The Obligatory Casey Kotchman Post

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We’ve spent a good portion of the last two weeks writing about potential DH options for the 2012 Yankees, and most of them have been older players trying to hang on for one last chance at a ring or for love of the game. Or money, that’s important too. One player we haven’t talked about yet is a 28-year-old free agent in the prime of his career, the same guy who led all currently unsigned free agents in OBP (.378), wOBA (.351), and fWAR (2.8) in 2011. It’s not particularly close either. That player is Casey Kotchman. So why haven’t we talk about him yet? It’s simple: I don’t think he can do it again.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Once upon a time, Kotchman was supposed to be a star. Baseball America considered him the sixth best prospect in the game before the 2005 season, saying he “projects to hit at least 20-25 homers annually” and “is a future Gold Glover” in their Angels Top 10 List (subs. req’d). Needless to say, it never worked out like that. Kotchman hit a decent .274/.337/.426 (99 OPS+) with 31 total homers in 1,265 plate appearances for the Halos before being traded to the Braves for Mark Teixeira in 2008. He spend time in Atlanta, Boston, and Seattle before resurfacing with the Rays in 2011.

Called up when Manny Ramirez abruptly retired in mid-April, Kotchman was a .259/.326/.392 career hitter (91 OPS) in over 2,300 plate appearances coming into the year. He went on to hit .306/.378/.422 in 563 plate appearances for Tampa Bay last season, a 128 OPS+ and by far the best single season of his career. The results were much better, but as you can see in the chart below, his underlying performance wasn’t all that different…

PA BB% K% HR%* ISO LD% GB% FB% IFFB%**
2004-2010 2,328 8.2% 9.6% 2.6% 0.133 17.6% 52.7% 29.7% 3.7%
2011 563 8.5% 11.7% 2.3% 0.116 18.3% 55.8% 25.9% 3.0%

* HR% is homers per plate appearances with contact (so removing walks, strikeouts, etc.).
** IFFB% is true infield fly ball rate, so FB% x IFFB% on FanGraphs.

His walk rate is essentially identical, a 2.1% more strikeouts is nothing (an extra dozen whiffs per 600 plate appearances. His batted ball profile is relatively unchanged, give or take a few percent that can easily be attributed to bias and human error during the data collection process. Here’s his batting ball data in graphical form, with green being ground balls, red being line drives, and blue being plain old fly balls…

Kotchman has become more of a ground ball hitter over the last three or four years, but nothing insane. Despite the similar batted ball profiles, he enjoyed a .335 BABIP last season compared to .277 for the first six-plus years of his career. A 58-point difference is not insignificant, though it’s worth noting that xBABIP (expected BABIP based on batted ball profile) says he should have had a .318 BABIP (using Chris Dutton’s Quick Calculator). The 0.017 difference between BABIP and xBABIP means he lucked into about ten extra hits over the course of his 563 plate appearances. Assuming they were all singles, his expected batting line in 2011 was .286/.361/.402. A .763 OPS would have been a 104 OPS+, so just a touch above league average.

Now there’s nothing wrong with being a bit better than average, it’s better than what the Yankees got out of their DHs last season (99 OPS+). It is fair to question whether or not Kotchman can do it again though, especially since the first six-plus of his career were pretty awful. He’s a slow ground ball hitter, so it’s easy to be skeptical of his ability to continue to turn those ground balls into base hits. Kotchman never developed the power Baseball America thought he would, and although Yankee Stadium figures to help him out a bit in that department, let’s not act like the short porch is a cure-all. He wasn’t exactly Mr. Deep Fly Ball To Right last year (via Texas Leaguers)…

Remember, the dots are where the ball was fielded, not where it landed.

Kotchman grounded into a double play in 15% of his opportunities last year (league average was 10%), one of the highest marks in the game. He only took the extra base 35% of the time as well (league average was 41%), so we’re talking about a guy that needs three singles to score from first. In fairness, that applies to most DH-types. His glovework — while very good — is a non-factor at DH, though I do appreciate a DH that can take the field once in a while and not embarrass himself. Essentially, we’re talking about a singles hitter — a singles hitter with contact skills and enough discipline to get on-base at a respectable clip — and the proverbial “one good year.”

You can definitely make the argument that Kotchman will continue to get better given his age, or at least that the odds of him improving are greater than the odds of Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez, et al. not declining. I have to think that he’s looking to parlay his strong season into as much a) money, and b) opportunity as possible. Being a platoon DH and seventh-hole hitter for the Yankees might not be what he wants, since he’s at an age where proving he’s a legitimate starting first baseman in the big leagues can turn into a handsome payday. Kotchman may very well be the best man for the job, but I’m not convinced of it. There’s just too much evidence suggesting last year’s results are not indicative of his true talent.

