The First Base Problem

Dave · June 2, 2010 at 6:34 am · Filed Under Mariners 

With a limited budget, the Mariners took a chance on the hope of Casey Kotchman‘s untapped potential. A good hitter in the minors (and in the majors in 2007, his first year of regular playing time), the M’s hoped to buy low on a guy who could be more than he had been previously. In a lot of ways, Kotchman was this year’s Franklin Gutierrez.

Unlike with Death To Flying Things, it hasn’t worked out so well. The M’s talked of tweaking Kotchman’s swing and how he could take advantage of Safeco Field, but 175 plate appearances into the experiment, and Kotchman’s been almost exactly the same guy he was last year (even if the results don’t show it). A quick comparison:

2009: 9% BB%, 11% K%, .114 ISO, 51% GB%, 7% HR/FB
2010: 9% BB%, 12% K%, .123 ISO, 53% GB%, 8% HR/FB

His atrocious batting average is driven by a .201 batting average on balls in play, well below the .283 mark he posted last year, and has taken a decent player and made him useless so far. That will change – he’s not nearly as bad as his overall batting line would indicate.

But, regression to last year’s number isn’t what the M’s were hoping for. He wasn’t supposed to be the same guy as last year. The M’s were betting on improvement, and so far, there hasn’t been any. He’s still pounding the ball into the ground, limiting his ability to hit for power. He doesn’t have an extra base hit since May 5th, despite playing first base almost every day. The defense is nice, but even with a solid glove, he was just a +1 win player in 430 plate appearances last year, and he ended up as a reserve on a contending team.

It’s June, and it’s getting close to the time where the M’s may have to admit that Kotchman isn’t going to be Gutierrez 2.0. They’ve given him a chance to get back to what he was in 2007, and he hasn’t done it. He’s been the exact same disappointing player of the last few years, only with worse luck. And that’s just not going to cut it, no matter what direction the team decides to go in.

If they want to try to contend, they probably need to upgrade at first base. If they want to rebuild, well, Kotchman’s not part of the future here. He’s arbitration eligible at the end of the year, and I don’t think anyone wants to pay him roughly $4 to $5 million to try again next year. He’s a non-tender guy, so barring a monster second half, his Mariner career probably ends with 2010. So, you’re not building for the future by running him out there either.

No matter which way they go, the direction probably shouldn’t include Casey Kotchman, starting first baseman. They either need to upgrade the position or give the playing time to someone who might actually be around in 2011.


82 Responses to “The First Base Problem”

  1. Diehard on June 2nd, 2010 12:58 pm

    It isn’t hard to replace Kotchman’s offense. I mean Miguel Cairo or Vidro could probably do more than Kotchman has the last month. But his defense won’t be so easy to replace. But I am guessing if the M’s are in it come July, GMZ is gonna go big or go home.

  2. z24lax on June 2nd, 2010 1:00 pm

    So we could have had bill hall and russ branyan for around 4-6 million a season, and now we have casey kotchman and no bench player that can field on position, let alone multiple. Thats what the team gets for cheaping out.

  3. erikec on June 2nd, 2010 1:03 pm

    Kotchman sucks, Ackley is now tearing it up in AA. Ackley is a doubles hitter, with speed and a very high OBP. He played 1st base last year at NC. Why not play him at 1st base in Seattle for now?

  4. Bip on June 2nd, 2010 1:06 pm

    The mistake was made in the offseason when it was obvious we needed a first baseman with some offense and we opted for a F#@$%#$% terrible player in Kotchman. We deserved this. If we had simply offered Branyan his job back, we could be looking at a different situation with some upside. We needed offense and we stuck with our run saving metrics. Didn’t pay off. Should give Carp (and his 9 HR’s) some time in the majors as Kotchman is not helping us and is not in our future.

  5. jephdood on June 2nd, 2010 1:14 pm

    Ty Wigginton an option at first? How expensive might he be?

  6. Leroy Stanton on June 2nd, 2010 1:30 pm

    If we had simply offered Branyan his job back, we could be looking at a different situation with some upside.

