Casey Kotchman’s Upside

JH · March 27, 2010 at 4:02 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Many people see Casey Kotchman as something of a wild card in the 2010 Mariner lineup. Over at the Max Info blog, Dave mentioned that the hitting staff will be working with Kotchman to start focusing on hitting more fly balls to try and take advantage of the right field porch in Safeco.  The idea is that with the right adjustments, Kotchman might just rediscover his power stroke and become an impact player.

Looking at his stats, it is very easy to see why people see Kotchman as a high upside guy. A top prospect his entire minor league career, Kotchman broke through with a .296/.372/.467 line in 2007. When a 24-year-old top prospect puts up a .372 wOBA while flashing a plus glove, most people assume he has nowhere to go but up. Even after a couple of disappointing seasons, it’s easy to keep dreaming on that upside and expect a breakout. As much as I would love to be on the Kotchman bandwagon, I’m not so sure anymore.

2007 was a tale of two seasons for Kotchman, who suffered a concussion in June of that year. Post-injury his power, which finally seemed to be emerging in the first half, dropped off. His .199 first-half ISO dropped down to .138 in the second half,  stayed at .137 in 2008, and then plummeted to .114 last year.

This spring, I had the opportunity to watch Kotchman in both batting practice and game action down in Arizona. I was accompanied by a friend of mine who was a high school baseball standout and D1 recruit before an injury ended his baseball career.  Suffice it to say he and I see the game a little bit differently.  When I mentioned Kotchman’s name as a potential breakout candidate, my friend laughed, remarking “not with that swing he’s not.” Where I saw a 27-year-old hitter with a mature approach who’d hit for average and power in the past, my friend saw a guy who didn’t get the barrel of the bat through the strike zone quickly enough to punish major league pitching.

I was intrigued, and decided to look a little deeper into Kotchman’s offensive profile to see if I could isolate any differences between Kotchman’s 2007 and 2008-09 performances. While there were several small differences, each of which is potentially meaningful, one thing jumped out at me. In 2007, 36.2% of the pitches Kotchman saw were in the strike zone. In 2008, that number jumped to 48.8%, and rose again in 2009 to 49.6%. For comparison’s sake, league average Zone% has hovered right around 50% in those years.  Unfortunately, rather than punish pitchers for their new-found hubris, Kotchman’s power fell off a cliff.

The only hard conclusion I can draw from this is that major league pitchers have made an adjustment in their approach with Kotchman. Where they used to tiptoe around him, they no longer seem afraid to challenge him. It’s pure speculation I know, but my gut is telling me that major league scouts are telling their pitching coaches something similar to what my friend told me: Casey Kotchman doesn’t have the bat speed to be a threat anymore.

I hope I am wrong, but I am starting to see Kotchman more as a known quantity/solid roleplayer than as a guy capable of returning to his 2007 form.

EDIT: Jeff Sullivan points out that there seems to be a major blip in Fangraphs’ 2007 Zone% Data for the Angels and Dodgers in 2007 which may or may not render this entire post completely moot. Incorrect source data is frustrating.


14 Responses to “Casey Kotchman’s Upside”

  1. ayoon on March 27th, 2010 5:38 pm

    JH – At age 27, do you feel that his bat speed is completely gone? And if so, its not because of age because you usually hear about decreased bat speed when players are towards the end of their career.

  2. JH on March 27th, 2010 5:42 pm

    I really don’t know, ayoon. “Bat speed” is one of those impossible to measure things that you either need to defer to scouts on or decide to ignore and wait for results. Like I said, I can’t really draw hard conclusions from Kotchman’s Zone%, I’m just troubled by the fact that his production’s slipped even though our data says he should be seeing a lot more hittable pitches. It makes me think that the people deciding to go after him know something we don’t.

  3. Jeff Sullivan on March 27th, 2010 6:19 pm

    There’s something really weird with Fangraphs’ 2007 Zone% data for both LA teams. It’s just…well it’s wrong, and in situations like this it’s really annoying.

  4. Mekias on March 27th, 2010 6:34 pm

    I’m reluctant to believe in Kotchman too much. In the spring training games I’ve seen, the ball just doesn’t seem to come off his bat very well. The hits I’ve seen have been perfectly placed grounders and weak line drives over the infield. Maybe he just hasn’t been hitting the sweet spot yet. I’ve only watched like 10 ABs so far so I’ll continue to hope for the best.

  5. JH on March 27th, 2010 6:41 pm

    Wow. That’s a serious blip. The main post has been edited. Looking at that there’s something like a 0.000000001% chance Kotchman’s 2007 Zone% is reported correctly, and something like a 99.99999999% chance I wasted a half-hour of my life on this post.

  6. IwearMsHats on March 27th, 2010 7:23 pm

    It’s ok, I still love you and believe everything your high school baseball player said.

  7. tubbabubba22 on March 27th, 2010 7:23 pm

    I think it is interesting how fast some of my hope has fallen in roughly a month. I know we can not read too much into spring training but just one month ago we had posts on here saying that we need to control our excitement. Now, one month later Cliff is hurt, the back of our rotation and main bullpen guys aren’t pitching well at all, and it seems as though all the things we hear about our hitters are negative. Is this just a negative approach? Am I reading too much into spring training? Or is this just reality setting in?

  8. h_darrow on March 27th, 2010 7:38 pm

    Garrett Anderson destroyed his swing. Hopefully, the coaching staff can fix it.

  9. Jeff Sullivan on March 27th, 2010 7:55 pm

    Sorry about that, JH. I’ve gotten bit by this too.

  10. Alex on March 27th, 2010 11:08 pm

    Dave or someone else,

    I was wondering if you could make a post of the top ten things that have to go right for the M’s in order to be successful? Things like Jack Wilson has got to make it 150 games or Erik Bedard needs to pitch effectively at least half the season.

  11. Paul B on March 28th, 2010 7:56 am

    Regardless, it appears that the Mariner brain trust thinks they can fix Kotchman, or at least get enough offense from him that they can live with it.

    This will be especially true if Sweeney makes the team. Because, instead of a platoon at first base and Bradley platooning with Junior at DH, Sweeney would DH with Junior, and Bradley and Kotchman would play every day.

    It also raises a question that might be a good future post — when playing in Safeco against a left handed starter, when is it best to replace a left handed batter in the lineup with a righty?

    In other words, which is stronger, Safeco field or the standard lefty-righty platoon split?

  12. Kazinski on March 28th, 2010 12:17 pm

    You’ll have to excuse me if I take the opinion of the Mariners coaches and scouting department over the opinion of your friend who was a really good high school baseball player. I don’t think the Mariners are going to plug Kasey Kotchman in the 3 hole and make him the everyday 1st baseman just based on hoping the last two years are flukes.

  13. gwangung on March 28th, 2010 1:03 pm

    Rank stupidity or laziness is rarely excusable. Are folks really reading the posts?

  14. MrZDevotee on March 28th, 2010 4:04 pm

    Another upside for Kotchman is that he doesn’t have a herniated disc. The Indians just announced Russell Branyan will start the season on the 15 day disabled list with another herniated disc setback. And he hasn’t even had an at-bat yet in ST.

    Another feather in Mr.Z’s astute GM cap. And I was all for resigning him in the offseason.

    (How did Branyan pass a physical to get his contract?)