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Pure Speculation: Kevin Kouzmanoff to the Oakland A's Analysis

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Pure Speculation: Kevin Kouzmanoff to the Oakland A's Analysis
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The Oakland Athletics acquired 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff and 2B minor leaguer Eric Sogard from the San Diego Padres in exchange for OFs Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham as reported by Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane likely isn’t pouting over the loss of Adrian Beltre to the Boston Red Sox, who signed for a one-year deal worth $10 million (great signing btw).

They instead are saving that cash for other expenditures and will pay Kouzmanoff $3.1 million for his first year of arbitration 

On defense, Kouzmanoff led the league in fielding percentage at third base with a .990 mark, only committing three errors on the season in 1,186.2 innings. He turned 20 double plays and had the ninth best UZR ranking in baseball (min. 250 innings). 2009 was his third full season in the Majors, and it was the first time that he combined both good solid range and a quality error rating. 

Kouzmanoff, age 28, benefitted from seeing almost five percent less first pitch strikes in 2009 than in 2008 and achieved a walk rate increase from a 3.6 rate to 4.9 percent.  

His on-base percentages of .299 and .302 from ’08 and ’09 were big dips from his rookie year OBP of .329. In 2007, Kevin had his best year in terms of strike zone contact, and his 29.1 O-Swing percentage was the lowest of his career. He hit for a .275 average that year, and his .309 BABIP was the best of his three seasons.

Intriguingly, he had his worst contact percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone in ‘07, which could mean that he’s hitting pitches softer when he does connect with non-strike tosses. This could partially explain his successive BABIP and power drops in following seasons, though his line drive percentage of 18.2 from ‘07 was lower than his next two seasons.

Side note: Kouzmanoff’s pitches per plate appearance average for his career is 3.62, and his best season was in 2009, when he achieved an average of 3.66. This is below the league average value of 3.84 for 2009 (min. 250 PA).

His declines in on-base percentage have coincided with receding batting averages and power: 

2007: .275 BA, .457 SLG

2008: .260, .433

2009: .255, .420

With dropping numbers, Kouzmanoff could try a new approach to the plate. If he increased his P/PA to around 4.0, then he might be able to achieve an on-base percentage in the .330 to .335 range.  

In terms of projections for 2009, Bill James is more optimistic on Kouzmanoff than CHONE and Marcel, estimating a triple slash of .275/.327/.463 for 2010. Putting faith in him seeing more pitches, I am manifesting even more optimism.

I’m going to predict a slightly lower batting average than James because I’m not sold on his pitch selection, though I do believe he will get back some of his contact. If there’s a cosmic OBP jump coming, he will need to decrease his swing percentage by a nice margin, as well as take more of those pesky outer zone pitches. Taking into account more pitch consumption, I evidently need to go higher than James in strikeouts. 

In terms of left-right splits, his career averages aren’t too slanted in one direction:

2007: .972 OPS and 140 sOPS+ vs. LHP, . 706 OPS and 94 sOPS+ vs. RHP

2008: .661 OPS and 70 sOPS+ vs. LHP, .762 OPS and 109 sOPS+ vs. RHP

2009: .835 OPS and 115 sOPS+ vs. LHP, .677 and 86 sOPS+ vs. RHP

In 2009, he had his worst season against right-handed pitchers.  He should be able to maintain his 2009 stroke against lefties, with a slight upgrade against righties for 2010. 

David Golebiewski of Rotographs points out that Oakland Coliseum is more power-friendly overall than Petco Park, but Oakland is tougher on right-handed power than San Diego. Kouzmanoff fits favorably with his new digs because over his career, 38 of his 62 home runs were hit to center field or opposite field, according to baseball-reference.com.   Keeping this in mind, I see his power hovering around the 20-blast region in Oakland. 

Here’s how our projections stack up, using James’ 541 plate appearance value for both estimates:

James: 512 AB, 5.4 BB% (29 BB), 18.6 K% (95 K), .275 BA, 32 2B, 20 HR, 2 3B, .327 OBP, .463 SLG, .188 ISO 

Me: 495 AB, 8.5 BB% (46 BB), 21.4 K% (106 K), .271 BA, 31 2B, 21 HR, 3 3B, .333 OBP, .473 SLG, .202 ISO

You could argue that he’ll strike out more than I’m giving him credit for, but I’m counting on improved contact. I might be undervaluing his batting average considering his increasing line drive percentages (18.2, 21.6, 19.6) and unlucky 2009 BABIP of .289. Also, his 1.23 GB/FB ratio in 2009 has a good chance to hedge back to his 1.02 ’07 value and his 1.03 ’08 value. 

I wouldn’t bet on his defense to stay at an elite level due to his lack of superb quickness. Furthermore, counting on him to maintain a .990 fielding percentage seems unlikely. However, he will be in his prime for the next few years, and I do expect his defense to remain in the top third of the league. 

If the A’s can get Kouzmanoff to up his on-base percentage and his power doesn’t noticeably drop in the Coliseum, this will be a good addition for 2010 as well as his second and third years of arbitration. Both of the aforementioned projections may be optimistic, but just falling short of either would still render him a worthy all-around third baseman and will give the Athletics some bang for their buck.

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