The Obligatory Casey Kotchman Post

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…

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.

In Boston, a move toward digital ticketing

I’d be hard-pressed to tell you the last time I had a real ticket for a Yankee game. It might have been toward the end of 2010 when a friend of mine scored a pair in a corporate giveaway, and before that, who knows? The tickets I get through StubHub are all of the digital variety, and the few I’ve ordered straight from the source come as PDF files as well.

These 21st Century e-tickets, though, bring with them a decidedly 20th Century problem: You need a printer. Usually, when I’m going to a game with some friends, we spend the afternoon figuring out who has access to a printer and who’s printing which ticket. These are some serious First World problems, I know, but it’s something technological innovation should have figured out by now.

Up in Boston, the Red Sox seemingly have but with some twists. For Upper Bleacher seats at Fenway, the Sox will now be offering digital tickets. Instead of scrambling to find a printer with ink cartridges, the Sox are going to allow entry via the swipe of the credit card that originally was used to purchase the tickets. No more printing — and no more selling these seats on the secondary market.

“Over the past 10 years, we have intentionally held the price of the Upper Bleacher seating category at $12 per seat in order to provide family-friendly pricing options for Red Sox fans,” Red Sox SVP/Ticketing Ron Bumgarner explained. “The downside of keeping these low price points is that these tickets sometimes end up on the secondary ticketing market at significantly marked up prices. By requiring the primary purchaser of the tickets to attend the game through this Digital Ticketing Initiative, our hope is to gradually eliminate those purchasing these specific tickets solely for the purpose of resale, and instead get these tickets into the hands of fans and families all over New England.”

On the one hand, this move adds a level of convenience to purchasing tickets. On the other, it may skirt scalping and resale laws by limiting what one who purchases a ticket is allowed to do with the ticket. They don’t, however, plan on offering these types of tickets for every game. Certainly, the Red Sox should be applauded for trying to keep seat prices at a reasonable level, and I would imagine more teams will follow suit if this effort is successful.

Ultimately, Major League Baseball should be eying a move toward digital ticketing that some airlines are using. Most people carry around Internet-enabled phones that can display scannable bar codes. With such technology in place, we’ll never need a ticket — printed or otherwise — again. We’re not there yet though.

Yankees sign Future NL Closerâ„¢ Manny Delcarmen

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees have signed Future NL Closerâ„¢ and former Red Sox reliever Manny Delcarmen. It’s a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. We can only assume that if they trade him, it’ll be for a significant bat.

Delcarmen turns 30 in about two weeks, and he hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2010. He split last year in the Rangers’ and Mariners’ farm systems, pitching to a 5.59 ERA in 38.2 IP. He owns a 3.97 ERA and a 4.01 FIP in just about 300 big league innings, most coming with Boston. It’s nothing more than a depth move for Triple-A Scranton, and he’ll join former teammate Hideki Okajima in the minors while the Yankees employ good pitchers in MLB.

Open Thread: Roger Clemens

It was another tough day of computer problems here, but I think I got it all sorted out. Thankfully I didn’t have any hardware problems, but apparently part of my operating system was corrupt. No idea how that happened, but I sincerely hope it never happens again.

Anyway, the video above is from this past Saturday, and features a 49-year-old Roger Clemens throwing a perfect inning in the Texas alumni game. He struck out two and got a fly ball, and that split sure does look pretty nasty. Clemens goes on to talk about the Hall of Fame and how much it would mean to be inducted, but I didn’t really bother to listen. You’re more than welcome to, however. Once you’ve done that, use this as your open thread. None of the hockey or basketball locals are in action tonight, so you’re on your own for entertainment.

The 2012 Phil Hughes Watch: Reportedly Not Fat

Via Andrew Marchand, the Yankees have sent personnel to California to check in on Phil Hughes during his offseason workouts this winter, and reports say he looks “great.” Hughes is working out at the Athletes Performance Institute near his Southern California home this offseason, which he didn’t do last winter but did do the winter prior to that. The competition for the fifth starter’s spot is steep, but the gig is right there for the taking for Phil. Step one of winning the job is coming to camp prepared, and it sounds like he’s on the to doing just that.

