3. So a 50 OPS improvement for Kubel might be worth about one run over the course of the year.

But the math gets a little more complicated for Kubel, because he didn't have 500 at-bats. He only had 418 at-bats, while the Twins gave 543 at-bats to various DHs last year. If Kubel, who should stay healthy and have more of Gardy's confidence this year, gets that many at-bats and shows that improvement, it's worth another win, and almost two.

That's a pretty rough estimate, and it ignores that those at-bats were taken by somebody else last year, but since that someone was often Rondell White or Jason Tyner, I'll stick with it for now. The bigger concern is that the presence of Craig Monroe on the roster could eat into those bats significantly, especially versus left-handers. Though that might not be such a bad thing eitehr.

Still, there's room for plenty of hope here. Last year might not have bee quite as bad as it seemed, but it was pretty bad. Twins have two reasons - Kubels improvement and Kubel's health - to expect a significant improvement. Even if it's only to the middle of the pack.


ubelmann said...

The one positive thing I'll say about the Twins' DH situation is that they haven't gone out and done something like devote $12M over 2 years to someone like Jose Vidro. That is, the performance has been subpar, but they were at least paying a fairly minimal amount for that subpar performance.

I think you're right that Kubel could be about a league-average DH and that's fairly valuable for someone getting paid $1.3M.

Andrew Madison said...

Hey Twins Geek, do you think that Kubel's OPS could actually increase by more than 50 points? I like Kubel's potential a lot, but he's a guy that needs to play pretty much every day to be effective. The best place for Kubel to get his AB's is at DH.

I think the only impedients to Kubel's progress this year might be his chronically bad knees and his trouble against lefties (675 OPS lifetime)If he can stay healthy and improve his numbers against lefties, he will give the offense a needed boost. That's the only way Kubel will play enough to significantly improve his numbers over last year. The Twins absoultely need Kubel to have a good year in order for the offense to progress.

Andrew Madison said...

I forgot about Monroe. I think the Twins will be better off (in the long run) if Kubel can be the everyday DH and Monroe the 4th outfielder/pinch hitter. If the Twins have to platoon the two, something has gone wrong. I think Monroe's best days are behind him, and he'll be here for only this year I believe.

Anonymous said...

Having an acceptable DH combo also provides the benefit of leaving Mauer on the bench, rather than DH'ing, for the majority of his days off.

This might have the effect of making Mauer healthier, adds a great pinch hitter to the bench on those days Mauer's resting, and further reduces the need for a "hitter" such as Tyner or even Redmond to suck up ABs at DH.

Andrew Madison said...

Good point about Mauer. Hopefully Redmond will continue his stellar backup play which will also help Mauer get days off.

spycake said...

Your point #3 mistakenly says "run" when it should say "win."

But your larger point remains. Even without a "breakout" season, Kubel gives the Twins an excellent shot at cheap, average (or better) production at DH. Delmon Young does the same in LF.

Since I don't see a huge downgrade anywhere in the infield, this bodes well for offensive improvement as a whole.