Introducing Your New Big Bat: Casey Kotchman?

The quest is over! And now we can finally get on with our lives. I wrote about the Indians search for an extra bat for months, and it has finally come to an end.

Two days ago, I flew back home from a business trip. Walking towards baggage claim, I saw a man from a limo company holding up a sign that said “Kotchman.” I then tweeted the following:

24 hours later, Casey Kotchman was your newest Cleveland Indian.

The soon to be 29-year old left-handed hitter has bounced around quote a bit, despite being a one-time top prospect of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim system. The Angels used their 2001 First Round pick on him and he played parts of five seasons with the big club. Then in 2008, Kotchman was used as trade bait in deal that brought Mark Teixiera to the Angels from Atlanta. He spent just a year and a half with the Braves and then was shipped to Boston at the trade deadline in 2009 for Adam LaRoche. The stay in Boston was even shorter. In January of 2010 the Red Sox dealt Kotchman to Seattle for utility man Bill Hall. That brutal 2010 campaign as a Mariner (he hit just .217/.280/.616) had him non-tendered and on the free agent market last winter. He wound up signing a minor league deal with Tampa Bay and became their regular first baseman.

I’ve written about Kotchman’s 2011 career year before. Click here and here for the details. My last thoughts on Kotchman came January 20th after Carlos Pena signed with Tampa Bay, spurning the Tribe’s offer:

Kotchman fits the bill. I am trying real hard to sell myself on him. He is a gold-glove caliber first baseman, which is obviously a positive. The fact that he is a high contact, gap to gap hitter is also attractive. He only K’d 66 times in 563 plate appearances last season, which was the best of his seven year career. The 2011 .306/.378/.800 numbers are something you would sign up for all day. As I’ve said before, what worries me is the Indians lack of power. Adding a guy like Kotchman wouldn’t help. In 500 AB’s, he drove in just 48 runs and hit just 10 homers. LaPorta can certainly do that (not that he could go .300/.378/.800 though). Lastly, the former Rays/Angels/Braves/Mariners/Red Sox will be just 29 on opening day and won’t cost nearly as much as the $7.5 million Pena received from Tampa Bay.

So we went from Michael Cuddyer to Josh Willingham to Derek Lee to Carlos Lee to Carlos Pena and settled on Casey Kotchman. As we all know now, Kotchman is another left-handed bat who cost the Indians just $3 million. Reports were that they offered Pena $8 million. The Kotchman signing loads the top Tribe lineup one way. This is a preliminary look at how things could shake out with Kotchman now in the fold:

LF Michael Brantley

SS Asdrubal Cabrera

RF Shin-Soo Choo

C Carlos Santana

DH Travis Hafner

1B Casey Kotchman

CF Grady Sizemore

2B Jason Kipnis

3B Lonnie Chisenhall/Jack Hannahan

That’s not too shabby, assuming everyone is healthy. That is a big if obviously.

When left-handed pitchers face the Tribe, the bench will have a bevy of right-handed options, including Shelley Duncan, Jason Donald, and whoever makes it between Ryan Spillborghs and Aaron Cunningham. When a right-handed starting pitcher is on the mound, he will face nine lefties (AC and Santana are switch-hitters).

GM Chris Antonetti spoke to the media this morning and said that he expects Kotchman will get the majority of the first base at-bats, but Santana should see plenty of time there to keep his bat in the lineup as well as allowing Lou Marson to get some ABs. Antonetti also pointed out that Kotchman jokingly told him when they talked that he made less errors last year (11) than the the Indians first basemen (12). He should definitely solidify the right-side defensively.

Sadly, the  Indians should have never been it such a predicament. The hardcore search for a first baseman is an absolute indictment on the Matt LaPorta situation. The guy came over as the centerpiece of the CC Sabathia trade and was supposed to be the middle of the order, right-handed power bat and first baseman of the future. Instead, its 2012, he’s 27 years old, and has almost no shot to break camp with the Indians. He will spend his season back in AAA. You just never know with prospects. LaPorta and Andy Marte were probably the two most highly decorated prospects the Indians have acquired via trade in the past 10 years. You can call both of them giant busts.

So it looks as though the Indians have finalized their roster heading into Spring Training. Kotchman may be the final piece to the puzzle, but the bench roles are far from settled, with as many as 10 guys in the mix for a couple of roles. In addition, there will most likely be two bullpen spots up for grabs, a battle to be the fifth starter.


  • You forgot Sizemore, or whoever is going to play CF after Sizemore blows a leg out.

  • Anonymous

    You know, the more I think about this, the more I kinda like it (I know, not a glowing endorsement). 

    Imagine days with Hannahan at 3rd and Kotchman at 1st.  We might not have a lot of pop those days (obviously), but with a ground ball pitcher (okay, not Tomlin, obviously) we could be looking at a number of shut-outs.  Granted, those will be 1-0 and 2-0 shutouts, but it might be the difference of 5 games or more over last year. (Further granted, I have no stats to back that up, ‘cuz stats bore me.)  I mean, how many times last year did I (presumably we) have fits with the game-losing 1B defense of LaPorta and Santana?  I’m going with at least 5 (again, no supporting evidence). 

