The numbers 168, 166 and 205 ruined Drew Stubbs‘ future with the Cincinnati Reds. In 2011 he struck out a National League-leading 205 times. The year before he fanned 168 times. Last season he struck out 166 times. End of story. You can’t be a leadoff man with that kind of problem. More than once watching Stubbs take surprisingly feeble swings as last season wore on I wondered if he should make an eye doctor appointment.
Maybe vision was a problem and maybe it was impatience, nerves, or something yet to be speculated on, but what’s ailing Stubbs is now the Cleveland Indians’ problem, too, after the centerfielder was traded for Shin-Soo Choo Tuesday.
At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Stubbs looks every inch a ballplayer. He seemed to possess the raw skills of a budding star. Yet he was drowning in K’s and it wasn’t getting better, it was getting worse. When you have been a three-time college All-American at the University of Texas and put the minors in your rear-view mirror, you are not used to failure. The Reds are built to win now and the lead-off spot is the one hole in their lineup that couldn’t be filled in house for 2013. They couldn’t wait for Stubbs to right the ship.
It’s a shame because Stubbs is a likeable guy with some obvious skills, but this is a hurry-up deal. All of the pieces are in place for the Reds to repeat as Central Division champions. Manager Dusty Baker is 63 and ended last season with a health scare. Maybe Stubbs’ problem is the same as the theme of the recent Clint Eastwood movie “Trouble With The Curve.”
In Stubbs’ case “potential” became a killer word. He is 28, not 18, and examination of his stats over his three seasons as a starter show decline. First the good news: Stubbs is an excellent fielder who covers a lot of ground in center and he has stolen between 30 and 40 bases the last three years. This is the bad news: His batting average has checked in at .255, .243, .213 those years. In 544 plate appearances in 2012 Stubbs had a .277 on-base percentage. Ouch.
The situation couldn’t go on like that, not with Cincinnati angling to win a pennant and World Series. The farm system wasn’t the answer since up-and-comer Billy Hamilton is a year away. The Reds have a top-to-bottom solid lineup, but it’s not overcrowded with big hitters. They still must manufacture runs sometimes and that’s where the lead-off batter comes in. It should be noted that Stubbs struck out those 166 times this year in just 136 games.
Maybe Stubbs was miscast as a lead-off man, but the Reds had no other choice to plug in. He showed pretty good power on occasion with 22, 15, and 14 homers the last three years. On the Fourth of July of 2010 Stubbs blasted three home runs against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
“A three-home-run game, they are hard to come by, they really are,” Stubbs said. “That’s the first time at any level I had a three-home-run game. It’s something that kind of takes a few days to sink in. You get to kind of savor that feeling for a while after that.”
It will probably take a few days for Stubbs’ exile from Cincinnati to sink in, too. He now has a fresh start with a different organization, but this doesn’t seem like a change-of-scenery issue. Stubbs was surrounded by good hitters in Cincinnati. He played for a nurturing manager. The fans may have groaned when the strikeouts piled up, but they still cheered him and appreciated Stubbs for those nice, running catches, and those swipes of second base.
I don’t envy Stubbs this switch. He has no sweat equity built up with the Cleveland fans so it’s not clear what the reception will be if he keeps up his crazy strikeout pace. Stubbs has a few months until spring training to figure out why his potential has not been a match for big-league arms.