    We did offer him his job back and he declined. There were rumors that he was looking for 3 years and a substantial amount of money. I’m pretty sure you’ll be thanking JackZ in a year or so.

  7. GripS on June 2nd, 2010 1:36 pm

    I think it would be a mistake to try and bring Ackley up this early. We all know what happens when top draft picks are brought up before their time.

  8. Idaho M on June 2nd, 2010 1:38 pm

    Would we be a better team right now if we had kept Beltre, Branyan and Morrow? I would say yes.
    But we wouldnt have been able to get Lee. So what we get in exchange for Lee is going to be huge for the future of Wak and JackZ.

  9. djw on June 2nd, 2010 1:44 pm

    Okay, so I’m still new to the world of stats, so go easy on me, and I’m not necessarily defending Kotch, but he’s one of only 4 (statistically relevant) Mariners with a BA RISP over .300 (.333). That may be meaningless, but with so many stranded Mariners in the past few months, it might be (maybe?) relevant. Or I’m way off.
    A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if there is any reason to believe a particular stat is a repeatable and consistent skill. We’ve got a pretty staggeringly overwhelming amount of data that RISP hitting, and clutch hitting more generally, are not. Only pay attention to outcomes where you have good reason to believe past performance is predictive of future performance. This is clearly not one of them, and the Mariners poor performance overall in this area doesn’t change this.

  10. eponymous coward on June 2nd, 2010 1:50 pm

    Also, in response to comparing Casey to Gutierrez, didn’t we all expect nothing from Guti offensively when he came on board? Would we be having this conversation if Guti had only reached expectations instead of surpassing them? Toss me some stats (seriously, I haven’t looked) about Kotch’s defense going downhill and we’ll talk.

    Kotchman’s been a bad player since his trade from LAAnaheim– net of less than one WAR in almost 800 PAs.

    To give you an idea of how bad Death to Flying Things would need to be to be THAT bad, Endy Chavez is almost a two WAR player for 2008-2009, and that’s quite a few less PAs (and no time in 2010). Gutierrez would be a 2 WAR player full time, as a slap hitter with his current defense- he’s just THAT good.

    Kotchman’s problem is good defense at 1B isn’t worth much- the money’s on having a decent bat. And at this point, he doesn’t have one.

  11. msfanmike on June 2nd, 2010 1:53 pm

    Ackley is nowhere near ready for the “jump.” He is just starting to figure out how to hit with the wood bat – and after 3 hits today his average is in the mid .230’s. He also does not hit for any power – and the M’s need to profile their power positions accordingly … since Ichiro resides comfortably outside the normal profile for a RF. Back to Branyan – I recall hearing over and over during the offseason that the FO “did their homework” on him. “We did our homework … we did our homework.” That sounded like code for “he is hurt and hurt pretty badly – and we are looking elsewhere.” In hindsight, not getting Branyan was a mistake. Branyan was a little greedy too in wanting a two year guarantee. He was insisting on it as a matter of fact. As his market continued to dwindlw, he ended up signing a 1 + 1 (team option). He also has a unique clause in his current year contract that does not allow him to be traded prior to June 15th without his permission. However, after June 15th, the Indians can trade him at their discretion. The Mariners could get him back if they really want him – which probably puts the FO into the unfortunate position of having to undo all their previous “homework” and bypass the opportunity to provide Carp with a legitimate opportunity. Back injuries are tricky and it could fire back up at any moment, so maybe the homework was solid and maybe they made a good decision long-term to not sign Branyan. I would love to see Branyan back as a part time DH/1B post Griffey exodus – with Niehause screaming about another majestic shot. That would make sense. Unfortunately, it probably makes more sense next year than this. Griffey is in the way. I doubt that Branyan will cost (on next years free agent market) the current $5M he is owed if the Indians exercise his year 2 option. Fortunately, Cleveland is plenty bad and will likely be looking to unload Branyan some time soon. He may be insisting on needing to provide permission to any pre-June 15th trade as leverage to get any intersted team into exercising the year #2 option in advance of this season expiring … which is, agreeably – nothing but pure speculation on my part.