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  • Rey22

    Damn, I can’t believe 10 extra singles over a whole season is the difference between a solidly above average season, and a barely above average one.

    • Steve (different one)

      Crash Davis would like a word…

    • CJ

      I did the math and 30 singles over the course of the season 5/month and Mark Teixiera would be a .300 hitter 2011

  • ThatstheMelkyMesaWaysa

    Gonna get slammed for this, but why not sign Hideki and Damon and platoon Damon Swish and Jones in the outfield along with Hideki, Damon, and Jones at DH

    • CP

      What benefit does it provide to sign both Damon and Matsui? I certainly see the benefit of one (I think Damon is better), but they’re basically the same player now – left handed hitting DH who can fake it in the outfield sometimes.

      • jsbrendog

        not only that but who do you cut to bring them both in? no sale

    • Landry

      Why do you want to take ABs away from Swisher? He’s better than his “platoon” partners.

  • Women’s Lib is Ms.Guided

    I despise double play grounders, so this guy sounds like a pass.

    I remember when the Angels had Kotchman, Kendrick, Wood, McPherson and Mathis all lined up to be the home-grown HoF infield.

  • Monterowasdinero

    But Kotchman doesn’t strike out and he hit .313 against righties with 8 of his 10 HR’s against them. I prefer Damon because of increased power and speed but it might be nice to have Casey at the bat if Johnny doesn’t come marching home again.

    • Ted Nelson

      That’s a good point about his splits. He is a career .330 wOBA hitter against RHP. Still not particularly good for a platoon guy, but sexier than his overall numbers.

  • bpdelia

    Its truly at the point with fa guys where i don’t think yohllu can make a case for anyone. Kotchmsn is as good an idaeas zombie tail, zombie hideous and bitten but just barely symptomatic zombie Johnny. Honestly the best course of action now is zombie darts and let the lord decide.

    • CJ

      Yeah all the remaining FA are seriously flawed, mostly old.

  • CJ

    All signs point to Cashman trading excess pitching for a bat but we haven’t heard a single name leaked.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      And we didn’t hear Pineda’s name leaked before that trade. Cash-Ninja!

  • http://Twitter.com/Jmarlowescully Scully

    How about the Jason Giambi as a platoon DH?

    In a tiny sample size against right-handed pitching last year (99abs) Giambi hit
    .273/.354/.636/.990 with 62Bs 10HRs and 26RBIs worth about 1WAR for a 1 Million dollar salary.

    He might possibly be washed up, but he didn’t look it last year. It’s something at least worth kicking the tires on. Aside from Damon I’d see him being a better fit than Ibanez or the rest of the lot even though his glove sucks.

    • Steve (different one)

      Giambi would be a fine option, problem is that he is under contract with the Rockies. Not impossible to acquire, but still an obstacle.

    • Ted Nelson

      Yeah, I think Giambi is a somewhat attractive option for a platoon role. Have to trade something to get him, though, and who knows what that is.

      • http://Twitter.com/Jmarlowescully Scully

        Ah didn’t realize they brought him back already. What’s his contract? 1 year, guaranteed? I feel like I remember them bringing him back on a Spring Training invite last year and him making the team out of camp…

        • Ted Nelson

          Think it was a 2012 option that got picked up.

      • CJ

        Freddy Garcia for Giambi.

    • CJ

      How about we platoon the 2002 Jason Giambi with the 2009 Johnny Damon with the 2009 World Series Hideki Matsui?

  • GardnergoesYardner

    I don’t buy Kotchman, and I don’t think anyone really does. At this point, I think we can’t expect too much from our DH, except probably some occasional pop. I think Cash’s best move is to just get a Damon, Matsui, or Ibanez, someone who can be a nice asset, knows how to hit in the clutch and can provide some value. Cash needs to make clear though that the DH won’t be able to play every day, or needs to be able to play the field.

  • http://twitter.com/themanchine The Manchine

    I think he’s the best option at this point. I’d rather Cashman not trade the SP overflow for a DH.

    • GardnergoesYardner

      Yep, you never know when your gonna need Burnett or Garcia in the bottom of the fifth when the team’s in a 8-0 hole against the Orioles in July.

