By Scott Barzilla

The Cleveland Indians finally addressed their hole at first base yesterday when they signed free agent first baseman Casey Kotchman. What a difference a year makes. No one would have taken that opening sentence seriously a year ago, but Kotchman experienced something of a renaissance last season in Tampa Bay.

Kotchman returned from the baseball scrapheap to post a .306/.378/.422 slash line last season. While an .800 OPS isn’t going to get you inducted into Cooperstown, it will get you a starting job at the position. The trouble is that Kotchman is a career .734 guy. That won’t get you a starting job in many markets, but the Indians are in a unique position. They gave their first base job to a young prospect that has yet to materialize. So, we compare Casey Kotchman to Matt LaPorta to see how much improvement the Indians are seeing.

  • . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .AVG. . . . .OBP. . . . .SLG. . . . . .SO%. . . . .BB%. . . . .BABIP
  • Casey Kotchman. . . .268. . . . ..336. . . . .398. . . . ..10.0. . . . .8.3. . . . . . .280
  • Matt LaPorta. . . . . . .238. . . . ..304. . . . .397. . . . ..20.4. . . . .8.0. . . . . . .273

The main thing to notice about these two is that Kotchman may look like he is better in every category, but he is worse in one major category. Isolated power is not shown here, but it is a major consideration. You can calculate isolated power by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage. Casey Kotchman’s is a puny .130 for his career. Most first basemen tend to average somewhere in the neighborhood of .200. LaPorta’s is a more acceptable .159 and he is being replaced.

Fortunately, LaPorta has minor league options left, so there will not be a key position battle in Spring Training. One way or another, LaPorta needs to figure out some things before he reclaims the position. Still, the Indians were smart to wait Kotchman out. 2011 hid a lot of problems that have resurfaced throughout Kotchman’s career. Primarily, first base is not a spot where you want to see a glorified singles hitter.

That being said, Kotchman does bring some things to the table. He consistently hits for a decent average and gets on base at a decent clip. Also, he makes consistent contact as you can see above. More importantly, Kotchman has been a plus defensive first baseman through his big league career. Last season he fell to somewhere around average, but that is likely still better than LaPorta.

  • . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2011 UZR. . . . .2011 UZR/150. . . . . . Career
  • Casey Kotchman. . . . . . ..+1.6. . . . . . . . . . ..+2.2. . . . . . . . . . .+32.3
  • Matt LaPorta. . . . . . . . . . .-5.9. . . . . . . . . . . .-8.6. . . . . . . . . . . . .-8.5

Ultimate zone runs are only one metric, but every respected fielding metric (Dewan runs, Fielding runs above average, and Rfield) have Casey Kotchman as a considerably better first baseman than LaPorta. Seven runs isn’t an inconsiderable sum. If both played a full season we might even expect Kotchman to be ten runs better. So, let’s say that he could be expected to surpass him by that same total offensively. Twenty runs is a fairly good margin and could be worth four to five games total.

Scott Barzilla

Scott Barzilla is the editor in chief at hardballchat.com. He is also the author of four books, including The Hall of Fame Index. The Hall of Fame Index was nominated for the Sporting News Award for statistical innovation in 2011.

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