The First Base Problem
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.