About a week ago I was hanging out with Dan. I can’t remember exactly what we were watching but the show started showing highlights of a bunch of first basemen making errors. Defense at first base is something that is often overlooked, but why? In today’s baseball world, and even in the generations before us, first base is a position that is used to upgrade offense. If a guy can hit 40 home runs that would make up for a lack of defensive range at first base. With this in mind I thought the Mariners would try to acquire a first basemen that would upgrade our offense a couple of notches. But that didn’t happen, our front office stayed true to their “defense first” mentality. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Casey Kotchman.
In 2001 Kotchman was selected 13th overall in the Major League Baseball draft by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He breezed through the Angels farm system and made his major league debut in 2005 as one of the top prospects in the game. Kotchman went through several injury plagued years but played fairly well in 2007 and 2008. He was traded to Atlanta at the trade deadline in ’08 and his production fell off as he was dealing with some family issues. Kotchman was again traded from Atlanta to Boston in 2009. What was once a very good prospect looked like he’d forgotten how to hit, especially how to hit lefties. 2009 wasn’t his best year, as he posted an OPS of .721 which is somewhat underwhelming for a first basemen. Through his offensive struggles Kotchman was still seen as one of the best defensive first basemen in baseball.
This offseason he was traded from Boston to Seattle for Bill Hall. This was an upgrade for the M’s because not many people wanted Mike Carp to be our starting first baseman. I’ll be the first to admit I was hoping for a little something more at first base initially but the more I think about it the more I like this move. Kotchman is low-risk, high upside move (meaning he doesn’t cost a lot and has good amount of potential). His 7.6 UZR rating last year was among the top first basemen in the league. His range at first base will help make up for Jose Lopez’s lack of range at second base. And what about his offense? Who knows, Kotchman might surprise us. He’s a gap hitter with good plate discipline. Maybe he’ll rediscover his approach that made him successful in 2007. If he does, he’ll hit around .300 with and on-base percentage around .370. If not, he’ll hit around .270 with and on-base percentage around .330. If the latter happens, he’ll be Ryan Garko’s platoon partner at first base. Kotchman has had pretty dramatic splits against right and left-handed pitchers the last few years. Thus, he may play against right-handed pitching while Garko plays against southpaws.
Truth is, I have no idea what to expect from Kotchman’s offense. Hopefully he surprises us, much like Gutierrez did last year. If not, we’ve seen the power of defense. While a home run may be sexy, a defensive play to stop a run from scoring is worth exactly the same in the long run. I’m excited to see what Casey will do this year and am fairly optimistic about his performance. The power of defense is alive and well in Seattle and Kotchman will just add to the best defense in the league. Lets remember the most remembered error of all time came from a first baseman (Bill Buckner), Kotchman hasn’t made an error in 185 games.
(This doesn’t mean I’m against an Adrian Gonzalez trade at all!)