Thursday, February 02, 2012

First Priority - Indians Ink Kotchman

With Prince Fielder and Carlos Pena off the market (THE DOLANZ R CHEE…wait, the Indians offered more for Pena than the Rays did?), the Indians added a piece to the 1B picture from the FA pile as Casey Kotchman has signed a 1-year deal with the Tribe for $3M. Though it was thought (probably mostly in Kotchman’s camp) that Kotchman would be in line for a multi-year offer or at least a deal for more than $5M or so after his 2011 season – which represented his best season (by far) to date – the Indians find themselves fortunate to be able to add Kotchman at a reasonable price and on a short-term deal. While some will see this as the “solution” to the 1B issue that the Indians have attempted to address all off-season, it represents something different – a more attractive option.

By that I mean that the addition of Kotchman doesn’t mean that the Indians have found a perfect fit for their needs, in that Kotchman is LH (though I think this is overblown…even if his struggles against LHP are very real) and not RH, probably benefited from some serious luck in 2011, and is probably not even an everyday player for the Tribe in 2012. That said, Kotchman is NOT Matt LaPorta and the Indians have unquestionably upgraded the 2012 roster with Kotchman’s tremendous glove (important with the GB pitchers and two players that are pretty much rookies in the infield) and his ability to hit RHP, all without committing too much in terms of years or dollars.

Don’t take that to mean that Kotchman is a “bad” addition as just yesterday, most of the Friends of the Feather were attempting to rationalize Russ Canzler (and here are more words than have ever or will ever be written about him) as the 2012 1B, but there’s a reason that Kotchman was still available on the FA market and why the Indians were able to get him for “just” $3M. Much of that is something that I addressed a few weeks back when I wrote this:
Casey Kotchman has a .610 OPS vs. LHP since the beginning of his 2009 season and while his .709 OPS vs. LHP last year was the highest of his career, there is a very real concern with Kotchman that his 2011 offensive numbers will represent the outlier as his 2011 production took SUCH a big jump (Kotchman had a LaPortian .717 career OPS coming into the 2011 season with only 49 career HR in 645 games going into last year) perhaps paced by a supernatural BABIP in 2011 that the very real possibility that Kotchman may not be that much of an upgrade over LaPorta throws up enough red flags to fill the sky.

Granted, most of that focuses on Kotchman's offense and not his strong defense, and let’s ignore (for now) that B-Pro’s John Perrotto sent a tweet out a couple of days ago that the “Indians buying Russ Canzler from (the) Rays has a good chance of working better for Tribe than signing Casey Kotchman…Canzler has more upside”. Rather, let me expand on what I only touched on in the piece from a few weeks ago on Kotchman that “his 2011 offensive numbers will represent the outlier” because it was “paced by a supernatural BABIP”.

To expand on that, let’s jump off from a piece that appeared in FanGraphs last August that Kotchman’s 2011 was a result of “luck” and not a new approach or even…yes, his improved vision. If we’re looking at the peripherals for Kotchman’s 2010 season with the Mariners and his 2011 campaign in Tampa, the raw numbers are pretty much the same:
Strikeout rate (K/PA)
2010 - 12.5%
2011 - 11.7%

Walk rate (BB/PA)
2010 - 7.6%
2011 - 8.5%

Ground ball rate (GB/batted balls)
2010 - 55.4%
2011 - 55.8%

Line drive rate (LD/batted balls)
2010 - 17.5%
2011 - 18.3%

Home Run rate (HR/fly balls)
2010 - 9.2%
2011 - 8.8%

Isolated Patience (OBP – AVG)
2010 - .063
2011 - .072

Isolated Slugging (SLG-AVG)
2010 - .119
2011 - .116

Essentially the same guy, right?
Sure, he walked a little bit more and struck out less, but he had less power in 2011 than he did in 2010 and if Kotchman’s vision was THAT much better in 2011, shouldn’t some of that bear out over the course of 500 plate appearances?

