FreeZo wrote about the Casey Kotchman option today.
This is an impossible argument to have without knowing specifics as so much of roster managing throughout the season is about context. FZ ran the numbers on various options should Manny Ramirez or Dan Johnson come up with an injury during the season. He found a marginal advantage to having Desmond Jennings up and in the lineup as opposed to Kotchman, but notes that this strategy is detriment to keeping Jennings’ service time in check.
If it’s June 1 and the Rays are 10 games out of first place when Ramirez pulls a hamstring, then sure, bring up Kotchman. If it’s August 22 and the Rays are three games up for the Wild Card when Johnson breaks a finger, I’m not so sure Jennings isn’t the one to call. Or Robinson Chirinos, or –long shot here, but he’s on the 40-man, so what the heck—Brandon Guyer. The service time argument is true, however I think everyone will agree that Jennings will be up in September, which adds another 15-to-20 days to his time anyways, and isn’t that about the timeframe for a regular disabled list stint?
Two seasons ago, the Rays were comfortably out of the hunt in September when Durham’s season ended. Neither Matt Joyce or Sean Rodriguez joined the big league club. No reasons were given, but I believe the club avoided giving the pair additional days of service time. A similar manipulation could take place this season with Jennings if they absolutely must shave extra time off. Let’s be clear: I’m all for the service time tricks. Take the difference between B.J. Upton’s handling and Evan Longoria’s and it’s clear which front office had a plan in mind. Longoria’s clock is just shy of the year of service time mark. Willy Aybar’s injury and the extension make it meaningless, but the Rays essentially milked as much out of his minor league stint as possible.
I want to use this as a jumping point into a related topic: I remain unenthused about Kotchman. It’s nothing personal, as I’m completely apathetic to him as person. The media love for him, while distressing, is easy enough to ignore too –Johnny Damon majored in Politically Correct Media Talk and I like him all the same—and even the fanboys, while awfully annoying, probably think the Dan Johnson love is sickening too. No, the problem with Kotchman is that I don’t think he’s very helpful on this team.
If he were right-handed, or could hit groundball pitchers, or could play other positions, or did just about anything other than what he does, then maybe there’d be a spot for him. If this team didn’t have bench options like Elliot Johnson and Sam Fuld who couldn’t be optioned down, I might even be okay with him riding the pine for late inning substitutions. Instead, he’s an inflexible first baseman whose plate appearances must be minimized in order to maintain optimal value. This sounds stupid, but I’d almost he rather have a large platoon split thus making him more exploitable, but also more playable.
A Kotchman start means he has to come out as soon is it appears to be his final at-bat in a close game anyways, because you don’t want him up in double play situations, lest he kill a rally with a double play. FZ suggested Kotchman’s 2010 season is as flukey as Jason Bartlett’s 2009 and I agree with that. I don’t think Kotchman is the worst hitter in baseball, I just don’t think he’s a very good hitter either. And, probably more importantly and telling, I don’t think he can magically morph into a merely good hitter. His 90th percentile PECOTA projections still leave him below average for a first baseman. That’s a really difficult factoid to achieve, but his 2010 cemented it. Even in 2008 and 2009 he had a 92 OPS+ and an on-base percentage of .333. Maybe Kotchman will become a good player again, but I wouldn’t bank on it, and neither should anyone else given the information we have.
Kotchman supporters love picking on Johnson’s unproven self, but his career lows are an 84 OPS+ and a .323 on-base percentage, both in 2006. You know what’s funny about that season? Johnson suffered a weird injury where suntan lotion got into his eyes and affected his vision. If Johnson were Kotchman, it would come up in his defense. He’s not though, so people disregard it. Johnson also spent last season as a designated hitter, which is known to actually deflate offensive contributions, yet he still managed an OPS+ of 110.
Over the weekend at DRB, someone suggested people rallied to keep Carlos Pena in the lineup because of his glove, thus tying it to the idea that Kotchman will somehow break into the lineup even if Johnson is healthy. I was not one of those people –I wanted him to stay in the lineup for other obvious reasons—but even at his worst, Pena’s OPS+ was 102. That’s a huge difference over Kotchman at not quite absolute worst. Yeah, Kotchman’s glove is better, but this isn’t just about offense or defense, just like building a roster isn’t always about the best 25 or 40.
The Rays hit it big with run prevention in 2008 and they mostly kept the same formula intact during recent seasons with some alterations. The 2008 team pales in comparison to the 2009, 2010, and dare I say 2011 versions of the team. In retrospect, it is remarkable that team won. The mantra around the Rays has become defense first, defense always, but it’s not really true. The team looks for undervalued assets. Sometimes these players will have a slight lean to their game, but there’s no pattern outside of their actual value outweighing the perceived. Take a look at the notable positional players in camp added this offseason:
The big ones are offensive-first guys. Carter and Lopez are offensive guys. Fuld and Kotchman are decidedly defensive heavy, but there’s no clear pattern. In the past they acquired Matt Joyce, who is a good defender, but a really nice hitter. Sean Rodriguez, a guy some said didn’t have a defensive position, who tore up the minors with his bat. Johnson is another guy acquired for his bat, not his glove –although it’s overstated how “bad” he is, just like it’s overstated how “good” Pena was, although his positioning and footwork around the base in receiving throws were exceptional.
So, Kotchman is no lock because he happens to share an attribute with some of the 2008 Rays. He’s also not a lock because of his spring stats, which annoying get quoted like they matter more than they should in this community. I guess it’s willful ignorance or the need for a narrative to go with games. That’s part of the season I can’t get into football. Every game is treated as dependent variables. If a team wins one week, then loses the next, all progress is supposedly lost. It’s not like that in baseball, at least not to the extremes taken on the gridiron. Whatever the reason, spring training is about health. Either staying healthy or proven that you’re healthy. The most important thing this team can exit Port Charlotte with is health, not a winning record or hot streaks across the board, but health.
If the alternative is the proven Kotchman for a long stretch of time, then let’s hope they keep healthy, because it’s not going to be pretty.