Diamondbacks Sign Kubel - I Don't Get It

December 21, 2011

Maybe they have some other plans, but it sure seems to me the Arizona Diamondbacks just threw $15 million out the window.  Why sign a 30-year-old outfielder coming off a season cut short by injury to come in and take the place of a 25-year-old outfielder who just won a Gold Glove?

The D’Backs’ signing of Jason Kubel a couple of days ago to a reported two-year $15 million contract is a puzzler.  Yes, he hit 20+ homers three years in a row before last year, but that’s about all you can say that he has over the man he is rumored to be replacing, Gerardo Parra, as the everyday left fielder for Arizona.

Last year Kubel, a lefty, hit .273 with 12 homers and a .766 OPS in about 400 plate appearances.  Parra, also a lefty, hit .292 with 8 homers and a .784 OPS in just under 500 plate appearances.  Parra created 71 runs to 59 for Kubel.  Given the fewer plate appearances for Kubel, you can say offensively the two players were pretty even.  But it’s defense that made Parra a much better player than Kubel in 2011.  Parra saved an estimated 12 runs for Arizona last year. He won a Gold Glove in recognition for his superlative play in the field.  Kubel cost his team about 3 runs defensively.  That 15-run difference is huge.

Not to mention that Parra is five years younger (Kubel turns 30 and Parra turns 25 in May).

Let’s give Kubel the benefit of the doubt and think of 2011 as simply a down year.  The best way to assess these players going forward is to look at their projections for 2012.  The projections from The Bill James Handbook 2012 take into account the entire career of each player to this point to estimate what they’ll do in 2012.  Here’s what the projections show:


Kubel 485 20 84 .274 .343 .466 .809 77
Parra 518 9 58 .293 .352 .427 .779 78
The most interesting number is the projected Runs Created, the Bill James statistic that measures total offensive contribution.  Kubel has 77 projected runs created while Parra has 78.  Parra has a few more at-bats, but I think you can easily say that these two players are pretty close offensively.

But not defensively.  In the last three seasons Parra has saved 33 runs defensively while Kubel has cost his team a total of 3.  That’s 36 runs better for Parra, and it makes him a better overall player than Kubel.  Factoring offense and defense, you can estimate that with similar regular playing time, Parra will produce about 85-90 runs when you add in his defense compared to 75-80 runs for Kubel.

Not to mention that Parra is five years younger.  (Did I mention that yet?)

It’s possible that the Diamondbacks know something that we don’t know.  Maybe they have another deal in the works.  Maybe there’s something wrong with Parra.  Maybe they can project players better than we can.  But whatever it is, I don’t get it.

Happy Holidays!


COMMENTS (7 Comments, most recent shown first)

Another valid comparison *could* be to whatever player he replaces on the roster. Will the Diamondbacks receive a return commensurate to the difference in the salaries of Kubel and *that* player? It's hard to speak on their behalf.
6:17 PM Dec 24th
Coming from a DBacks fan... I think Dave is right. Young has been terrible against righties, so I could absolutely see him getting some days off with Parra in center. But $7.5 mill a year is a lot of money to pick up a platoon advantage for 25 games a year or so. I can think of other ways we could have spent that money, so I hope there is more to it.
10:33 AM Dec 24th
To Monahan: IMO that was part of the smokescreen.

Remember, Swisher's BA in that previous year was .219. Saying that he was actually better than that isn't necessarily saying much.

I don't know if you remember, but what was said at the time of the Swisher acquisition was (mainly) that the Yanks were viewing him as their full-time FIRST BASEMAN. I never viewed that as highly plausible. I also viewed Teixeira as such a desirable and logical guy for the Yanks, and so it wasn't hard to put these things together to come up with what I said.
5:03 PM Dec 22nd
I tend to agree with Dave also. I think Kubel does the bounce around from left to right to first thing, and if Kubel is in for Young they shift Parra over to cf.

As far as Swisher, I never saw that move as a smokescreen. In fact, I believe Cashman in a radio interview after that deal brought up how Swisher's line drive percentage had been solid but his BABIP had gone way down suggesting they could get him for well below value.
12:26 PM Dec 22nd
Dave: I like that -- but y'know, it is different than what seems to be supposed, which is that this makes Parra a 4th outfielder.

Another alternate scenario would be that the D-Backs will be dealing Parra or one of the other OF's.
3:13 AM Dec 22nd
I think it's wrong to assume that Kubel will be taking at-bats away from Parra.

Arizona has Upton, Young, and Goldschmidt as their presumptive middle-order hitter. All three of them are right-handed hitters.

Career OPS splits, versus RH and LH pitchers:
Upton: .819/.921
Young: .719/.868
Goldschmidt: .657/.855 (very small sample size)

Kubel: .833/.678.

I think the D'Backs will probably use Kubel to spell Young, Goldschmidt, and occasionally Upton against righties. As most of the D'Backs games last year were against righty starters (114 out of 162, or 70%), I think Kubel will get his fair share of at-bats.
1:23 AM Dec 22nd
I like seeing that you put it in terms of wondering, rather than flat-out saying they're stupid, which a lot of people are saying and which you probably wanted to say. :-)

Two things that leap to mind:

-- Could Parra be older than listed? I mean, if I understand right, it's *less* common for players from Venezuela to be a fake age than from some other countries, but still. But let me also say, even if this is so, it wouldn't be enough of an explanation.

-- Main thing I wonder is if the D'Backs actually have some different plans than what's being said. Maybe they don't *really* intend for Kubel to "replace" Parra and send him to the bench. It wouldn't be a first for a team to be saying one thing as a bit of a smokescreen for something else.

BTW, off the subject (not to mention maybe false) :-) but perhaps related: I always felt that when the Yanks traded for Nick Swisher three years ago, it was as much a smokescreen to conceal their intended interest in Mark Teixeira as it was anything about plans for Swisher. It was said at the time that they viewed him as their new 1B, and it was widely assumed that the Yanks wouldn't be going after Tex. From the start I figured it likely that they would, because it made too much sense not to do. I never heard anything said at the time along the lines of what I'm saying, nor seen or heard anything about it since, except by me. :-)
But I would relinquish the theory only reluctantly.
10:26 PM Dec 21st
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