Why Mark Kotsay Should Never Start Again

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Why Mark Kotsay Should Never Start Again
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Mark Kotsay has already started eight games for the 2010 Chicago White Sox, who have played a total of 19 games thus far. That's eight games too many.

Well, maybe that's a bit harsh.

In a perfect baseball world, the best players are available to play everyday, and bench players are reserved for use only in certain game situations.

Sadly, we do not live in this perfect world: Players get fatigued from continued use, day games are played after night games, and jet lag can take hold on long-distance road trips. In these situations, lesser-qualified players may be needed to spell the regular starters.

Therefore, it is at least somewhat naive to believe that every team's best players should play every game and bench players should only be called upon when the in-game situation is right.  

That being said, it is clear that White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is intent on using Kotsay in a manner not befitting a true bench player.

Kotsay has started (not just appeared) in just over 40 percent of the Sox games played thus far, and has received just over four percent of the team's plate appearances.

To put that into perspective, Kotsay's percentage of team PAs is roughly equal to the percentage of team PAs had by Omar Vizquel and Donny Lucy (the other two-most used bench players) combined.

But why shouldn't Kotsay be getting playing time?

The answer is a bit involved, but the overall point is simple: For the last few seasons, Kotsay's production has been below that of a replacement-level player. Simply put, Kotsay's abilities are below those of the average, readily available waiver-wire acquisition or AAA-lifer.

Now, exactly how far below replacement-level Kotsay has been is the "involved" portion of the answer to the above question, but as with most answers to many baseball questions, the answer lies in the statistics.

Studies have shown that replacement-level production for a given position is roughly equal to a certain percentage of what the league-average player produces at that position. This means that the league-average batting line (AVG/OBP/SLG) at a certain position can be tweaked to represent the batting line of a replacement player at the same position.

To apply this method to Kotsay, we can find the replacement-level batting lines for both the right field and designated hitter positions (these two being the positions Kotsay has played most for the Sox), given the league-average lines at each.

From 2007 to 2009, the league-average right fielder put up a batting line of .288/.351/.451, for an OPS of .802. Putting these numbers into a somewhat complicated equation, we find that the replacement-level line for a right fielder from 2007-09 is .254/.317/.417, with an OPS of .734.

Kotsay's batting line since 2007 is .256/.311/.368, for an OPS of .679, or eight percent below replacement-level.

Perhaps comparing Kotsay to the replacement-level for right field ins't entirely fair, though, seeing as how four of his eight starts this season have come as the designated hitter. Back to the numbers.

From 2007 to 2009, the league-average batting line for designated hitters has been .259/.343/.442, giving us a replacement batting line for the position of .226/.310/.409, good for a .719 OPS.

So, while closer to replacement-level, Kotsay's OPS of .679 over the last three seasons (899 PA's) is still six percent below that of what a readily available DH brings to the table.

But perhaps there is a facet of Kotsay's game that is still valuable to the Sox and warrants starting him in certain situations. The most evident excuse for starting Kotsay is that he is a left-handed hitter, and thus is more adept at hitting tough right-handed pitchers than a similarly positioned right-handed hitter like Andruw Jones.

Looking at the career splits of the two hitters, though, we can see that Kotsay's handedness does not result in an advantage over Jones, with Kotsay putting up an OPS of .756 against right-handed hurlers and Jones enjoying an OPS of .813.

So then, what is Kotsay's redeeming quality that should result in somewhat regular starts both thus far this season and throughout the rest?

Other than being a favorite Guillen's, he has none.

Not only is Kotsay's production down around the levels of a waiver-wire acquisition or a AAA-lifer, but as of late he has been somewhat below that level.

It is clear, then, that any continued starting of Kotsay will cost his team more runs than a "quadruple-A" player would, and any decisions to do so would reflect the poor managerial abilities of the embattled Guillen.

 

—Jonathan Platek

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