Casey at the Plate

I came across this Casey Kotchman card last week while re-organizing my collection and found something (finally!) that inspired me to pick up pen and paper my iPad and begin typing away. And the fact that Sunday marked the 130th anniversary of the first publication of the poem Casey at the Bat is purely coincidental. I wasn’t aware of the publishing date until it was mentioned during the Mariners broadcast Sunday afternoon.

To my knowledge, there has never been any mentioning of the position that Mighty Casey manned while in the field. In my mind’s eye, I envision him as a power-hitting first-baseman. Part of my thinking comes from our English lexicon. “Possessing great and impressive power or strength,” is how the Oxford Dictionary defines the word, mighty. I guess it’s also inferred in the poem itself. The first and third stanzas tell us that the Mudville nine is down 4-2, with Cooney and Barrows registering the first two outs before two more hitters reach base. With two on in scoring position and the game-winning run coming to the plate, there is a confidence that the home team is going to win the game. A three-run dinger, perhaps? The next to last stanza describes Casey’s one and only swing in the AB. “And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.” You don’t use that kind of language to describe a ‘hoodoo’ or a ‘cake,’ folks.

Our Casey (for one forgettable season, anyway)- Casey Kotchman- was anything but mighty at the plate. No, our Casey was more like Flynn and Jimmy Blake, the two weak hitters who preceded the protagonist in Thayer’s comic ballad.

While Kotchman never possessed a great bat, his 2010 season for the Mariners was absolutely terrible. And considering that the team was coming off a 2009 season that featured a putrid offense and then let first baseman Russell Branyan (2.6 WAR for the ’09 team) walk- and then trading for Kotchman to be his replacement, was truly befuddling.

There was hope early in the season, as Kotch was hitting the ball with more authority than he typically did; more fly balls from his bat resulted in three homers in his first 49 plate appearances. It didn’t take long, however, before Casey regressed back to being a ground ball hitter.

By early June, the team recalled Mike Carp from Triple-A Tacoma, hoping to get more offense from the position. After the Carp experiment failed, the team acquired Russell Branyan, their first baseman from the 2009 team, from Cleveland. Casey’s days as a starter seemed to be over*.

Part of Casey’s 2010 offensive woes could be attributed to bad luck- he had just a .229 BABIP, after posting seasons of .305, .272, and .283 before being traded to Seattle. What’s more, his BABIP on line drives was only .507- over 200 points below league average. But his ground ball rate was higher than his career rate (which was already high) and for the season, Casey hit 200 ground balls, 98 fly balls and 63 line drives. His tendency to put the ball on the ground resulted in grounding into 15 double plays.

A few more swing and misses:

  • .616 OPS
  • 73 OPS+
  • -1.7 offensive WAR (that’s a minus 1.7)
  • -0.55 WPA
  • 69 wRC+

Unlike those fans in Mudville, Seattle fans didn’t (or at least *shouldn’t have*) have much expectations for Casey at the plate.

*This wasn’t necessarily true. Kotchman would go on to have a pretty decent 2011 season as Tampa’s first baseman

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