Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Give the man a fastball

Jason Kubel has entered some early season doldrums. In the past four games, Kubel is just 1-for-16 with four strikeouts. His overall totals are even less affirming. In the first 14 games, Kubel has buoyed a sad-looking .205/.327/.364 batting line with two home runs in 52 plate appearances. While he’s showing more patience, walking 8 times (15.4% BB%), he’s also striking out more (25% K%) and has lost some overall pop (.159 isolated power down from .239 in ’09). Admittedly, Kubel’s line drive rate is very attractive (27.3% LD%) but this downturn is quite the contrast from a year ago in which the lefty marched through opponents’ pitching staffs on a mission.


Opposing teams made a shrewd observation based on his performance last year: Kubel was absolutely shredding fastballs. Ostensibly, pitchers respected Kubel’s ownership of the fastball and curbed their deployment of fastballs accordingly in ’09, throwing them just 53.3% of the time. Nevertheless, he turned pitcher’s high cheddar into minced meat, slugging .667 on fastballs resulting in a 27.2 run above average (11th-best in baseball). The harder you threw it, the harder he hit it.


The general strategy for defusing Kubel this year has been “If he’s going to feast on the heat, let’s feed him less of it.” Now, Kubel receives a fastball about as often as Halley’s Comet visits this rock. So far in 2010, Kubel has seen the lowest mix of fastballs in baseball:


Kubel and the Heat:






Slugging% on FB







Being the recipient of a high dosage of breaking pitches has in turned increased the number of balls out of the zone. Whereas in 2009, pitchers went into the zone 47.1% of the time, he’s getting just 43% of pitches faced in the strike zone (well below the 48.6% league average). This has naturally led to fewer balls that he can drive thus the decline in his isolated power.


Because of this, Kubel will have to make some adjustments to his approach. There are already signs that he is doing just that. Seeing that his walk rate is up and that he is chasing fewer pitches out of the zone (20% chase%) demonstrates that he is capable of being selective and waiting for his pitch (i.e. the occasional fastball). If he continues to put the ball in play on a line like he has been doing, there is no doubt that his average will rebound as some of those batted balls begin to fall in for hits.