A Look at Kotchman’s Balls in Play

The Mariners traded for Casey Kotchman and he will regain a full-time role there after playing just part-time in Boston. As Dave Cameron noted, this might be his last opportunity to show that he can hit enough to be a full-time MLB first basemen. That is not to say that he is ever going to be a big-slugging first baseman — even 20 HRs seems like a stretch — but maybe he can have doubles power and post a high enough BABIP to be an asset at the plate.

That was the case in 2007 when 37 doubles and a .308 BABIP coupled with his always good contact skills and plate discipline (over his career he has only slightly more strikeouts than walks) resulted in a solid 121 wRC+. Since then he has posted wRC+s in the 90s. Not bad, but not what you expect from a player at a position near the bottom of the defensive spectrum.

The problem has been with his balls in play, as both his ISO and BABIP have fallen since 2007. To dig deeper into the cause of this drop I wanted to look at his balls in play.

I use the same technique I introduced in my Garrett Atkins post, by breaking the field in ten zones and looking at the number of non-ground balls to each zone and the slugging on those balls (in the Atkins post I used BABIP, but here I use slugging). The first zone is the infield, and after that each ring is 100 feet from the pervious. So the three zones after the infield include balls in the air less than 100 feet beyond the infield-grass line. The number in each zone is the fraction of balls in the air to that zone. The color shows the slugging percentage on balls hit in the air in that zone. The lightest color (the infield for example) has a slugging of zero, and the darkest color (deep right field) has a slugging of about 2.5, so balls in the air to that zone result in a little bit more than a double, on average.

Clearly, Kotchman’s power is to to right field, as is typical for a LHB. But in 2007 he hit more balls, and with better results, to center field. The other major difference is in the number of balls in the air to the infield; he has had many more since 2007. These pop-ups are effectively automatic outs. Another slight difference is on the slugging on balls to left field just beyond the infield. In 2007, that was 0.778; but since, just 0.240. These are most likely bloop singles, and this difference is most likely just luck.

So the big differences are more power to center, a few more lucky bloop singles to left and fewer pop-ups in 2007. Whether he can regain 2007 is still an open question, but I think it is interesting to see that the performance in 2007 was a mix of performance (less pop-ups and more long hits to center) and luck (bloop singles). A last consideration is that, as Dave noted, Kotchman will be aided by the short right field walls in Safeco, where he hits a large proportion of his long flies.




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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.


34 Responses to “A Look at Kotchman’s Balls in Play”

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  1. Casadilla says:

    Immaturity gets the best of me on this one…Bwahahaha!

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  2. The Nicker says:

    I hate to complain about free content, but can we get a little less Mariner-centric. Two stories on Casey Kotchman? Really?

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Are there any players or teams you would like to see covered more? I am open to suggestions. It was something I thought was interesting and that I could cover from a different angle than Dave C’s original post.

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      • Christo says:

        Yes, I’d like to see an in-depth look at the geopolitical situation in the Far East using the Mariners’ outfield defense as an exemplar.

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      • The Nicker says:

        Well in all seriousness, I think you guys do a great job here. I pretty much gobble up anything that is written here. Mostly that was just a spur-of-the-moment comment to take a shot at Casey Kotchman.

        But since I have the spotlight, and you are the individual batted ball/pitch f/x guy — I would love to see some more breakdowns of pitch repetoire and effectiveness from the best remaining free agent starters. The one you did on Piniero was great.

        Particularly guys like Washburn, Wang, Bedard, and Doug Davis.

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      • JB says:

        Just an observation – 2 of the 4 were Mariners last year – you’re not helping your own request of less Mariner-centrism.

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    • Deelron says:

      They tend to cover the teams that are making deals as they happen, this offseason the M’s have had an uneven amount of coverage due to their disproportionate amount of offseason activity (at least of a sort of interesting kind).

      I’d personally love to see more Giants articles, but when you’re signing Juan Uribe and Mark DeRosa while discussing the (apparent) incapability of Travis Ishikawa to start, Casey Kotchman becomes relatively interesting.

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      • joser says:

        Heh, yes, we feel your pain. (Nobody wants to talk about Juan Uribe)

        And it’s true the M’s have had more than 1/30th of the interesting stories/signings this winter. When the AL Central is doing so little that the first big story of the year is Twins Don’t Sign Jarrod Washburn (and even that has a Mariners angle!) what are you going to do?

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    • joeIQ says:

      There were 2 stories on the Cubs and Byrd. I think it’s excusable.

      Other than the lovefest for Gutierrez (which I share) I don’t think it’s M-centric.

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    • Roc says:

      We are brainwashing you into becoming a M’s fan.

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  3. CircleChange11 says:

    I just commented on how much I like the Rotographs articles (as compared to the FG articles), and then I read this one. This is really cool and useful stuff.

    When I read the Atkins article and noted that he was basically making the same contact, but balls were travelling a shorter distance, I had two initial thoughts: [1] maybe an injury has permanently or significantly affected his power, [2] maybe he previously used PEDs, or [3] he’s stopped working out and has lost strength.

