Sunday, July 8, 2007

Stops and Starts

A long, bad [day]. It was hard to watch, but you have to get up and keep fighting. I have a new name for those guys. They were piranha, but now they’re sharks. They’re bigger fish now.

- White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen
Well, one of them is getting bigger it seems. Of course, Jason Kubel was never supposed to be a piranha. Let’s call him a baby shark that is starting to relearn exactly what those rows of razors in his mouth can do.

There were nights of anger. And screaming. And then depression that went beyond both of those, when hope seemed to be gone. And I’m not talking about Kubel. I’m talking about Twins fans, who have watched Kubel’s little drama unfold in extreme slow motion, waiting for the third jewel of the hitting prospects to take his place in the Twins championship crown.

As we look longingly at a minor league system that is bereft of any offensive help, it’s worth noting that Kubel was THE top hitting prospect in the entire minor leagues for a time. Kubel had every bit the promise of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, with more power than Mauer and more consistency than Morneau. Need a refresher?

In 2004, he started the season at AA-New Britain, his first exposure to that level. It wasn’t an especially hard adjustment. In his first couple of months, Kubel hit .377, with a .667(!) slugging percentage and an 1120 OPS. He continued his tear at AAA-Rochester, hitting .343, slugging .560, and sporting a 958 OPS. That earned him another promotion to the majors, where he again hit .300 and was included on the postseason roster.

All that and he was just 22 years old.

Two-and-a-half years later, he still isn’t back to that level, but he’s slowly – very slowly - showing growth. If you look at Kubel’s monthly splits so far, it looks so clean and promising:

Just about every number climbs, peaking in a roadtrip that smells a little like a breakout week. But the day-to-day reality has been infinitely more frustrating for Twins fans. And I’m guessing for Kubel and the Twins as well.

And it's easy to see in this graph, which is Kubel’s OPS charted daily. You still see the gradual upward trend, but here you also see all the peaks and valleys that make up the daily grind. You don’t see a long road well-traveled. You see the Crosstown at rush hour – all starts and stops, starts and stops. Only it’s worse, because with every stop you don’t know if maybe “it” is gone for good.

You can expect more in the future as the line undulates its way towards the end of the season. It might as well be a measure of Twins fans frustration. Or of an organization’s hope. Or of a promising player’s level of confidence.

But I hope that Ozzie is right, and it’s really a growth chart for a shark.

1 comment:

TwinsJunkie said...

That's a cool OPS graph. You should cross-reference it with Mauer or Morneau's OPS, I'd be curious to see how much more consistent they were. I'd do it myself but I'm on my cell phone. Perhaps later.