The Diamondbacks signing of Jason Kubel was widely panned, including here at the mother site. And it was panned for good reason; what in the world did the Snakes need a stodgy, stout outfielder with poor defensive skills and a dormant bat? But a furtive glance at StatCorner proved enlightening; Chase Field was a launchpad for hitters like Kubel, while Target Field was a cemetery.
Now I admit I knew this ahead of time. In fact, take a second to compare Target Field to Chase Field, if you wish. This also comes from a year in which Trevor Plouffe and Josh Willingham more or less changed Target Field’s complexion by themselves (granted, as hitters with opposite batter’s box tendencies), and a year where Chase took a significant step back in its accommodation of extra-base hits.
So when we did 10 Bold Predictions prior to the 2012 season, I was pretty confident I could nail Kubel’s skillset projection in his new digs down pretty well. In fact, I believe I had said Kubel would “hit 30 homers and not be particularly good.” Kubel had exactly 30 home runs, and check in with a 1.9 WAR. But while Kubel continued to be a bad baserunner, and was still not a very good fielder, the poo-pooing of Kubel’s contract was perhaps a bit unfair. Of course, Kubel had only ever been a two-win player once in his career — a 2009 which was as awesome offensively as it was terrifying defensively — so it wasn’t as though he was guaranteed to hit like that ever again.
A more valid objection to Kubel signing was where in the heck he would play. The Snakes already had Gerardo Parra, fresh off a 2.8-win season of his own. In fact, Parra still managed to get into 133 games this season and out-dueled Kubel by a scant 0.1 win margin. And one could obviously point to Parra’s games played and make a pretty good case for the need for Kubel besides, but that person would have had to know Chris Young would only play about 100 games. That sort of clairvoyance is in high demand in front offices, after all.
But back to Kubel, who probably turned out to be among the last outfielders selected in your draft; in many, I doubled-down on him and Willingham. It was a good fantasy year. Among Zach Sanders’ fantasy rankings, Kubel checked in 44th. Notable players beneath Kubel include Desmond Jennings, Dexter Fowler, Colby Rasmus, and Michael Cuddyer, while those above him whom may surprise include Carlos Gomez, Angel Pagan, and Norichika Aoki.
So we’ve fully established that Arizona was the right fit for Kubel. However, is Kubel a long-term fit in the desert? This I’m less sure of. Not only are there murmurs that Justin Upton is on the market, but it also makes sense that Kubel could be on the move. With Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock starting to knock on the door, Kubel could be easier to move than Upton due to trade demands, as the Diamondbacks seem unlikely to part with Justin for less than a premium package.
Luckily, your draft will almost certainly take place once the offseason has shaken out. With Kubel, it can be tough to be certain if he’ll help you in a few categories. The home runs were nice, but he oddly only scored 75 runs (speed?) while driving in 90. He will never, ever steal more than a base or two. His batting average at this point seems to be a rollercoaster proposition. It’s not exactly revolutionary stuff here, but his low batting average seasons have tied to low BABIP years. The strikeout rate last season certainly didn’t help, but for me it just signaled that Kubel understood quickly that he could muscle a few more baseballs over the wall in exchange for a couple extra whiffs and fewer free passes. Comparing 2011 to 2012, it was a good trade.
The bottom line is that he’s stinging the ball better in Arizona than he did in Minnesota. He had a little added HR/FB luck, but it also appears that Kubel changed his approach to now being dead-set on hitting the ball in the air. If Kubel is traded, all bets are off. If he isn’t, and you can still nab him late-ish in the draft, there’s a chance he could be worth the gamble in your HR-RBI-R leagues.