  12. eponymous coward on June 2nd, 2010 1:56 pm

    Why would we play a 2B at 1B, especially when we’re going to a great deal of trouble to make Ackley into a MLB 2B? That’s just silly. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, Jose Lopez is on a TEAM option in 2011, and Chone Figgins could easily be shifted back to 3B next year.

  13. luckyscrubs on June 2nd, 2010 2:18 pm

    Would we be a better team right now if we had kept Beltre, Branyan and Morrow? I would say yes.

    I don’t think it is quite that simple. Beltre didn’t want to come back and no amount of reasonable money would have changed that. Branyan was a huge gamble and as we’ve seen with Mark Lowe back injuries can be unpredictable. And Morrow is the same frustrating pitcher in Toronto as he was here.

    The 2010 Mariners are better than the 2009 Mariners, if that is what you are asking. But between bad luck and injuries it is easy to be down on the 2010 version.

  14. Jon S. on June 2nd, 2010 2:26 pm

    If we deal Lee, we could get someone like Yonder Alonso from the Reds. And considering that the Reds need a front line starter something awful if they are going to take the central from the Cards, we may be able to get someone else with star potential as well. Someone like Chapman perhaps?

  15. erikec on June 2nd, 2010 3:03 pm

    Ackley is hitting .317 the last 25 games and .385 the last 10 games. I think he has figured out how to use a wood bat. His OBP is .397, even while hitting .147 in April. He has more walks than strike outs. I don’t think he has anything more to learn in AA or AAA. Putting him at 1st base would be a temporary thing, a way of getting him in the line up and Kotchman out of it.

  16. MX on June 2nd, 2010 3:16 pm

    Can we get Adam LaRoche from D’Backs? They are not a contender.

  17. spankystout on June 2nd, 2010 3:30 pm

    I think Kotch has potential, but his hands are in a poor position to hit. What I mean is, he starts with his hands slighlty above his shoulders. When he steps to load up, his hands drop to below the logo on his chest. Occasionally he gets his hands up again and regains his leverage. I think he needs to try something similar to Alex Rios, maybe not as drastic, where you start with your hands low, then bring them up when he steps to load. It is difficult to hit a baseball with authority when your hands are that low.

  18. stuafoo on June 2nd, 2010 3:37 pm

    Longtime reader, although I’ve never posted before. Thought I’d throw another name out there–what about Chris Davis from Texas? He’s got lots of pop, plus it’s not unthinkable to see him hitting .250 or so. His value is also recently diminished because it appears as if the rangers are going to stick with Smoak for the foreseeable future. I know sometimes teams are hesitant to make inter-division trades, but it seems like something worth exploring. What do you think?

  19. eponymous coward on June 2nd, 2010 3:39 pm

    Putting him at 1st base would be a temporary thing, a way of getting him in the line up and Kotchman out of it.

    Aside from the fact of, hello, Mike Carp, it’s silly to yank a prospect like Ackley all over the diamond just so you can give your team a last gasp chance at winning games in 2010, especially when Ackley’s probably just going to have to go back to 2B in 2011. I see no reason to rush Ackley to the majors to play a different position. Let him REALLY show mastery in hitting in the minors, not just a couple weeks worth of it.

  20. pgreyy on June 2nd, 2010 3:48 pm

    I bought into the “defense & pitching” concept, so I want to defend Kotchman as being the best defensive option we have at 1B…and hope that his hitting can be improved.

    I want to.

    But then I remember that I’ve been told that 1B is one of those positions where you don’t gain as much value for a good fielder versus an average fielder.

    –Although, that seems somewhat counter-intuitive to me…since a good defensive 1B would make the rest of the infield better, right?

