Casey Kotchman is a weird player, especially offensively. In 2010, he was terrible for the Seattle Mariners, hitting .217/.280/.336. In 2011, he was pretty good with the Rays, hitting .306/.378/.422. After signing a 3 million dollar deal with the Indians (a deal I thought was a no-brainer at the time) in the off-season, Kotchman is hitting .226/.289/.349.
In those 3 years, Casey Kotchman has seen a crazy swing in BABIP. His career BABIP is a bit under league average at .275, but in 2010, it was .229. In 2011, he swung over .100 points upwards to .335. So far in 2012, it has dropped back to .228 (Jose Bautista and Justin Smoak are the only two qualified hitters with a worse BABIP). I remember the narrative during Kotchman’s resurgent 2011 season was that he had an eye surgery that corrected his vision. With 20/20 hindsight, it doesn’t appear that eye surgery was the reason. So what about his peripherals. In 2010, he struck out well below league average at 12.5%, and walked slightly under league average at 7.7%. In 2011, he walked above average at 8.5%, and struck out a little less at 11.7%. This year, he is actually striking out less (10.4%) but walking at 6.3%, his worst since 2008. Something other than BABIP luck is clearly at play here. This becomes quite clear when you look at his plate discipline stats. Especially his 2012 numbers. He is making the exact same percentage of contact that he was in 2011, but he is swinging at pitches out of the strike zone 6% more of the time and making contact on pitches out of the zone less than he has in the past. He is swinging at the same percentage of pitches in totality as he was in 2010 (meaning he is seeing less pitches in the zone than he was then, as pitchers see no need to throw strikes). In 2011 (his successful year) he actually swung at less pitches overall. What about balls coming off Kotchman’s bat? He has never been a real power threat despite playing first base. Kotchman has actually hit twice as many ground-balls as fly-balls in each of the last 3 seasons. There are just 11 qualified hitters that have hit more ground-balls per fly-ball than Kotchman this year (including Derek Jeter, who is hitting an amazing 5 ground-balls per fly-ball). His line drive rate this year is the lowest it has been for Kotchman since 2007. Not surprisingly, his 2011 line drive rate was higher than it was in 2010 and 2012.
Let’s look at more data. I put the cutoff for all 3 seasons (2010, 2011, 2012) at August 9th so we would get about the same amount of data. Here is the breakdown (via TexasLeaguers) of how Kotchman has reacted to each different pitch. First 2010:
Here is 2011:
And finally, here is 2012:
In 2011, he put the curveball in play much more often than he did in 2010 and 2012. However, he is putting more fastballs in play this year than he has in the last two years. He is seeing the fastball much less though, which fits into the narrative that he isn’t being as patient as he was in previous years (especially 2012). Pitchers are throwing less strikes and more breaking pitches. As weird as it sounds, it looks like he was being destroyed by the cutter in 2010, as he saw it more often and put it in play much less. He seems to have corrected this problem. You have to remember that he has played in all 3 AL divisions over the past 3 years. So he has seen somewhat different pitchers each year. He used to not swing and miss on the slider so much (or at least he didn’t in 2010) but he has seen an uptick on whiffs on sliders. In fact, he swings at the slider now more than any other pitch. He has seen a similar uptick on changeups. This is not a good formula for success. What about balls he is actually hitting?
Here is his spray chart from 2010:
His spray Chart from 2012:
Spray Chart from his good year in 2011:
As you can see, there is no real difference in his pull power in the 3 different years. The difference lies in his ability to go the other way. In 2011, he went the other way a lot, and had quite a bit of success in doing so. It seems like he just made a lot of outs that way in 2010, but the skill looks like it has absolutely eroded. He has also fouled out more this year than in 2010 and 2012. This is not luck. Something terribly wrong is going on at the plate.
So what do we know about Kotchman and his weird seasons? For whatever reason, his plate discipline has eroded. He is chasing breaking pitches off the plate way more than he has in the past. While it isn’t resulting in strikeouts, he simply isn’t hitting the ball as hard. This is also resulting in less walks and less good pitches to hit, which is destroying his OBP. Is it fixable? I would think so, but as a free agent at the end of the year, he most likely will get a minor league contract for 2013.