Kotchman and the 2004 Olerud / Edgar

Taro fighting a rearguard action at Mariner Central, trying to point out that Casey Kotchman's -10 runs lost on footspeed ... matters.

The basic reply he's getting:  so what?  A lot of big slow 1B's don't run well.


One of the things that naturally even out the value of fast players, and big players.... the bases taken after you reach first base.  The other bases, the ones not counted in the SLG and OBP.

Fast players takes lots more bases than big ones, but of course the big players hit doubles and homers.
With Kotchman, you're talking about a big player, who gives away all those 1st-to-3rds, but we're forgetting this is a big player who doesn't hit for power, either.  It's not a good combination.

The mind seems to perform an illusion on us when we're talking about low-SLG 1B's. ... we go, oh, yeah, he's slow, but being a 1B compensates for that.  Our mind forgets that it's the 1B's muscles -- his high SLG -- that compensates for his low R totals.  Most 1B do okay in the R department, because they bat themselves in, thirty times a year.


=== Buy High, Sell Low Dept. ===

OBP in and of itself is useful mostly in terms of being able to carry your own carcass around the bases and score runs.  A guy with a bad SLG, good OBP but very slow feet is a catastrophe of overrated-itis.

John Olerud, in 2004, hit the wall and SLG'd a feeble.360.  But John was drawing plenty of walks, had a nice OBP of .354 for the M's .... and since (ahem) OBP matters far more than SLG, Olerud's Seattle OPS+ of 90 actually worked out to nearly league-average per wOBA.

So he's fine, right?

Olerud played exactly 50% of a season for the M's, with this league-average wOBA.  78 games, 312 PA's.

He totalled 22 RBI and 29 Runs Scored in that half a year.  Batting behind Ichiro and Randy Winn.


The 2004 M's had another hitter doing the Casey Kotchman, that being Edgar Martinez in his age-41 season.   Edgar had an OBP-heavy OPS+ of 92, meaning that his wOBA was middle-of-the-pack as well.

Running like baboon with two club feet, Edgar the OBP Specialist also rang up 45 Runs Scored and 63 RBI in 141 games.   If your reaction to all this is that Grandma taught you not to look at the R and RBI column, how about the wins column?

2003 M's - 93 wins

2004 M's - 99 losses


If you hadn't known about the problem with big, slow, good-OBP, lousy-SLG hitters before 2004, then that season in Safeco shoulda swiftly disabused ya.

The sorry sight of Oley and 'Gar in 2004 pan-seared my sensitivities.  If my team never has another .270/.360/.390 leadfoot again, it'll be too soon.


=== Kotch the Ball Dept. ===

Kotchman has been worth +8 and +11 runs over replacement -- a good AAA player -- the last two years, and that is including the UZR guesses about Kotchman's positive defense.  It is not including the bases Kotchman gives away relative to an average runner.

Kotchman's [OBP-only offensive game + footspeed], combined, spell major problemos -- especially at a bat position. 

He's got a good glove, you say?  Yeah, that is what kept him from being worse than replacement in 2008 and 2009, after you factor in the GIDP's and failures to go 1B-to-3B and all the rest of that. 

The glove takes him from being a little worse than replacement, to being a little better than replacement.


You've got developmental players available -- Carp, Tui, Saunders, all of whom could take the slot (considering that Lopez can play 1B in the shuffle).

You've got Branyan available.  You've got free agents.  You've got a lot of things available.

Zduriencik is great, but I wish he'd clue us in on what the deal is at 1B.  Casey Kotchman takes the MLB(TM) orientation way too far.

A-Gone!  A-Gone!  A-Gone!  :- )


Dr D



Byrnes seems to have a sturdy, football-type body similar to Darin Erstad, who successfully split between OF and 1b over his career.  (Erstad, of course, actually was a football player.)
Assuming that Byrnes keeps Tui off the 25-man (and I do), they lose most of the flexibility they could gain from Figgins and Lopez, since they will need to hold down 2b-3b, with a big offensive drop if either moves elsewhere.
That seems to mean we'll see a lot of Kotchman, but one way out of that box would be to see of Byrnes could play at first some of the time.

M-Pops's picture

Agreed with you, Doc, that Kotchman as the full-time 1B solution is kind of a head-scratcher, especially compared to the other options (LaRoche, Branyan, etc.).  It would seem Z must be predicting a breakout season from Kotch.
Would we have been any more confused if Z had traded-for and installed Zobrist as the M's LF for the '09 season, as he was want to do?  Am not really trying to compare Kotchman to Zobrist, I am just wondering how Z and other GM's identify a player who is ready to break out...
To start us off, Zobrist heading into the '09 season was 28 years old with ~530 PA against MLB pitching.  Kotchman will be 27 with ~1,900 PA. 


