After stumbling last year following his 2009 breakout season, Jason Kubel is quietly having a really strong start to 2011 — bet you didn’t realize he’s currently fifth in batting in the AL — so why, exactly, is he a potential a sell high candidate?
Kubel is one of the few bright spots in Minnesota this season. The 28-year-old lefty-hitting outfielder/designated hitter is leading the injury-riddled, 12-27 Twins in average (.329), doubles (10), homers (4) and RBIs (20). But for all that he’s done so far, it’s still a guarantee that Kubel will be losing some playing time as the season progresses, in part by default, in part because of his own limitations and in part due to his teammates’ eventual returns from injury.
Let’s take those parts apart, point by point. First, for a guy who’s never played more than 146 games (2009) or had more than 518 at-bats (2010) in a single season, Kubel has gotten a chance to play every day this season — he’s literally on pace for 162 games, to go with 594 ABs — and that has helped his stat line. Except, in some ways it hasn’t: Despite the day-in-and-day-out run, Kubel still only has 4 HRs and 20 RBIs, which projects to 17 and 83, respectively. Solid numbers, yes, but they would actually represent a decline in both categories from his past two seasons, as evident in his .154 ISO — his worst full-season rate in his career.
Second, Kubel has always been limited by his struggles against left-handers, which is directly linked to his non-every day role of seasons past. While he’s improved enough to be useable against them (.715 OPS this year), his career OPS versus southpaws still sits at .674. So chances are, once the injured Twins start making their way back, Kubel will once again see his plate appearances against lefties dip.
That brings us to the third point: the health of his teammates. Kubel will lose time at DH when Jim Thome (strained left oblique) returns from the DL in late-May or early-June, and the same goes for whenever Joe Mauer (bilateral leg weakness) makes it back, because the Twins would be wise to use their $184 million dollar man more frequently at DH to ease the toll that catching duties take on his legs. Besides DH, Kubel has to deal with what is fast becoming a crowded Minnesota outfield, what with Delmon Young already back and Ben Revere now in the mix. Then add in the fact that Tsuyoshi Nishioka‘s return from a fractured left fibula will push Michael Cuddyer, who had been getting some time at second base (!), back to his regular role in right field (and occasionally first base), and well, that’s approximately 16 players for three spots (DH, LF and RF). Give or take.
All of which means, if Kubel cools a little — whether because his .387 BABIP begins to even out or he starts getting exploited by left-handers as per usual — the Twins will have some fill-in options. Minnesota is really hurting, if you will, for healthy bodies at the moment, won’t that can’t be expected to continue all season long. So the conclusion here is that Kubel will probably be fine, so if you want or need to hang onto him — or if you just believe he’s immune from some of the above pitfalls based on his start — then he should keep you happy enough as a third or fourth outfielder in 10- or 12-team leagues. But if you can peddle him now to an owner — or better yet, if you’re getting offers for him from a league mate — who is buying Kubel’s start and failing to see beyond the immediate future, it might be well worth your while to take advantage.
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