Let me just get this out of the way:
In case the song didn’t give it away, the Padres signed Mark Kotsay to a one-year deal worth $1.25 million. While it’s still not clear what role he will fill for the 2012 team, Kotsay will likely serve as the fourth or fifth outfielder as well as the first left-handed bat off the bench. What’s more clear is that Kotsay is a terrible baseball player.
Which is not to say that Kotsay has always been terrible, because of course that’s not the case. In fact, according to fWAR (WAR from Fangraphs) Kotsay is the best center fielder in Padres history with +13.4 WAR. That evidence probably says more about this franchise than it does about Kotsay, but his numbers paint a nice portrait of the player he used to be: one with a little bit of pop who could take a walk and run them down with the best in center. But that was a while ago. Since 2006, Kotsay has been worth -1.6 WAR, which makes him the 10th worst player among qualified hitters in baseball in that time. That’s out of 1,988 players. That means that Mark Kotsay, since 2006, has been the 1,978th best player in baseball. And the Padres just gave him a big league contract.
A player doesn’t become that awful by accident, and Kotsay has done so by being bad at everything. Since 2006, in 2041 plate appearances, Mark Kotsay has an 82 wRC+, which translates to -38.0 RAR. He’s accomplished this through a combination of diminishing luck and power. Over those six years, Kotsay has had a .279 BABIP and .115 IsoP, which are down from the .304 BABIP and .139 IsoP marks he posted in his first eight seasons. Those numbers might not seem like great plunges but when you’re a guy with a little bit of pop who can draw a walk (and not tons of walks), every little bit helps, or hurts as the case would be. And with 81 games ahead of him in PETCO Park, not to mention twenty more in San Francisco and Los Angeles, don’t expect Kotsay’s number to turn around in 2012.
Kotsay has also lost a step defensively. After accumulating 92.1 defensive RAR through 2004 (UZR wasn’t born until 2002), Kotsay has had a -36.3 UZR since. And he has not been a full-time center fielder since 2006, logging only 85 innings at the position in the past two years. That’s about a quarter of the number of innings he’s played at first base in that time, 331, and while Kotsay’s versatility boosts his appeal (he has a career 0.5 UZR in 784 innings at first), the Padres are currently overrun with first baseman. Anthony Rizzo and Jesus Guzman battling it out and Kyle Blanks and James Darnell also capable of handling the position. Any defensive value Kotsay provides will be in the outfield, and I mean that in the loosest definition of the word. Those same humongous outfields that will hurt him offensively won’t do him any favors on defense either.
That’s why the Padres shouldn’t have signed Kotsay, but surely there’s a reason why they did*, right? Much has been made about the leadership the team lost when it replaced David Eckstein, Yorvit Torrealba, Matt Stairs, and Jerry Hairston, Jr. with Orlando Hudson. And to hear the team tell it, Kotsay will help fill that void. And you know what – sure, why not? Kotsay has a good reputation and I’m not going to pretend that leadership and chemistry aren’t important to ball clubs, but the team seems to be overlooking one kind of crucial fact: Eckstein and company combined for +7.0 WAR. Those four may have been crucial contributors in the clubhouse but they contributed on the field as well. Kotsay is a below-average hitter with a below-average back, so expectations should be low.
*This is where I’ll point out that Jeff Moorad used to be Mark Kotsay’s agent, which upgrades this signing from strange to suspicious. Moorad has shown an affinity for old clients in the past (Pat Burrell, Orlando Hudson) and now the Padres have signed one to a contract that’s far too expensive for his actual production. The team could’ve found a player who can do what Kotsay does (or does not) in February for less than a million dollars–but they had to give him $1.25 million before Thanksgiving?