    The same applies with Kotchman.

    You asked for what players we’d like to see analyzed?

    I have one … Rick Ankiel.

    During his comeback as a hitter, we discovered that the “feel good” story and “The Natural” comeback was aided by ‘prescribed’ HGH in a recovery from injury period.

    In 08 Anky nailed 25 HRs in 463 AB, hitting .260, while K’ing 100 X’s.

    He looked like he could be a .265-30 HR type OF while displaying decent range and a cannon for an arm. That’s acceptable in StL. Now, it looks like he may be closer to the .245-15 HR guys which is not as acceptable, due to his .231-11 HR performance in 400+ AB in 09. Granted he went face first into the wall at one point, but Anky struggled all year, especially when being given every chance to be the “guy that gets to hit behind pujols”.

    I’d like to see similar graphs and see if Ankiel too, has lost “carry” on his fly balls hit, because his walk, K, and BABIP rates are that dramatically different, but his SLG and ISO numbers are.

    That might give us some type of indicator on whether he has an injuryb that’s affecting his power numbers, or if the ‘PED-Effect’ has normalized after discontinuing use.

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    • MarkInDallas says:

      I do think Ankiel would be a worthy subject for this kind of analysis, however, any thought that his power came from HGH just has no basis in reality.

      First, unlike steroids, HGH has minimal effect on strength, if any. It has never been shown to increase athletic performance at all. It’s main beneficial effects have believed to be in the retardation of the aging process and healing of injured tissue, including ligaments, which was what Ankiel was using it for.

      Secondly, Ankiel’s HGH use was as a pitcher in 2004, after TJ surgery, and all the evidence points to having it happen exactly as he said it did. It wasn’t discovered until years later, so it likely stopped just when his prescription ran out after 1 year. All of this happened over 2 years before his 2007 breakout season as a hitter, which means that no reasonable person who understands the facts could believe that taking HGH in 2004 would cause him to be any stronger in 2007.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        “however, any thought that his power came from HGH just has no basis in reality.”
        ====================

        I wish that were the case, it would make the HGH situation moot. Unfortunately it really is [1] the magic drug, and [2] untestable.

        [1] HGH makes everything grow. Bigger muscles = stronger muscles.
        [2] Steroids do not aid the repair of connective tissue (tendons and ligaments), HG does. I can’t stress how important that is since connective tissue is often the weakness or limiter of steroid-aided strength (once a steroid user injuries his knees/elbows, that’s it, they’re done … the ligaments on their own can never repair enough to handle the immense muscle strength).
        [3] HG and PED use does NOT leave at the discontuining of use. If you add 30 pounds of muscle or X amount of strength via PEDs, then it will decrease as time goes on, but you’ll still have the carry-over effect as the years go one … eventually your body normalizes after some years, and that is what I was looking at. One might lose 10-15 pounds a muscle a year (depending on activity level), and 40-70 pounds of strength depending on other factors. But, the muscle and strength do not leave in totoal within the first year.

        I’m not saying Anky’s drop is due to PED use alone … another possibility is mechanical where he’s not rotating his hips effeciently and essentially “arm swinging”, or he’s not recognizing pitches early enough which would also resulting in similar contact, etc rates, but less power.

        BUT, Anky’s power SURGED in 2007, after not playing in 05 and 06, and has decreased each year (2008, 2009), which WOULD be consistent with PED-aided gains, and the subsequenct, gradual decrease in power/strength as the years go on.

        He got power quickly, and then lost it gradually. That screams PED use, which sucks. Look at his 2007 AAA numbers.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Sorry, after reading your post, you think that it happened as Ankiel stated and that he did not use PEDs past the 2004/05 surgery and recovery point. I wish I could be as believing, but after player denial after player denial, I’ve lost my “they’re probably telling the truth” feeling.

        His power has decreased gradually since 2007, and there is likely a reason or a few reasons. I was mostly curious as to how the rotograph’s info might help us narrow it down.

        Regardless, we’ll never know (unless he tells us) to what extent he used HGH. Prescription GH has turned out to be the ULTIMATE alibi, as in how could the fans look down on an athlete using a prescribed medicine to recover from surgery. Taking highly competitive, professional athletes “at their word” regarding a situation that most fans view as ‘cheating’ has not been a very rewarding endeavor.

        Interesting that he did not play for 2 years (an untested two years, at that), and then came back as a super slugger. FWIW, I’m a big Anky fan (going back to his pitching days), I’ve just become more realistic in my expectations regarding aspects of player’s performance that seem too good to be true, for that time period. Ankiel was also at that “make it or give it up”, point where pro athletes basically have “no option” as their fallback. All the red flags are there … again, unfortunately.

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    • Felonius_Monk says:

      For what it’s worth, I’ve taken a bit of a look at Ankiel, and the major difference in his profile as a hitter in 2009 from 2007/8 is that his contact % on pitches outside the strike zone took a huge drop – he was making contact with about 5% fewer pitches out of zone (OOZ) than he was in 08 or 09.