    Assuming that it IS true, that defensive value at 1B isn’t worth as much as other positions…and if Kotchman’s value is only defensive…and his hitting, evidently, can’t be fixed…then his time as a Mariner should be at an end. I mean, you wouldn’t keep putting a pitcher on the mound who got hammered every time up JUST because he fielded his position well…

    I certainly don’t think that Sweeney at 1B is the way to go. Maybe on a rare occasion–as I think that playing the field will wreck him, physically (hell, even playing DH regularly wrecked him.)

    I wish I knew that Kotchman was motivated to improve his hitting–that he was working with our new hitting coach, that he felt some urgency to make a compelling case for giving him more time to get where we need him to be, that his batting coach feels there is a plan for his getting things turned around…as I really don’t like any other option currently available to us.

    Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe…but I’ve run out of reasons to try to defend sending Kotch out there anymore…

  21. Diehard on June 2nd, 2010 3:48 pm

    If they aren’t going to call anyone up in the near future then I want to see more Langerhans out there!!
    If his elbow is fine now, then there is no reason he should be rotting on the bench. The guy draws walks and is a smart hitter. He may not be the best hitter or a big offensive guy but he has a great approach.

  22. Westside guy on June 2nd, 2010 3:57 pm

    He’re we’re discussing/arguing the best way to improve at first, yet tonight the M’s are running our supposed “best lineup against LHP” out tonight against a righty, Kevin Slowey.

    I think it’s pretty obvious there’s more to fix here than 1B.

  23. beadyeyes123 on June 2nd, 2010 4:09 pm

    Ackley is hitting .317 the last 25 games and .385 the last 10 games. I think he has figured out how to use a wood bat. His OBP is .397, even while hitting .147 in April. He has more walks than strike outs. I don’t think he has anything more to learn in AA or AAA. Putting him at 1st base would be a temporary thing, a way of getting him in the line up and Kotchman out of it.

    Don’t put the cart before the horse. There is no need to rush the kid when he should be playing second and not first. There are trades to be made so give Z some time to find us a replacement for Kotch without risking screwing up Ackley.

    Promote Dustin to AAA and let’s challenge him there. Rushing him to the ML is a big mistake.

  24. rick m on June 2nd, 2010 4:34 pm

    Kila Ka’aihue is probably not available – or I would guess would take a trade of someone like a Triunfel or Pineda (which I may be willing to do, personally), but here are a few AAA lifers going nowhere whom I’d rather see play first than Kotchman:

    Shelly Duncan
    Brad Nelson
    Dan Johnson
    Andy Marte

    Others who should be available but probably aren’t:
    Chris Davis
    Hank Blalock

    My guess is Z is aiming higher. But it’s times like these that teams find the next Carlos Pena, Kenny Phelps, or Russell Branyan for that matter.

  25. pgreyy on June 2nd, 2010 4:40 pm

    Karl Ravech, ESPN-Baseball Tonight has just teased that Junior is about to retire.

    …as in, right now.

  26. pgreyy on June 2nd, 2010 4:42 pm

    Never mind. I see there’s already a thread for this.

  27. SODOMOJO360 on June 2nd, 2010 4:44 pm

    Mike Carp is the obvious in-house candidate to replace Kotchman. Carp would play regularly, resting occaisonally against lefties. It is doubtful that he would perform worse than Kotchman has.

    Yes it is beyond time to bring up Carp.

  28. SODOMOJO360 on June 2nd, 2010 4:45 pm

    So long Griffey. We’ll miss you.

  29. dingla on June 2nd, 2010 4:57 pm

    Clone time. Gehrig, Pujols, and Olerude DNA combined. “The 6th Day” style so the M’s dont have to sit around waiting.

  30. ima-zeliever on June 2nd, 2010 5:18 pm

    Has anyone complied a list of “blocked” 1B prospects? I am guessing Z has one. 🙂

  31. ima-zeliever on June 2nd, 2010 6:08 pm

    Jose Ruiz?

  32. clandon on June 2nd, 2010 11:01 pm

    Would we be a better team right now if we had kept Beltre, Branyan and Morrow? I would say yes.
    But we wouldnt have been able to get Lee.

    Unless you are making some assumption about payroll, I don’t know how you get to the conclusion you drew.

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