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Lesser Brewers: Mark Kotsay


Back when the Brewers first signed Mark Kotsay, there was a whole slew of comments basically saying it was a dumb move but that it wasn't that big of a deal. He was 35 years old and was coming off a season during which he hit just .239/.306/.376. In addition, he had been worth a grand total of -1.8 fWAR from 2005-2010. He was a veteran guy to bring into camp and, unless he lit the world on fire in spring training, could be cut with little consequence.

Well, Kotsay did hit .340/.386/.440 in spring and earned a bench spot to begin the year. He would be one of the first bats off the bench and an occasional spot starter in the corner outfield. With Corey Hart being injured to start the season, Milwaukee needed a player who could take his place for a few weeks. Kotsay maintained a decent to good on base percentage for much of the year, though his power stroke was virtually non-existent. In fact, Kotsay's OPS was above .700 for only two days in 2011. He hit .702 on May 18 and .703 on September 26 to close his regular season. Comparatively, he had 15 days where he was under a .600 OPS. In particular, there was a rough month and a half long stretch between June 13 and July 31 where he hit .206/.214/.324--and still started 14 games.

On May 11, one of the more frustrating lineup decisions we have seen happened for the first time. That day, Mark Kotsay started in center field. While Nyjer Morgan was injured at the time, Milwaukee had a more than capable center fielder in Carlos Gomez. Brandon Boggs was also on the roster at that point, as well. That may have been the moment where one started feeling uneasy about the role of Mark Kotsay. It didn't help that he then started two more games in a row in center field a week later. And then two more in a row four games after that. Overall, Kotsay played ten regular season games in Center Field, with nine starts. It felt like even more, but that was ten games too many.

Mark Kotsay hadn't played an inning in center field since 2009, when he was center field for just five games. Mark Kotsay has not had a positive UZR/150 in center field since 2004. Mark Kotsay has not even had a center field UZR/150 in single digit negative numbers since 2005. In fact, the only two positions Kotsay has had a positive UZR in during the last three years are left field and first base, probably the two easiest positions in the game.

It's probably not Kotsay's fault that he was playing a position he couldn't handle for significant innings in 2011. Ron Roenicke is the one who put him out there, despite having Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan on the roster. Or having at least one of those two when the other was injured. Still, though, it's hard not to dislike Kotsay for being in such a significant spot. Especially when it seemed like every game saw him make an absolutely boneheaded play that Morgan or Gomez would have made easily.

Even more frustrating was his one post-season start in center field, against the Cardinals in game three of the NLCS. That game, Kotsay had a base-running gaffe in the first inning that helped prematurely end a Brewers rally. Then, even worse, there were at least two different defensive plays that either Gomez or Morgan likely could have made that Kotsay didn't in the bottom of the first. The Cardinals scored four runs that inning en route to winning 4-3. Kotsay did hit a home run in that game, and reached base in three of four plate appearances, but I still struggle not to blame Kotsay for the Brewers losing that game. And had the Brewers won that game, maybe they would have built on that momentum and won the series.

Here are two lovely videos from that game:

Mark Kotsay had just a one year deal with the Brewers and signed with the Padres in the offseason for more money than he probably deserves. So I guess at least we don't get to see him replace Prince Fielder at first base next year.