      In other respects (other than his BABIP and HR/FB was down a bit) he was much the same, but his increased whiff rate out of the zone meant he was getting behind more in counts and striking out at an even higher rate. He wasn’t swinging at more outside stuff, he was just missing it more.

      Over at vivaelbirdos, VivaElPujols (one of the posters who occasionally posts here) did a pitchFX look at what pitchers were throwing, and what Ankiel was missing, at my request. The takehome message seemed to be that his whiffrate had increased on breaking pitches especially, and that pitchers were throwing him slightly more of them, and slightly further out of the zone. In effect, people were making him chase more, and he was getting fooled.

      His results when he DOES make contact should improve a bit in 2010, and his early season injury (when he collided with the CF wall at Busch) must’ve had some impact on his results (although he was just as bad before this as he was after), so you’d expect a mild bounceback in 2010. That said, expecting average performance from Ankiel seems a real stretch – my best guess is that he’ll continue to post a pretty awful OBP, that he’ll hit for power a bit better in 2010, and continue to be a poor CF/good corner outfielder, overall maybe about a 1 WAR guy.

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  4. Jayson says:

    Is “blob single” a repeated typo or this a real thing?

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  5. MarkInDallas says:

    So, basically, this analysis says that attempting to hit to all fields instead of trying to pull everything can increase your BABIP. That sounds like good advice.

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  6. Max says:

    The Plan

    1. Mariners trade for Casey Kotchman.
    2. Kotchman struggles to hit for even an average average.
    3. Mariners find themselves in a 3-way race for the AL West.
    4. Mariners trade for Adrian Gonzalez at the trade deadline.

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  7. NEPP says:

    I wonder if Jack Z has a endgame in mind or is gonna turn into one of those GMs that tinkers just to tinker.

    So far, it appears that he’s the former, not the latter. I hope it continues as he’s done an amazing job so far of assembling a team that could take the AL West in a weak year,

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    • Paul says:

      Well, apparently they needed a 1B and don’t want to play Carp there. It’s a terrible option, though. They would have been better off signing Felipe Lopez (who apparently has no other offers) and moving Lopez to 1B. Would have upgraded the defense more than this move, and amazingly and a point that further emphasizes Kotchman’s futility, the offense as well.

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      • Felonius_Monk says:

        Lopez has great range but poor handling skills. He drops a lot of balls and makes mental errors in the field. That, to me, doesn’t look like a skill set that has maximal value at first base.

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  8. NEPP says:

    Kotchman’s a pretty good defensive 1B. Maybe the Mariners are focusing on defense.

    Felipe Lopez has never really played 1B, they probably didn’t want to have him trying to learn how to play on the fly.

    Kotchman UZR/150

    2007 – 7.5
    2008 – 5.3
    2009 – 11.1

    Yeah, Lopez is the better bat but perhaps they’re banking on Kotchman producing like he did in his Age 24 season (119 OPS+). He’s kinda gotten screwed by being bounced around so much the last few years. Maybe if he settles in with one team with steady playing time, he’ll play like he’s shown flashes of in the past.

    But yeah, he’s not exactly the prototypical offensive 1B.

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  9. NEPP says:

    Or am I being stupid and you meant moving Jose Lopez to 1B, not Felipe?

    That would make more sense.

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    • Paul says:

      Right, sorry, I got Lopez’d. Kotchman’s results make total sense to me. His swing mechanics are a disaster and he’s very easy to pitch to. And it’s kind of funny that someone else mentioned Ishikawa, because while he’s not a world-beater, he would be the much better play, and they probably could have done the same deal dumping Hall.

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  10. micahjr says:

    http://ussmariner.com/2009/12/19/first-base-options/

    After looking at Lopez’s awful wOBA due to awful OBP, I have to think that Kotchman can probably outperform him. Jose Lopez hit 25 homers and was still only an average offensive player. Kotchman has two .360 wOBA seasons, Lopez has topped out at about 30 points less, and is getting less patient at the plate. Kotchman and Lopez are at best a wash at 1st base defensively, but Kotchman has a more reliable sample size.

    Also, HGH has not been clinically proven to due anything in the human body past a certain age but cause cancer. There are a lot of doctors and patients that believe it is the fountain of youth, but it has yet to be proven. Ankiel could have benefitted from it if used during his 20s, though.

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  11. ruthuff says:

    I’m Loving the mariners chances in 2010!

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    • NEPP says:

      Call me crazy but I like this signing. I’ve liked every move Jack Z has made.

      You got a great pitcher in Cliff Lee. He is completely underrated. Top 10 in the majors. King Felix and Lee in a short series will be tough…best 1-2 in the AL. They added very good defenders at both IF corners, very solid OF defensively.

      Overall a very solid team in a division that is very winnable with the Angels taking a big step back.

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  12. John Stamos says:

    sweet

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  13. JMHawkins says:

    Um, not to nitpick, but you’ve got an error somewhere. Kotchman’s 2007 graph adds up to 107%.

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