Buying into George Kottaras’ Small Sample Size

By Tommy Rancel //

Over the past few months we’ve warned about small sample sizes. This is especially true for veteran players with large career sample sizes, or big-named stars going through early-season slumps. However, there are certain times when you have to put sample size aside and jump in while the gettin’ is good. George Kottaras is a prime example of someone worth riding the sample size wave.

With Gregg Zaun out due to a torn labrum, the former San Diego Padres/Boston Red Sox farmhand is enjoying life as the Milwaukee Brewers primary backstop. It seems a little outlandish to get excited about a 27-year-old with 200 career plate appearances, but there is something very interesting about this career .234 hitter.

Though Kottaras has been ugly (.217), he’s been an on-base machine in the early stages of 2010, posting a .393 OBP to date. The secret to his success is simple; Kottaras likes to take 90-foot walks along the first-base line. In fact, nearly one-fourth of his plate appearances have ended in a base-on-balls.

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Kottaras showed a good eye in the minor leagues (12% walk rate in Triple-A), but not this good. Beyond the nearly 25% walk rate, he is laying off pitches out of the zone (13.6% O-swing, or swings outside of the strike zone), and not missing when he does swing (3.8% swinging-strike percentage). Another key aspect is getting ahead in the count. While the league-average hitter sees a first-pitch strike 59% of the time, Kottaras falls behind just 51%.

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Outside of the terrific patience, Kottaras is showing some nice pop at the plate. Twelve of his 18 hits have gone for extra bases, including five home runs. Of course, no one expects Kottaras to put up a .265 ISO (Isolated Power, which is slugging percentage minus batting average) for the duration of the season. That said, Kottaras belted 22 home runs as a minor leaguer in 2008. ZiPs projects him to hit a home run once every 28 plate appearances and a double once every 17. If he amasses 400 PAs this year, that would give him around 15 home runs and 21 doubles.

As for the low batting average, Kottaras has a lower than normal batting average on balls in play (BABIP) – even for a catcher. The league-average BABIP is .297; Kottaras’ is a microscopic .197. With more line drives (9.0%), Kottaras is likely to see positive regression in his average.

Because of that low average, and Kottaras’ relative obscurity, he is barely owned in fantasy leagues. While we don’t expect him to continue walking at Barry Bonds-like levels, Kottaras is a buy-low candidate, especially in NL-only leagues.

If he levels out to an average hitter with gap power by season’s end, that would still make him one of the better offensive catchers in the senior circuit. On the other hand, there is a fair chance that Kottaras is a sample size anomaly. Regardless, this hot hand is definitely worth the risk in deeper leagues, given the low cost and the shallow talent pool at the position. 

For more on George Kottaras and other buy-low candidates, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy tools.

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