Alternate Title: Post That Quickly Turns Into Rant About How Awesome George Kottaras Is
Unfortunately, Gregg Zaun’s injury is going to be much worse than it initially appeared. Zaun suffered a torn labrum which could potentially end his season and his career.
That means that George Kottaras is going to be thrust into an everyday catcher’s role. His .232 batting average completely obscures the fact that he’s having a wonderful year at the plate. Thanks to a crazy 25.6% walk rate – tops in the majors among players with at least 70 plate appearances – Kottaras is running a .423 on base percentage, the best mark on the Brewers. Thanks to a newfound power stroke – three home runs and seven doubles – Kottaras has recorded a crazy .286 ISO. That mark is just under twice the major league average and ranks 18th among players with at least 70 plate appearances.
The chances of Kottaras maintaining a .400+ wOBA are, of course, pretty slim. However, there are some signs that suggest that he could be a very successful hitter in the major leagues. His walk rate certainly hasn’t stabilized yet – that typically takes around 200 PAs – but even if he doesn’t walk again in his next 122 PAs, he’ll still have a 10% walk rate, about a point over the league average. ZiPS projects a walk rate of 13% for the rest of the season, which is excellent.
Second, his strikeout rate is way down this season. After striking out over 24% of the time at every stint and every level since 2006, Kottaras’s strikeout rate is all the way down to 16.1%. This number screams regression ahead, as this is 78 plate appearances against 1381. However, there is reason to believe that Kottaras’s strikeout rate should remain low. Contact rate tends to stabilize after about 100 plate appearances. Through 78 PAs, Kottaras has increased his contact rate from 78.4% with Boston last season to 89.3% this season. What’s behind this change?
Kottaras has pretty much stopped swinging. His swing rate – which tends to stabilize after only 50 plate appearances – is all the way down to 31.1%. That’s second to only Nick Johnson. And he really isn’t swinging at anything out of the zone – his 10.9% O-Swing rate is the lowest in the league, 1.8 points lower than Tony Gwynn Jr.’s second place mark. That doesn’t really tell the whole story – check out this graph from Texas Leaguers’ Pitch F/X database
George Kottaras this year has been kind of like jazz music – it’s not about the pitches he swings at, it’s about the pitches he doesn’t swing at. By swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone, he’s hitting far more of the pitches that he actually does swing at. That’s why his O-Contact% is up so much – from 59.4% to 73.7%
Finally, some of his power appears to be for real. His double rate (7/56, or 12.5% of ABs) is probably not sustainable, but he does have legitimate home run power. Hitters who can hit a ball 430 feet generally have some real power, and his 399 foot was also hit very hard. Unsurprisingly, hitting the ball very hard is the key to hitting home run.
Basically, George Kottaras is turning himself into Nick Johnson, but at catcher, which is essentially the sabermetrician’s dream. Surely, some components of his game will regress, but his .217 BABIP is also likely to regress by the time the season is over, too. Yes, it’s only been 78 plate apperances, but there’s a good chance that there’s something special with George Kottaras, and I eagerly await the rest of his season.
According to the Journal-Sentinel, the Brewers will stick with Jon Lucroy as the backup catcher, at least for now. That means that they won’t pursue a trade for a veteran. That, I feel, is a good decision, as stealing playing time from Kottaras would be a poor choice, as the Brewers need to truly evaluate what they have in him. However, Lucroy has only caught 21 games at AAA and we really have no sense as to whether or not he is truly ready for the majors. I feel that the best course of action with him would be to play him every day at AAA and find some cheap backup for Kottaras who can catch every fifth day or so. The player in question will likely find his way on to waivers soon, and a cup of coffee for Lucroy won’t be the worst thing for his development. I just don’t feel that an extended period of time as a backup would be prudent at this point in time.