Even the strongest critics of Mark Kotsay would say he wasn’t the reason the White Sox missed the playoffs in 2010. The reason the White Sox missed the playoffs was in large part due to a Minnesota team that simply was better than that of the Sox.
The August bullpen meltdown was a big factor, too. But there wasn’t one single reason as to why the White Sox aren’t playing today, tomorrow, or deep into October.
Although Kotsay—and the general lack of production from the team’s designated hitters—were a significant reason why.
Stats and stuff
- fWAR: -0.7
- FanGraphs page
- bWAR: -0.9
- Baseball-Reference page
If you would’ve told me before the season that, according to both FanGraphs’ and Baseball-Reference’s WAR, Mark Kotsay would end up the worst player on the team, I wouldn’t have batted an eye.
That’s what happened. Kotsay’s -0.7 fWAR was just slightly worse than Mark Teahen’s -0.6 fWAR, and his -0.9 bWAR was worse than Jayson Nix and his -0.6 bWAR*.
*Seriously, Nix was worth nearly a full win below replacement in just 24 games? I’ll let this .gif describe my reaction. Tough luck for the Shetland Pony.
So why was Kotsay the worst player on the team? Easy. His offensive offense.
Had Kotsay only played against right-handed pitching, he wouldn’t have been the offensive liability his numbers indicate he was. In 332 plate appearances against righties, Kotsay had a .321 wOBA and a 96 wRC+, meaning he was just a few points below average.
But against lefties, Kotsay was awful. Seriously, he was awful. In 27 plate appearances against left-handers, Kotsay drew two walks. That was it. He failed to register a hit against a left-hander all year. His wOBA of .052 and wRC+ of -87 were bad enough to make Jose Contreras look like a competent hitter.
Those 27 plate appearances dragged Kotsay’s wOBA down to .297 on the year. Usually, a small sample size like 27 won’t hurt a player all that much, but when you literally do nothing but take two walks in those chances, it’s going to have an impact.
Even if Kotsay only hit against righties, though, his numbers would have put him just outside the bottom third of designated hitters this year. His .321 wOBA against righties would’ve tied Kotsay with Jose Guillen, who amassed an identical wOBA before being jettisoned from Kansas City to San Francisco.
Instead, Kotsay’s .297 wOBA ranked as the fourth-worst among players who saw at least 200 at-bats as a designated hitter. Only Willy Aybar (.293), Milton Bradley (.289), and Jake Fox (.282) had worse wOBAs.
But no matter what Kotsay did, he wasn’t Jim Thome
Feel like crying, banging your head against a wall, or letting loose a string of profanities? Check out this graph.
From 2006 on, Jim Thome has been an above-average offensive player. And, from 2006 on, Mark Kotsay has been a below-average offensive player.
And yet, they were each given the same base salary of $1.5 million for 2010.
I’m not second-guessing the Thome move. Neither is Jim from Sox Machine or Cheat from South Side Sox. We—and a bunch of other Sox bloggers—knew letting Thome go was a disaster. Replacing Thome with Kotsay and Andruw Jones ignited the blaze, and Thome winding up in Minnesota poured gasoline on it.
If you put Thome on the White Sox instead of the Twins, there’s a net gain of 4.3 fWAR by replacing Kotsay’s -0.7 fWAR with Thome’s 3.6. When you consider that Jason Kubel and his .326 wOBA would’ve seen more at-bats for Minnesota, maybe the White Sox are a 90 or 91 win team, right there with the Twins.
It’s impossible to say Thome’s presence on the White Sox would’ve vaulted the Sox over the Twins and into the playoffs. It’s also unfair, too, because the Twins are an extremely well-constructed team.
But does Minnesota really not miss a beat when Justin Morneau goes down with a concussion if they don’t have Thome? And do the White Sox really struggle to score as much in April and May with Thome in the lineup?
Thome doesn’t prevent a bullpen meltdown. Thome doesn’t prevent a starting rotation from struggling through most of September. Thome doesn’t prevent Jake Peavy’s lat from becoming detached. Thome doesn’t prevent Mark Teahen from being Mark Teahen.
But Thome would’ve prevented Kotsay from being in the lineup. And that would’ve been a huge boost to the White Sox’s playoff chances.
The rotating DH: The frogurt is also cursed
The idea of a rotating DH isn’t inherently bad. For an example of one executed to perfection, look no further than the Twins.
A rotating DH strategy works only if the players involved in the rotation are good. That seems simple enough, but the White Sox had Mark Kotsay and, to a lesser extent, Andruw Jones (who, overall, was good but was essentially worthless from mid-May to mid-August) to mix and match with Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin.
It’s kind of like that scene from The Simpsons where Homer walks into the “House of Evil” shop looking for a present for Grandpa Simpson.
Owner: Take this object, but beware it carries a terrible curse!
Homer: Ooooh, that’s bad.
Owner: But it comes with a free Frogurt!
Homer: That’s good!
Owner: The Frogurt is also cursed.
Homer: That’s bad.
Owner: But you get your choice of topping!
Homer: That’s good!
Owner: The toppings contains Potassium Benzoate.
Owner: That’s bad.
The rotating DH sounds like a good idea, but it comes with the potential for massive failure. [That’s bad] But you get to rest Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin and keep them in the lineup! [That’s good] You have to play Mark Kotsay and Andruw Jones to do so. [That’s bad] But Konerko will have a breakout offensive year! [That’s good] Jim Thome will lead all AL designated hitters in wOBA while Kotsay has the fourth worst. […that’s bad]
We don’t know if Konerko would’ve put up such great numbers had he been forced to play 25 or so more games at first base. And, despite his .356 wOBA, Quentin played at a replacement level (0 fWAR, 0.1 bWAR) in 2010 thanks to his poor defense. Having a full-time DH in Thome would’ve prevented Konerko from getting those days off from the field and Quentin from slipping into negative WAR territory.
But, remember, Thome can’t play every day. He played in 108 games for the Twins in 2010, and had he played in the same amount of games for the White Sox, Konerko and Quentin would not have been forced to lose any days off from the field.
Konerko appeared as a designated hitter 23 times while Quentin 24. That adds up to 47 times the two DH’d, and when added to Thome’s 108, the Sox could’ve found a way to DH Konerko.Quentin seven extra times under that setup.
And, with Thome DH’ing, Kotsay and Jones could’ve been relegated to their most valuable roles—those being as backups on the bench. When Konerko DH’d, Kotsay could’ve played first base. When Quentin DH’d, Jones could’ve played right. It wouldn’t have been hard at all to pull that off.
Don’t hate Kotsay, hate the spot
I went over this back in August, so I’ll quickly summarize: It’s not Kotsay’s fault he was thrust into a situation in which he never should’ve been. It would’ve taken a miracle for Kotsay to succeed in a DH/1B role given the five below-average offensive seasons leading up to 2010.
Thanks to their performance, Kotsay and Teahen have been the whipping boys of the 2010 White Sox. But, as players, they both did exactly what was expected of them. Those expectations weren’t good, but they played neither over nor under their heads.
The blame for Kotsay—and Teahen—lies elsewhere. I’ll let you infer where it is, but it’s not too hard to figure out.
And it’s not Ozzie Guillen, if that helps.
Kotsay won’t be back with the White Sox in 2011, and he may find it tough to crack the majors next year. He’ll likely have to play his way on to a team in spring training after signing as a minor league free agent, because there simply isn’t any kind of a market for 35-year-olds who have posted negative WARs in three of the last four seasons.