Great post and analysis Doc.  But, I believe your focus on the trees misses the reality of the forest.
In 2003 -- Ms TEAM line: .271/.344/.410/.754 -- 4th in OBP; 8th in OPS; 103 OPS+
In 2004 - Ms TEAM line: .270/.331/.396/.727 -- 10th in OBP; 12 in OPS; 91 OPS+
The drop of the Ms runs scored from 795 to 698 had (IMO) almost nothing to do with the slowness afoot of either Olerud or Edgar.  The club was only 10th in slugging in 2003, and dropped to 14th in 2004.  So, yeah - less slugging mattered.  But, the impact of Edgar and Olerud on the final tallies dropped from 1200 or 6300 PAs down to 850 of 6350 PAs.  Clearly, they were " clogging the basepaths" much less frequently in 2004.
The reality is that the 2003 TEAM had 7 starts with OPS+ figures above 100, (catcher and 3rd were the only two sub-100 positions).  In 2004, the team had 3 players above 100.  It doesn't matter how good your best 3 players are, when you've got 6 that stink. 
Ultimately, it doesn't matter how good or bad Kotchman is (individually).  The final offensive numbers for ANY team are based significantly more on how MANY players are above average versus below -- than they are based on how good/bad any single player may be. 
Adam Dunn - 144 OPS+; Zimmerman 133 OPS+; Willingham 127 OPS+ ... that's what the Nats had in 2009.  They finished 8th in OPS, 9th in runs scored -- and had a TEAM OPS+ of 96. 
The focus of fans and pundits has long been on the flashiest INDIVIDUAL players.  They get the press and the glory.  In 2009, the Angels had an incredibly efficient offense -- being fast didn't hurt.  But it was the TEN (10) players producing 100 OPS+ or above that allowed them to extend their lead while Vlad and Torii were BOTH injured and not playing. 

Taro's picture

I like the Garko move. Hes an ideal platoon player at 1B.
It increases Kothcman's value slightly since hes sub-RL vs LHP, but he still isn't an ideal platoon player since he doesn't have much of a split. Branyan makes even more sense now.
I wonder if Kotchman is still asking for too much... maybe it'll lead to Z DFA'ing him.

glmuskie's picture

And while Sandy makes an excellent point about Kotchman being one player, the fact is the M's need to maximize offensive production wherever they can, because they don't have many places to do it.  Accepting RLP production, or thereabouts, from 1B is not the best decision for the M's.  To exppect more than that from Kotchman is unrealistic.
The Kotchman issue also lends credence, IMO, to the argument that the M's aren't much improved from last year; it's not likely that 2010 Kotchman > 2009 Branyan.

Anonymous's picture

Simply because they were significantly better ball players. Granted Olerud was declining when he arrived in seattle but somehow whenever someone mentions Olerud I imagine the younger Olerud in Toronto where he was simply a slugging monster(363 avg,473 OBP,599 slg at 24). Combine that with the GG and Olerud was argubly one of the most underrated 1B in the 90s.
As for Edgar he was consistency .420 obp. 20+ hr.
So let's look at the oppositie. Casey Kotchman. What do we have? 
So far a watered down Olerud/Martinez. Granted he has in the same type of double intensive hitter, and a solid obp in the minors but have to wonder if he'll ever be as dominating as Olerud or Martinez. Afterall both Olerud and Martinez were significantly better hitters in minors.
Anyways that's my 2 cents,


I just realized while thinking about what you did mathematically.
WAR is based on the replacement level for each position independently (there's a positional value that accounts for how much productioneach position generates).
In order for us to compare Kotchman to other first basemen, we need to compare both his bat AND his legs on the bases...to other first basemen only...the scales have the be the same.
Kotchman is slow...so are most first basemen...is Kotchman slower than the average 1B?  If so, by how much?

misterjonez's picture

models actually factor in 'invisible' factors like baserunning very well?  Doc did mention that usually, your lumbering Frank Thomas types get ~the same R's as other good hitters because they're knocking themselves in ~30 times per season.  Kotchman basically presents zero possibility to do that, so it would be interesting to see just how many runs he would project to score, compared to a league-average speed guy in his place.
It's not like he's some sort of offensive wunderkind who's been touted highly for years and years, so this move really does make me scratch my head.  Even his UP projections don't look all that good.  Strangeness.