    Some stat-boy please back me up on this.  (But you will be blatantly ignored if the stats prove the opposite.)

  • Bryan

    I am not a huge fan of this either, but Kotchman is actually not terrible relative to what we have.  I know we all love ACab, Santana and Hafner, but their OPS’s last year in order were .792, .808, .811.  Kotchman’s was .800.  

    If we think Kotchman is terrible, then that means ACab, Santana, and Hafner aren’t much better.

    .800 OPS with a good glove would be great for us.

  • Anonymous

    problem is I don’t think we can expect an .800 OPS from Kotchman.  all the below have at least 125 games played.

    Year  OPS
    2007  .840
    2008  .738 (.774 Ana -> .647 Atl) 
    2009  .721 (.764 Atl -> .564 Bos)
    2010  .616
    2011  .800

    Now, it’d be interesting to see if he tailed off at the end of every season or if he was affected by those trades.   If it was by the trades, then maybe there is some more hope that he can keep a mid-to-upper .700 OPS.

    it was mentioned on the other thread that his BABIP was over .330 (which, to be fair, is more sustainable for a hitter than a pitcher)

  • Anonymous

    I agree, if he can get on base, not strikeout and play good defense, he’s a significant upgrade over LaPorta. I know hes not an ideal first baseman because he doesnt hit for power, but you can do a lot worse.

    But I’m still clinging to hope that LaPorta will shock the world and have a breakout season as well. The ability is there if he can somehow correct his awful mechanics.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    Is there just no hope for LaPorta?  Swing coach?  Extra BP?  Anything?  Kotchman seems like a solid enough fill-in, Im just bummed to hear that LaPorta is being labeled an official bust and there is no potential.

  • Anonymous

    Last years team was at it’s best in the beginning of the year when we were manufacturing runs, not trying to hit for power. 
    This lineup is built to do just that again.   

    Not an attempt at thread jacking:
    The setup of this site is becoming increasingly frustrating with the “headlines” section jumping in between the “more from WFNY” and the “top article”. 

    I might suggest setting these sections next to each other versus on top of each other.   Columns are easier to manage (i.e. newsprint).  Just my opinion.  Keep up the great writing! 

  • Anonymous

    Alex Gordon – look at his stat page.  It’s really the only hope left for LaPorta.

  • Anonymous

    I like to view it under the “archives” drop-down.  It’s just like old times, for those of us that hate change. 

  • Anonymous

    Oh, and I agree with your assessment re manufacturing runs.  I’m starting to feel the same way.  Baseless Cleveland optimism building.  Building.  BUILDING. 

    (“Building” is weird-looking word that looks weirder every time you type it.)

  • Bryan

    Agree that last year was a good year for him, and he could easily fall to .700.  But he at least has some upside.  Maybe he started taking HGH last year, and his trend upwards will continue 🙂

  • Anonymous

    When we were manufacturing runs, a different person was coming through each night.  When we started losing, we would either get shut out, or score 8 runs.  Hopefully they can make runs as a team this year consistently.

  • kjn

    Not claiming to be an expert, but I think BABIP for hitters has pretty huge variance from year to year as well. Some guys (line drive hitters, speedsters) do enjoy above average career BABIPs, but they still have the variance. Ichiro is a good example of that.

  • kjn

    I was going to see Bautista – changed his swings and became arguably the best player in baseball.

  • Anonymous

    Good point.

  • Mortimer

    Sorry to be an ass, but I think you have Kotchman’s quote wrong – he has made fewer errors in his career than the Indians did at first base as a team last year…

  • Guest1717

    The “best” stat for measuring defense is believed to be Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR).  Even its creators claim it takes 3 seasons of data to normalize and is completely unreliable in short sample sizes (which is Santana) on first.  Still, it estimates the Indians gave up 10 or 11 more runs than an average defensive first basemen (regardless of what he does on offense).  Stat guys would call that about one win over the course of the season.  There might have been a few high profile screw ups when a game was on the line, but better offensive production would have meant those screw ups would not have cost the Indians the game.

    Frankly, we probably lost a lot more runs (and thus games) by having the really bad bat of Lou Marson in our line up.  Thats not intended to insult Marson or suggest we need to get rid of him, but those who pay attention to the just the hard numbers would believe he’s a substantially worse hitter than La Porta.  Still, he seems like a nice guy and it would be hard to go out and find a better back up catcher on the cheap.

  • Steve

    I know this is changing the subject, but there is no way Brantley should be batting leadoff and Kipnis at the bottom of the order. Hannahan and Duncan both had higher OBP’s than Brantley did last year. If Brantley somehow figures out how to get to back to being the hitter he was in AAA, then you can move him up, but in that lineup he should bat 8th or 9th.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Garry!