A recent article in the Star Tribune by John Bonnes weighed the expectations Twins fans should have of their team this forthcoming season, using a comparison of the 2011 and 2012 rosters as its evidence. One of the significant points made was the difficulty in comparing Ben Revere and Jason Kubel, being such different players with varying styles. This will be doubly difficult given Revere’s lone season with the big league club, compared to Kubel’s five full seasons. Nevertheless this does make for an interesting comparison; plucky greenhorn against stoic veteran, table setting speed against power hitting lefty.
For the purposes of this comparison we cannot use Revere’s minor league numbers as the simply aren’t representative of the quality of pitching faced by big league hitters, Revere’s sample size is therefore somewhat limited, but let us examine these two hitters in 3 categories; hitting, defense and baserunning.
Let us start with the most important of hitting statistics OBP. Through 481 plate appearances in 2011 Revere’s OBP was .310 – certainly on the low side for a top of the order slap hitter with no power. Kubel meanwhile posted an OBP of .332 in an injury shortened seasons in which he contributed 401 PA. The reason for this difference it seems, is Revere’s unwillingness to take a walk. In 2011 Revere walked in just 5.4% of his plate appearances, compared to the major league average of 8.3% or Kubel’s figure of 8%. To put this into real numbers Revere walked just 26 times in 2011; if he were to increase his plate discipline and reduce the number of times he struck out looking (his looking strike rate was 11% above the league average) he would have walked 40 times – (and as a result attempted to steal 5 more bases) a significant increase for a player who generated 7 runs above the league average from his base-running in 2011.
When it comes to power Kubel has an obvious advantage. Kubel’s OBP was .766, forty points above the league average of .726, while Revere’s lagged at .619. Kubel dwarfs Revere in every power hitting category and almost every hitting category available. While Kubel’s WAR of 1.3 outgains Revere’s of 0.8 there are some interesting comparisons to be found in comparing their batting value to the team.
While Revere is clearly an inferior hitter, his Rbat (number of runs above or below average a players hitting was) being -18 to Kubel’s 5 last year his baserunning was vastly superior (Rbase figures being 7 and -2 respectively). Revere and Kubel’s oRAR (offensive runs above replacement) and oWAR (offensive wins above replacement level) mirrored each other almost exactly, meaning that they offered, although by different means, similar offensive value to the Twins, at least in 2011.
Even the most casual eye could determine that Revere is a more significant on base than threat than Kubel. A deeper analysis is required however, than merely stolen bases and runs scored. Revere stole 34 bases in 2011 while being caught 9 times. Revere’s stolen bases (a Twins rookie record) certainly excited Twins fans who foresaw a player who might become a 45-50 stolen base threat. Truly elite base-runners typically range between 83-85% success rate, and while Revere’s 79% shows promise, his SB% of 2nd base was only 75%, a rate which needs to be improved, as SB% is a far more accurate measure of impact upon a game than merely the number of bases stolen over a season.
Revere’s top end speed becomes evident when comparing the two player’s runs scored percentage or RS%. This measures the % of times a baserunner scores a run. In 2011 Revere scored 37% of the time when on base, compared to 21% from Kubel. While this is clearly Revere’s MO given his lack of power, this is an impressive figure, particularly given the Twins horrendous hitting throughout the order last season. Comparable elite players such as Jose Reyes, who had a career year in 2011, scored 43% of the time he was on base in 2011.
When looking at basic values Kubel would appear to have had a better year than Revere defensively. Kubel’s fielding % was .992 compared to .976 from Revere. Revere certainly made some rash decisions in covering the huge amount of ground he managed in center field. These numbers however, do not tell the full story.
In 2011 Revere saved 9 runs above the average major leaguer with his play in the outfield, while Kubel cost the Twins -3, while his range factor was 2.80 compared to Kubel’s 2.21. Kubel’s solid fielding % and decent overall numbers belie his ineptitude as a fielder; he appeared in only 58 games in the field in 2011. While Revere has been criticized for having a weak arm, his excellent range and ability to prevent runs make him a preferable outfield defensive option than the pedestrian Kubel.
Consider this; Ben Revere just played his rookie season with the Twins. He certainly experienced his share of highs and lows and the growing pains associated with a first major league season. Despite all this there is reason for optimism surrounding Revere. He will make around $350,000 in 2012, compared to the two year $15 million pact the Diamondbacks overpaid for Kubel. Revere is not without his limitations. He has to increase his stolen base efficiency, his judgment in the field and above all his OBP if he is to become a truly effective top of the order table setter for the Twins. If he is able to accomplish these improvements he will bring balance to a Minnesota team that was heavy on left-handed hitters and light on stolen bases. Add a much needed draft pick that the Twins gained from Kubel’s departure and giving Revere a full-time shot might just herald the second coming of the piranhas.