      Seriously, I think Hughes is the only one of the three fifth starter candidates who could bring back anything decent, and he is the one who offers the most upside for the Yanks. However, I think there are decent options that Cash could net on the free agent market besides Kotchman.

    • CJ

      Rather not trade SP overflow? Of Hughes, AJ, Freddy, Betances, phelps, Warren, Mitchell. 4 out of 7 have to be traded or they will never get a chance to pitch for Yankees.

      • Ted Nelson

        Where did you come up with 4 of the 7? No one needs to be traded. The Yankees can hold onto all of those guys if the trade value isn’t there.

        I don’t see any sense in slotting prospects for future jobs before they prove anything at MLB level and have significant short-comings at AAA level. Between Betances, Phelps, Warren, and Mitchell the Yankees will be lucky to end up with 2 solid or better MLB pitchers. The problem is that it’s not easy to say which. Betances has the best chance, but Phelps and Warren have pretty even chances. If their luck is better than that… it’s a great problem to have.

        If the Yankees find good trade value for one or more of these guys, I have no problem with dealing them. If not, though, I have a problem with giving them away because a couple of years from now you might have too many good pitchers.

        • CJ

          They will not have these AAA arms “two years away.” trading 4 will give them a 5,6,7 for 2012. If they can’t find value that means that phelps Warren Mitchell are probably not major league pitchers.

          • Ted Nelson

            These guys have options left… so, yeah, they’ll still have them in 2013. Why would the Yankees trade these guys if they feel they’re losing value?

            The Yankees should ask other teams how they value these young pitchers and not evaluate them on their own? I believe that they should look for equal or greater value in return than they place on the player… and if they don’t get it just hold. Some of these guys will likely work out, but some likely won’t. Why reduce your chances of keeping the guys who work out if you’re getting worse value in return? Maybe I’d take slightly worse value in a position of greater need, but not much.

    • ryan

      Although it’s not my favorite option, the Yankees could send phil down to AAA to start the year and iron some things out and start burnett in the 5th spot. Freddy to the BP to spot start. This way they have the optimum depth in the rotation. This option gives them time to make AJ more tradeable, Repair Hughes’ flaws and keep Freddy in the mix while the kids get seasoning. In reality the Yankees don’t have to trade away a strength just to trade it away. Yanks could cough up 2 mill for a veteran and stay strong and deep.

      • CJ

        Phil has nothing to prove at AAA. Sending him to AAA other than to rehab is hoarding. Play him or trade him.

        • Ted Nelson

          Huh? Hughes needs to prove he can effectively pitch, regardless of level. He was awful last season. I don’t see much downside in letting him prove he’s back in AAA while Burnett or Garcia gets a shot at the #5 spot.

        • ryan

          If he comes to camp throwing the ball great then no, he shouldn’t go to AAA. If he comes to camp with an 89 mph FB,inconsistent CB, nonexistent CH and spotty command….I’d say he’d have a lot to prove in AAA.

  • ryan

    Damon and Matsui didn’t hit RHB all that well last year.

    • ryan

      RHP*

  • MattG

    I don’t understand this passage:

    “The difference in walk rate is a result of intentional walks. Last year Kotchman drew an unintentional walk in 7.7% of his plate appearances, and from 2004-2010 it was 7.4%.”

    .3% is equal to 2 walks over 600 at bats. Was this supposed to say NOT the result of intentional walks?

    FWIW, I think the difference in BB and K rates accounts for something north of half the improvement, and the rest is random. At 28, this is the time when a player who is figuring out the strike zone can really improve. I understand few players do this, but Kotchman took strides last year, so he might be one of the few. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict improved peripherals for Kotchman this year.

    Of course, that still might result in a net decline of his 128+, since he is not likely to have the same sort of luck (especially playing 18 times against the Rays’ fielders).

    • MattG

      Oh, I see. You transposed the BB and K rates (BB rate was actually 8.5, K rate 11.7). Well, that makes a big difference.

      That’s a pretty big mistake in this article, but your conclusion is accurate; he did not improve his peripherals at all. Too bad, because the stats you printed showed a much rosier picture.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        Ah crap, you’re right. The math is correct, I just have his BB% and K% switched in the table. Fixed the post.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      The difference between his 2011 walk rate (11.7%) and 2004-2010 walk rate (8.2%) looks bigger than it really is because of IBBs. If you subtract out the IBBs from his walk total and plate appearance total, you get a 7.7% walk rate for 2011 and 7.4% from 2004-2010. He was intentionally walked a higher rate than ever before last year, and it artificially inflated his BB%. Make sense?