Sunday, January 27, 2013

George Kottaras - Baseball's Rodney Dangerfield

George Kottaras... Baseball's Rodney Dangerfield  

    Anyone who happens to follow me on Twitter (@Mentoch, cheap plug!!) knows that I have an unhealthy obsession with Canadian backup catcher George Kottaras.  In my mind he is the most underrated player in all of baseball, and that became even more clear in the past few days, when he was claimed off waivers by the Kansas City Royals.  I'm going to use this space to both extol his virtues, but also to explore some of the reasons why he seems to get no respect.

Let's start this off with 3 blind resumes from 2012.

If you aren't familiar with any of the stats I use here, I'd direct you to the Fangraphs glossary...

Player A - .351 OBP, .415 Slg %, 114 wRC+, 17.7 BB%, 23.0 K%, .205 ISO

Player B - .365 OBP, .420 Slg%, 120 wRC+, 14.9 BB%, 16.6 K%, .168 ISO

Player C - .352 OBP, .384 Slg%, 104 wRC+, 14.1 BB%, 14.1 K%, .142 ISO

    Player A there is my beloved Mr. Kottaras, Player B is the Clevelands star catcher (and sometimes first baseman) Carlos Santana, and Player C is Tigers starter Alex Avila.  While those lines aren't identical, they share a lot in common. All three players are left handed (Santana's actually a switch hitter), have well above average walk rates, strong power in their bat, and middling defensive reputations.  However Santana's bat is regarded well enough to play 1st base on his days off, and Avila is one of the most entrenched starters in the majors.  Kottaras on the other hand has switched teams twice in 6 months for either no, or next to no compensation.

     When we look at why Kottaras gets treated so differently, I think it boils down to a very simple stat.  One that I thought the industry had largely moved past, and that's batting average.

Kottaras - .211 (2012), .220 (Career)

Santana - .252 (2012), .247 (Career)

Avila - .243 (2012), .261 (Career)

    Of course, Kottaras's .211 batting average is VERY poor, however he more than compensated for it by posting the 2nd highest walk rate in the league (behind fellow Canadian, and Superman impersonator Joey Votto).  That more than compensates for his deficient contact rate.

    I don't want this to be construed as me suggesting that Kottaras is some kind of elite talent, who deserves a starting job, like Santana and Avila do.  He is not a starting calibre catcher, because he certainly has his flaws beyond his contact rate.  He defence can be a bit erratic, specifically throwing out base stealers.

    However, Kottaras is exactly what I look for in a bench player, and that is skills in certain areas that can be used as a weapon.  His left handedness is one of those skills since the majority of starting catchers are right handed.  His elite on base ability is another, allowing him to pinch hit late in a game when you need a baserunner to get a rally started.  Finally his above average power is another late game weapon if one swing could change the game.

    From a Blue Jays perspective, I think we should look at him going to the Royals as a major plus.  I was very concerned when he became available that he would wind up in the division on either the Rays or Yankees.  With the Yankees apparently going into the season with Chris Stewart, and Francisco Cervelli (or possibly prospect Austin Romine) behind plate,  Kottaras would've represented a significant upgrade.

     The Rays on the other hand appear set with pitch framing ace Jose Molina entrenched as the starter, and while Kottaras wouldn't be likely to unseat him in the starters role, as I previously mentioned, he'd be a valuable piece off the bench.  That being said he could've been an excellent offense/defence time share, and been a massive upgrade on Jose Lobaton in the backup role.

    One last aspect to this story could be its impact on the Canadian World Baseball Classic team.  Kottaras was a notable omission on the initial roster that was released last week.  Presumably this was because he needed to go to camp to ensure his spot on a major league roster.  Hopefully with him going to a team like the Royals, who seem almost assured to start him on the club that may free him up to join Russell Martin behind the plate clad in red and white.  Its still a bit of a long shot, but I've got my fingers crossed.

    I'll close things out by wishing my favourite player the best of luck in Kansas City.  He's become one of baseball's vagabonds the past year, and he deserves a chance to settle in somewhere.  Regardless of where he goes, know that your #1 fan is always in your corner.

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