We’re pleased to welcome Tommy Rancel as the newest member of the FanGraphs staff. His debut post is below.
Last week, Mark Kotsay signed a one-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers worth $800,000 with incentives that could push it closer to $1.2 million. Kotsay receives a guaranteed major league contract despite coming off a season in which he hit .239/.306/.379 in just under 360 plate appearances for the Chicago White Sox. His .297 wOBA and 77 wRC+ last season were well below average, following a trend for Kotsay over the past few years. If you’re looking for a silver lining on defense, look elsewhere – he hasn’t been a good defender for most of the past decade.
Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash said Kotsay will fill the role that Jim Edmonds held last year. He will serve as the team’s primary bat off the bench as well as the fourth or fifth outfielder with the ability to fill in at first base if needed. Just a few days after his name was mentioned by Ash when speaking of Kotsay, Edmonds returned to the St. Louis Cardinals, potentially to fill a similar role.
Edmonds missed all of 2009, but made a surprise return to the big leagues last year playing for the Brewers and later the Cincinnati Reds. In 272 plate appearances, the 40-year-old hit .277/.342/.507. He joined Matt Joyce as the only players in the majors with at least 10 home runs and 15 doubles despite logging less than 275 plate appearances. As a defender, he did an admirable job in the field earning positive marks in a limited role. In total, he was worth nearly 3 WAR. Not bad for a non-roster invitee.
Naturally, Edmonds received a minor-league deal from St. Louis while Kotsay is guaranteed major league money. What?
Outside of being five-years younger, Kotsay holds no considerable advantage over Edmonds. Edmonds is a superior offensive player, and despite the age gap, is likely still the better defender. Even if you expect regression from Edmonds offensively, he almost certainly will continue to produce at a level (or two) above where Kotsay is right now. Of course health and age are factors, but we’re not asking either to play 162 games.
Although Edmonds spent most of his time last season in friendly offensive environments, he did most of his damage on the road. In nearly equal – but small – sample sizes, he carried a .338 wOBA at home (131 plate appearances) and a robust .397 wOBA away (141 plate appearances). His home run-to-flyball rate was a manageable and repeatable 13.6%. In terms of BABIP, his .324 mark was identical to his career average; however, a line drive rate of around 30% won’t happen again.
Kotsay, on the other hand, could see a slighly positive regression in BABIP, but nothing significant. His plate discipline, especially in terms of strikeouts, is also a tick better than Edmonds. That said, there is nothing here to suggest he will close the wide lead Edmonds holds over him( unless of course Edmonds realizes he’s almost 41 and most 41-year-olds don’t have post wOBA near .370 which could certainly happen).
Since both are left-handed batters, we should also note that both players are likely to see the bulk of their playing time against right-handed pitching. Last year, Kotsay earned a modest .321 wOBA against RHP in 332 appearances. Meanhile, Edmonds’ .377 wOBA versus RHP (200 plate appearances) was once more markedly better. Both are small sample sizes of lengthy careers, but again it is unlikely Kotsay can best Edmonds here.
For the Cardinals, the minor league signing of Edmonds comes at no risk. At worst, he has nothing left in the tank and retires as a member of the organization. Because of his advanced age, the upside here isn’t tremendous (especially if he steals at-bats from Colby Rasmus), but if he comes in and provides league average production – or more – as a fourth outfielder/pinch hitter, it is still a good deal.
In fairness to the Brewers, they do get a hat tip for turning Edmonds into Chris Dickerson late last season. And even if Kotsay falls completely on his face, the maximum price tag of just over a million dollars does not cripple the franchise. The point is, if they wanted bring in a player to fill Jim Edmonds’ role, then why not just try and re-sign Jim Edmonds?