Yankees interested in Cuban left-hander Gerardo Concepcion

Monday: Ben Badler of Baseball America (subs. req’d) provided a scouting report today. “Concepcion is a slender 6-foot-2 with long arms, sloped shoulders and an athletic, wiry build that could have some projection remaining,” says Badler, who lauds his feel for pitching. “At times his fastball ranges from 88-92 mph, though some scouts have said they’ve seen him dip to 86-90 mph at times … Some scouts like Concepcion’s mid-70s curveball, which shows good depth at times … Concepcion also throws a changeup (some scouts have called it a splitter), though like many young pitchers it’s still a work in progress. While some scouts view Concepcion’s upside as a No. 5 starter, others see a bit more.” So there you have it.

Saturday: I’m way late on this, but Enrique Rojas reports that the Yankees are one of several teams with interest in 18-year-old Cuban left-hander Gerardo Concepcion. He’s reportedly close to signing as well, but it’s unclear with who.

I can’t find an actual scouting report on the kid for the life of me, so I don’t know exactly what kind of prospect we’re dealing with. Concepcion established residency in Mexico earlier a few weeks ago but is now training in the Dominican Republic. Concepcion defected from Cuba while in the Netherlands for the World Port Tournament this past summer. I guess we’ll find out more about him soon enough.

Yanks “in serious talks” with UTIL Bill Hall

With their big winter moves in the books, the Yankees will now focus on filling out their roster. That leaves open the possibility of a trade; we know the Yankees prefer to trade for a DH rather than sign a free agent. Mostly, though, they’ll fill the roster by signing low-level free agents to minor league deals. It appears they could be close on the first such deal. This morning Ken Rosenthal reported that the Yankees are in “serious talks” with Bill Hall, who could fill a utility role for the team.

If the two sides do work out a deal, chances are high that it would be of the minor league variety. The Yankees currently have a full 40-man roster, and Hall isn’t the type of player for whom you sacrifice someone. With a number of 40-man spots opening up soon enough — 60-day DL stints for Joba and Feliciano, plus the potential returning of the two Rule 5 picks — a minor league deal could work out well for both sides. That also takes the pressure off the Yankees to carry Hall. Considering his recent past, he deserves no guarantees.

For two seasons Hall looked like a solid regular. He hit .280/.344/.525, a 119 wRC+, while playing a solid third base (in terms of defensive metrics). In those two years he led the Brewers in hitting numbers and WAR. Unfortunately, that was 2005 and 2006. In 2007 the Brewers moved Hall to the outfield so they could play Ryan Braun at third. Hall was a vocal opponent of the move, and his numbers reflected his attitude: .254/.315/.425. Yet as it turns out the decision to move him was wrongheaded. The Brewers moved Braun to the outfield in 2008 and started using Hall in a utility role. His numbers continued to decline from there.

Since his move from third base five years ago, Hall has produced exactly one above-average season at the plate. That came in 2010 for the Red Sox, where he hit .247/.316/.456 in 382 PA. He also filled many roles for them, playing all three outfield positions, including 48 innings in center field, second base, third base, and shortstop. He parlayed that into a one-year, $3 million deal with the Astros, which included a $4 million mutual option for 2012. But before even the halfway point the Astros had already released him due to his .224/.272/.340 line. The Giants then signed him, but after he hit .158/.220/.221 in 41 PA they, too, gave him the axe. He spent the remainder of the season in AAA.

At age 32, Hall could still have another useful season in him. He did show a decent amount of pop while with the Red Sox in 2010, and he actually hit for more power on the road than at home (so he wasn’t just a product of Fenway). In addition, the Yankees have long been interested in Hall’s services. They explored a trade for him in 2008, though at the time his contract made that a non-starter. Last winter the Yankees tried to sign him as well. Hall has worked with Kevin Long this winter, so presumably Brian Cashman is working with that input.

Signing, or not signing, Bill Hall will not make a huge difference this off-season. There is almost no chance of this being a major league deal, so it’s just like every other minor league deal. Every team brings a number of these players to camp every year. Having Hall makes sense, because he’s had some success in the recent past. It’s tough to ignore his 2011, but just a year before that he put up numbers befitting a good bench player. That’s all the Yanks can really ask out of a minor league signee.