Maybe that’s just me being snarky, as is the suggestion that the batted balls could have been the ones with improved vision, because there was one major difference between Kotchman’s last two seasons…
2010 - .229
2011 - .355

What did that difference in BABIP (largely a by-product of simple luck) mean to Kotchman’s lines for the two years?
2010 – .217 BA / .280 OBP / .336 SLG / .616 OPS / .270 wOBA
2011 - .306 BA / .378 OBP / .422 SLG / .800 OPS / .351 wOBA

Starting to see why Casey Kotchman was still a man without a contract as most of his peripherals remained the same as they were in a 2010 season, after which he settled for a minor-league deal in Tampa?
Again, that’s not to say that Kotchman does not add some much-needed depth at 1B or that finding a glove-first 1B isn’t a great idea, particularly with a GB-heavy staff and some youngsters around the infield…but let’s just put it out there that Bill James projects Matt LaPorta to have better offensive numbers in 2012 than Kotchman. Granted, some of that is based on Kotchman’s well-documented struggles against LHP (.245 BA / .305 OBP / .305 OBP / .610 OPS in his last 367 AB vs. LHP), which likely means that the Indians are going to incorporate some sort of convoluted platoon for Kotchman and Santana at 1B, with Marson catching against LHP.

That’s an arrangement that’s been alluded to for some time now, but the addition of Kotchman seems to confirm that the Indians will be shuttling The Axe Man up and down the 1B line depending on the pitcher. If you look at it in that manner, with Kotchman being a slick-fielding 1B who will play against RHP (.760 OPS vs. RHP in the last 3 years, .838 OPS vs. RHP in 2011) and serve as a late-inning defensive replacement, the addition makes a ton of sense. The other options on the roster for that role (prior to the Kotchman addition) consisted of an odd amalgamation of Hannahan (defense) or giving Duncan or LaPorta long looks at 1B. Looking at it that way, $3M to add Kotchman upgrades the Indians, simply by removing those options from the front-burner.

In that sense, Kotchman coming to Cleveland is something that isn’t going to generate a lot of vitriol…but it also shouldn’t generate any kind of true excitement as Kotchman represents an upgrade over the internal options and not much more than that. It’s a solid addition that improves the 2012 Tribe, if only incrementally. The Indians needed to add a 1B that improved the team and they did. It may not be a division-altering move or an addition that tilts the division in their favor, but those moves are costing about $214M these days.


smaynor said...

I admit that any hitter with a BABIP of .355 should scream luck. Still, a BABIP of .229 seems extremely unlucky. Considering the increased defense at 1B, I would be happy to see a Kotchman somewhere between 2010 and 2011.

MTF said...

Of course you would be happy to see him "somewhere between 2010 and 2011". Me too. Anyone would rather see their $3 million player be something better than bad.

With all these players vying for a 1B/LF roster spot (LaPorta, Duncan, Cunningham, Canzler, Kotchman and Brantley) the Indians will be able to ride whomever has the hot bat going into the season, and then spend the early part of the season switching to whomever Manny thinks is the (temporarily) better player. Obviously you handicap the favorites as Brantley and Kotchman, but it's hard to argue they are anything other than weak favorites at this stage. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens this spring, but it wouldn't chock me to see some entirely different, not presently on the roster, guy manning first base for the Tribe come August (if we are competitive, that is).

MTF said...

It just occurred to me today, but instead of being so meh about this news I would turn around and really like the Kotchman move if the Tribe were to add a greater RH offensive force to play LF. If that were to happen, adding a defensive plus player at a corner infield spot is a great idea. I wonder if Antonetti is done yet....

Paul Cousineau said...

"If the Tribe were to add a greater RH offensive force to play LF..."

Yoenis Cespedis?
There's your high-risk/high-reward play...

MTF said...

A fan can hope

Halifax said...

I think that's the kind of guy that they actually WOULD pay to get. Problem is, like so many other free agents, CLE not exactly high on his list.


Then, maybe not wanting to sign him so much...

MTF said...

Well, my hope at the beginning of the offseason was one I read in this space last season, to go get Mike Morse.