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Casey At The Bat (Now Playing In Cleveland)

After trying and failing to sign Carlos Pena earlier this offseason, the Indians satisfied their first base needs with another former Tampa Bay Ray last week: Casey Kotchman. They inked him to a one-year contract worth $3 million with a bunch of incentives, pushing Matt LaPorta aside for the time being.

Kotchman was a middling batting average (.259 from ’04-’10), no-power (.139 ISO) first baseman for the first seven seasons and 2,328 plate appearances of his career, but he showed some signs of life by hitting .306/.378/.422 in 563 plate appearances with the Rays last season. He still didn’t offer any power (just ten homers), but at least the batting average was there. Still just 28 years old, the Tribe is hoping that Kotchman will add some pop as he enters his peak years and deepen their lineup.

The improvement shown last year — .333 BABIP in 2011 after .277 from ’04-’07 — didn’t come with any significant change in Kotchman’s batted ball profile. Here’s the year-by-year graph…

He has started to hit more ground balls in recent years, but nothing too insane. It does help explain the lack of power, obviously. Point is, there’s no radical shift here that would explain the BABIP spike. Rather than spin our wheels and continue to look for something that might not be there, we have to acknowledge that the eye procedure Kotchman underwent last offseason may be the sole reason behind his improvement. A bacterial infection clouded his vision (“It was kind of like looking through a dirty windshield wiper,” he said), but he finally had it cleaned out last winter. Being able to see clearly is pretty important, and could have easily contributed more to his improvement than any other factor.

Now it’s entirely possible that Kotchman’s newfound success in 2011 is a sustainable thing, but the problem is that it still doesn’t make him all that valuable in fantasy. First baseman have to give you homers and run production, not batting average and little else. He could develop some more over-the-fence power going forward — Progressive Field is slightly friendly to lefties according to StatCorner’s park factors — but it would have to be quite a bit of power to become a factor on draft day. I like Kotchman best as a bench guy or injury replacement, not an everyday player. In ottoneu leagues, he’s a 700-800 point first baseman, which should run you less than five bucks.