On the heels of the Angels' recent vote of confidence despite Kotchman's abysmal .148 batting average - now is a good time to dig a bit deeper to try to understand just what's going on.
Let's look at three key indicators over four different breakdowns, in the following order:
1-2005 Triple-A Salt Lake Totals
2-2005 Anaheim Totals
3-2006 Anaheim Totals
4-2006 Anaheim April 14th thru April 27th
K:BB Ratio: 0.930 / 1.200 / 2.250 / 2.000
As expected, Kotchman's plate discipline declined upon his promotion to Anaheim last year - albeit a slight decline. A K:BB ratio of 1.200 is solid for ANY major leaguer, especially so for a rookie. By looking at his K:BB ratio for 2006 we can see a clear decline in plate discipline - from 1.200 in 2005 to 2.250 in 2006 so far. Over the past 14 days his rate has improved slightly to 2.000, but not enough to be statistically significant over such a small sample size.
CONCLUSION: Kotchman is displaying a much less discerning eye at the plate so far in 2006. This is a highly repeatable skill, so the primary explanation is that he is pressing too much right now.
K:PA Ratio: .099 / .128 / .138 / .111
The positive sign here is that Kotchman's K:PA ratio is NOT tightly correlated to his K:BB ratio. While his K:BB ratio is significanly worse in 2006, his K:PA ratio on the season is not significantly different in 2006 (.138) than it was in 2005 (.128) and in fact it has improved over the past 14 days (36 plate appearances) to .111.
CONCLUSION: Kotchman has maintained a consistent contact rate from 2005 to 2006 and has shown improvement over the past two weeks, despite hitting a measly .088 (3-for-34) over that span. That means that at least some portion of the differential in his batting average is due to a very low BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) - basically he's not hitting 'em where they ain't.
BB:PA Ratio: .106 / .106 / .062 / .056
Here's where we see the tight correlation with Kotchman's declining K:BB ratio. In the simplest of terms, he's lost his patience at the dish. This can help explain some part of his low BABIP - he's swinging at bad pitches and putting them into play. These are typically weak grounders and infield pop-ups.
CONCLUSION: Kotchman needs to relax. He's pressing at the plate. He isn't striking out more, he's just a little less selective in what's he's swinging at right now and it's costing him.
FINAL CONCLUSION: Kotchman will be fine as soon as he regains his selectivity at the plate - and the good news is that this is a highly repeatable skill. Whether he can work this out in Anaheim remains the question. Going 3-for-34 over a two week span is enough to make anyone start pressing. If he can stop pressing and not dig a bigger hole for himself, he should work his way out of this shortly. The Angels next four series are against some of the better pitching staffs in the AL: White Sox (4th), Oakland (8th), Detroit (2nd), Toronto (9th). If Kotchman can stay alive until the Toronto series, he may have a good shot at breaking out against them. If his struggles continue, look for him to get a mind-set adjustment at Triple-A Salt Lake for two or three weeks. In the meantime, we'll all be closely watching the BB column next to Kotchman's name in the box scores.