IcebreakerX's picture

Isn't for career or talent, just 2004. Both Olerud and Edgar were total clods on the bases in the middle of a fairly running-intensive lineup with some mediocre power (Boone's slash and counting stats are basically Lopez).
The problem with Kotch is simply the fact that any marginalities in his game at 1B is going to be magnified due to his lack of 1B 'primary' skills: brute force.
Because he's not Olerud 2001 or a Pujols, his craptacularness is going to water down a lot of whatever you makeup on defense.


I don't get this. They could have just used Tui as a platoon player at first instead of wasting a roster spot on a guy who is more of a warm body than an asset. Tui has far more upside with the bat and can play third which means he is more versatile as well.


He's not fully MLB ready yet IMHO...but even if he is...I don't think platooning him is going to do him any favors.  I have no problem with putting Tui in AAA for a while to see if you can find some of Garko's upside and take advantage of his ability to be the third catcher too.


I know the positional adjustment is separate..but how do you suppose that positional adjustment is calculated?  They find the replacement level for that position and relate it to the replacement level for all positions combined.  If you include EqBRR into the calculation of replacmeent level, you're going to see a BIG drop for first basemen.  That's all first basemen.  Not just Kotchman.

Taro's picture

I thought postional adjustment was done by defense alone ( how many runs a player loses on average when he moves from 2B to 1B etc).
The other adjustments are done separately unless I have a miscorrect understanding of this. You get offense in related to position-neutral value and defense as well. 


...Somewhere in WAR>..there is an accounting for what the replacement level is on offense for a guy at first base.  Even if you're correct that this is done on the defensive side only...then the stat is flawed if what it's trying to do is find the real replacement level for first basemen...because the real replacmeent level offensively for a first baseman is considerably higher than other positions...but perhaps lower than the raw offensive statistics suggest due to slow speed.


And if he were...that would be really...really stupid.
He's capable at 2B, 3B and the outfield...all of which wold be better spots for his average-solid bat with upside potential than first base.  He's being groomed to play a more important position...as he should be.


Third base is locked up for 4 years, second base belongs to Lopez with Ackley coming behind him, and unless he were going to get regular playing time in the outfield for the Rainiers in 2010, which is doubtful, then being up in the majors wouldn't be be slowing his development as an outfielder because he isn't being groomed for that either.

Taro's picture

I wouldn't neccesarilly say its flawed. The positional adjustments are made by defense and the defense is then adjusted per position (since the positional adjustment is also made defensively). Offense is relative to position-neutral average.
Since defensive position penalities are already accounted for in WAR, counting offense in relation to positional average would make 1B look worse than they really are.


I forget where -- but in one of the more recent prospect listings, Tui was listed as a 2b/SS -- with no mention at all about 3B!?!  Maybe that's a typo - maybe not.  But, if the club is thinking Tui has the defensive skills for 2B *AND* 3B -- then SS isn't a reach.  The arm for 3B and the lateral movement for 2B are precisely what you're hunting for in a SS.
Of course, Jack Wilson is slated for 2 seasons at short.  Give 2010 for Tui to play a full season of SS in the minors, (just as a potential plan), and then maybe he comes up in 2011 to apprentice under JW before taking over in 2012.


And Lopez is probably gone soon, which potentially opens up second base...plus we have a revolving door in left field.  Ackley looks like he will stick at second, so that may soon be off the table...but if your long term answer to firrst base is Tui...then you're not thinking big enough.


Agreed of course that the bottom line is the team's runs scored.  :- )  And the 2004 M's had more problems than just two players hitting the wall.  You don't go from 93 wins to 99 L's because your #4-5 hitters get old suddenly.
Couldn't agree more.  Edgar and Oley weren't, by themselves, a death sentence.
Just the same, the 2004 M's were 6th in AVG, 10th in OBP .... and #14 with a bullet in runs scored.
People seem to think, these days, you get some OBP and some defense and you'll be fine.  Nada.
Edgar and Olerud were a horror show in 2004, and Kotchman's going to be the same in 2010.


I am just arguing that Tui should start the year as our utility infielder, splitting time between first and third with Figgins sliding over to second and short when necessary. I think that's better than having Garko (who can't field) and Hannahan (who can't hit) getting regular playing time.


1) Garko is at least a passable defensive 1B and C...he's not horrible in that regard
2) Tui isn't necessarily going to be a fabulous fielder either
3) Tui isn't necessarily going to outhit Garko.


Is that he's not going to unreasonably sacrifice future years for 2010.
MLB(TM) retreads vs dynamic young prospects who will probably perform 90% as well ... that's unduly sacrificing future years, in my book... in 2011 and 2012 Tui (Saunders, Carp, whoever) might provide you something great, if he learns the league this year...
That said, I think Capt Jack *does* emphasize now heavily against later.  And I can think of worse flaws...

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