Thursday, June 02, 2005

What the hell is going on with Casey Kotchman?

After he hit .371 at two minor league levels last season, I lamented the fact that there was no place on the major league roster for Kotchman. Sure, he struggled in his time in the majors last season, but lots of guys struggle when they first meet major league pitching.

In Spring Training, Kotch made me look smart, hitting 358/394/433 in 67 at-bats. But when the bell run and the Salt Lake season commenced, Casey went hitless for his first 17 AB, and at the time of his call-up had amassed a mere 268/352/333 line.

There are a few things particularly disturbing about this recent performances:

1. The utter lack of power. Though Kotchman was never a big power guy, he looked like someone who would develop power as he got older, and at the very least would be able to spray some liners into gaps for doubles. Here's his isolated power (extra bases per at-bat) by hear and level:
Year  Level  ISO
2002 Low-A 163
2003 R 260
2003 Hi-A 175
2004 AA 175
2004 AAA 186
Okay, now all of that is acceptable. But then:
Year  Level  ISO
2004 AL 052
2005 ST 075
2005 AAA 066
That amounts to 366 AB at the major league and AAA levels, including Spring Training. In those AB, Kotch has only 21 extra-base hits: 20 doubles and one home run.

2. Deteriorating plate discipline. Casey's walks per at-bat and walks per strikeout at each year and level:
Year  Level  BB/AB  BB/K
2002 Low-A .167 1.30
2003 R .074 .67
2003 Hi-A .146 1.88
2004 AA .088 1.43
2004 AAA .070 .56
2004 AL .060 .64
2005 ST .060 .36
2005 AAA .126 1.21
You don't need a roadmap to pick out the trends there; Kotch gradually lost control of the strike zone as he moved up the ladder (which can be expected to some degree), though he seems to have gotten back on track in AAA this year.

You certainly remember how long it took Kotchman to strike out upon reaching the majors last season; what people (read: the media) didn't seem to notice is that he was grounding out early in the count, making it hard to strike out later. He saw only 3.38 pitches per plate appearance in the AL last year -- that was less than Garret Anderson (3.57), not exactly known for his patient ways. And Kotch's first nine plate appearances this season have seen only 26 pitches in total.

Does this mean I'm down on Kotchman? No; he's only 22 years old, for God's sake. He's only a month younger than Francisco Rodriguez! And what's more, I salute the Angels for calling him up even though he began the season struggling, as it demonstrates an intuitive understanding of sample size.

It's clear that he's up to throw his hat into the DH ring, alongside Juan Rivera and Legs Figgins. (And while we're at it, can the Figgins-in-right madness go away?) With Vlad's return still possibly a couple of weeks away, Kotchman will likely have enough opportunity to get hot and prove he belongs, thereby keeping Figgins in his super-utility role and staving off the need for the Angels to go out and acquire a bona fide hitter to fill the DH slot. But unless Kotchman reacquires his plate discipline and starts packing enough punch so that Scioscia is not consigned to sacrifice bunt with the guy who hits so you don't have to make the pitcher go up and bunt, Bill Stoneman's phone will start ringing sooner than later.

I'm not the least bit worried about Kotch's plate discipline. He was overmatched as he climbed the ladder (that bares itself out not only in the numbers, but just watching him at the plate back in those days). No big deal, like you said. He's rebounded nicely this year now that he's repeating the level and he looks comfortable in AAA.

Now the lack of power – that’s scary. I’m really starting to think he’s never going to be a homerun threat.
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