You answered your own question in the section I highlighted. 6 to 1 K to BB ratio. Kepler dropped his K rate from 20% to 16% and upped his walk rate from 8 % to almost 12%. Plate discipline and pitch recognition is one of the hardest things for young players to master. Discarding someone who pretty much has at age 25 would be beyond dumb IMO. Is there room for Kepler to improve? Certainly. But he proved this season with his improvement vs LHP that he is capable of making adjustments to improve. I’m not qualified to say what adjustment he needs to make to take the next step. Hopefully, someone employed by the Twins is. But the gifts and the talent and the “savvy” are clearly there. He has a 2.4 bWAR. That is a starter, not a 4th OFer.
I'm not suggesting that we discard Kepler, the queston is who amongst the 4 OFs we have, 5 if you count Grossman (one of our best hitters if not our best in the second half), starts and who is the #4. Rosario clearly starts and should DH any day he's not int he field - 600 ABs or bust for him.Kepler has a 2.4 WAR this year, Cave 1.2 WAR in a one half season. By that definition they're both starters and frankly their stats are almost even in every respect - Kepler has a higher OBP and strikes out less, Cave hits fior a higher SLG and higher BA, runs a little better and they're both quality corner OFs and average to slightly above CFs. I think the power makes Cave the winner as it stands now.
More importantly, Cave has the bigger upside. You're right that Kepler has lowered his K rate and raised his BB rate over time. Cave just got here, he should be able to do the same thing over time.If I can only play one every day, I think we know what Kepler is and with Cave as good already, I play Cave every day to see if he reaches his upside.
The big variable is Buxton's bat. We have to play him for his speed and glove if he can hit even a little and I have to think that he'll be able to meet that minimal standard despite looking so bad this year. That leaves one person out and I think Kepler is that guy at the start of the year. We absolutely do not trade him - he's the 4th OF/LH DH who plays 3-4 times a week while Rosario plays 6 days a week, and Cave and Buxton play 5. Another way to look at it is that the OF positions and half the DH at bats equals roughly 2,400 PAs a year at 4.25 PAs per game per position. You cream off 250 PAs for short stint DL stays and a 5th OF/UTL and you have 2150 PAs to divide up between Rosario, Buxton, Cave and Kepler. Rosario gets 150-155 games or 650 PAs. The remaining 1500 I think should go 600 to Cave, 500 to Buxton and 400 to Kepler. You can adjust during the season based on performance but that's where I'd start. So to me, the issue is really Buxton vs. Kepler and I think Buxton's upside gives him the edge. The great news is that if Buxton stinks at the plate again, Cave plays center and Kepler goes back to 550-600 PAs, and Buxton drops down to 300-350. Either scenario is a much better situation that we had in 2018.
This may all be academic if Mauer retires. If he does, then Kepler goes to 1B/DH timeshare with Austin and they both get 500 -550 PAs even if you cream off 50-100 for guys like Rosario and Sano to get a day off their feet to DH, plus Kepler gets some in the OF. Even better in my view would be to re-sign Escobar and have a 1B/Dh/3B/4thOF grouping of Austin, Sano, Kepler and Escobar. There's 500-550 PAs apiece in those 3 spots, more for Kepler playing a day or 2 a week in the OF while giving Rosario, Cave and Buxton 500 (Buxton) to 600 (Rosario) PAs in the OF. The bench then is Adrianza to back up SS and 2B, one of the 2 catchers and the one of the other 7 listed above that's off that day so you actually have a bench bat. Grossman only stays if Buxton can't hack it again and is stil in AAA. Astudillo stays if you have a 7 man BP or goes to AAA as the first call up if you have an 8 man BP.Trade for Starlin Castro and the lineup goes like this:
Castro 2B (or Forsythe as the number 7 with everyone moving up one)
Bench - One of Austin/Sano/Kepler/Escobar, Adrianza, one of Castro/Garver, Astudillo if 12 pitchers.
Sign Jose Iglesias to play SS instead of trading for Castro and you have better defense but a weaker lineup like this:
Are these lineups competitve? They are if 2 or 3 of the Sano, Cave, Kepler, Austin, Buxton group step up a level (2 in Sano's case). If not, nope. And isn't that next year's most important question?
Edited by LA VIkes Fan, 22 September 2018 - 01:25 PM.