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Casey Kotchman's True Talent Levels

There's been lots of debate on Casey Kotchman and whether he's actually improved this year or not. As a result, I'll try to stick to the facts at the beginning here.

2011 Career
BB% 8.5 8.3
K% 10.6
ISO 0.123 0.132

These numbers are all very similar to his career marks. It's probably safe to assume this year's marks are his true talent levels. I don't think anyone really would dispute that. As much as people are saying "maybe he's hitting better because his eyes have been repaired" he's still chasing pitches at about the same rate as last year (26.1% last year vs 25.7% this year) so it appears as though his plate discipline hasn't really improved.The bigger disagreement in where his True Talent Level is as far as BABIP goes. Anyone claiming Kotchman's true talent level of production is above his career mark is thus claiming his true talent BABIP has changed.

Kotchman's career BABIP is really low, at .276. This is not surprising given that he is painfully slow (I hear he takes 4.9 seconds to get to first base) and that he pops up a ton. This year that hasn't been the case. Kotchman's hitting line drives at the highest rate since 2005 and has hit pop ups at the lowest rate of his career. Whether or not this in itself is sustainable is another question in itself (evidence suggests line drive rate is meaningful very quickly but that pop up rate takes longer to be so).

The question is then that in this context what should we expect his BABIP to be. The xBABIP calculator says we should expect his BABIP to be .322 going forward. That being said, I have a hard time believing this, and the xBABIP calculator doesn't know how painfully slow Kotchman is. Indeed, the xBABIP calculator says that for his career, with his batted ball profile, he should have a BABIP of .312. This is a full .035 above his actual career BABIP of .276, which has had ample time to stabilize. As a result it appears as though his new batted ball profile has increased what we can expect from him in terms of BABIP by .010, to .286 (given that his xBABIP has increased by .010).

Turning to the WAR calculator, assuming Kotchman is a +7 defender and -4 baserunner per 150 games (he's averaged this the last 4 years), this is the production we can expect at various BABIPs (using his career peripherals for everything else):


0.250 0.298 0.5
 0.276 (career)
0.317 1.7
0.286 0.325 2.1
0.291 (league average) 0.328 2.3
0.300 0.335 2.7
0.312 0.344 3.3
0.322 0.351 3.7
0.364 0.382 5.6

Well, this is surprising. If Kotchman's new batted ball profile is his true talent level then he'll generate a .325 wOBA and he'll be a slightly above average player overall at 2.1 wins. Even if he produces at his career BABIP/wOBA of .276/.317, he'll still be worth 1.7 wins due to the depressed run environment of major league baseball. Coming into this, I expected that as Kotchman's BABIP dropped down to his past numbers, his value would vanish. Although his upside is probably limited, it appears as though even if his BABIP regresses he'll be a serviceable good-defending, poor-running, mediocre-hitting first baseman in the majors.