Casey Kotchman’s Upside
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.Â 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,Â 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.Â Suffice it to say he and I see the game a little bit differently.Â 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.Â 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.