Most of you don't know this, but I used to be a San Diego Padre fan when I lived in San Diego from 2003-2010. Aside from the ballpark, being a Padre fan was pretty frustrating. One particularly frustrating part of being a Padre fan was one Kevin Kouzmanoff. After a solid 2007, Kooz posted two consecutive seasons of ~ .300 OBP and I had enough. As luck would have it, the Padre organization shipped Kooz to Oakland in the offseason. As luck would also have it, I would move to the Bay Area and become an A's fan the next offseason. So who was manning third come Opening Day at my first game at the Coliseum: Kooz (0-3 with a strikeout BTW).
It didn't last long. Kooz was sent down to Sacramento after 46 games of .269 wOBA ball. He was traded to the Rockies later that season. Kooz has spent the last three years in the minors for two different organizations. Despite the tremendous support from at least one member of Athletics Nation, the future doesn't look bright for Kooz to succeed at the MLB level. Let's see if we can found out why.
In a lot of ways, Kouzmanoff is the definition of an AAAA player. In 560 career minor league games, he posted a .316/.370/.516 slash line (I saw him hit three home runs at my first River Cats game). But in 672 games at the MLB level, the slash line becomes .255/.300/.420. Inside those numbers, we see a 35 point drop in ISO, a 35% decrease in walk rate, and 28.6% increase in strikeout rate. So it is pretty easy to see Kooz has had a hard time adjusting to MLB pitching. Let's take a look at a few of his swings and see if we can find out why.
Below is a home run swing against Texas.
Now let's look at the swing components.
Right off the bat, Kooz is out of position. I like to see hitters get into a strong position with the rear side, forming what I call the "attack" position. Compare his position to another player who starts his swing statically from this attack position. Kooz has just a little too much weight over the rear leg, instead of into the rear leg.
Now Kooz is starting to look really bad. He has a lot of rearward tip of both the spine and hip line. His front knee is already opening up, leaking power and setting him up for some bad swings on off-speed stuff. Kooz's rear elbow is already working down instead of moving the bat into the launch position. Compare Kooz to Cespedes at the same position. Really worlds apart.
Kooz's movements aren't too bad here. His rear arm works down nicely, but he is just too out of position with the spine and hips. Not much to like about the front side mechanics. The front shoulder is really, really lagging. From the front side view, we can see Kooz doesn't launch the bat that well, but not horribly. He starts with one foot in the mud. (If you don't get the mud reference, read this article.)
Somewhat impressively, Kooz has managed to correct his spinal and hip alignment. But the poor front side mechanics are really catching up here. Kooz's front arm is way out in front of his body. The only chance he has of making contact is way out in front of the plate. Compare him to Donaldson's lag.
Sure enough, Kooz's contact point is out past his front foot. Usually you want to see a consistent contact zone a little more toward the plate to give the hitter a little margin of error for timing. Just to show he is consistent, here are couple of more stills of Kooz at contact.
The big takeaway from this is that Kooz's swing is 5.5-6 frames long. Typically MLB hitters need to come in at 5 frames to be successful (Donaldson is 4.5-5 as was Cespedes in 2012). That half frame really makes it difficult to be able to both handle fastballs and adjust to off-speed stuff. (Interestingly, Kooz's weighted Fastball Value for his career is 2.3 runs below average. His off-speed values are negative as well, although I don't put a lot of stock in anything but the fastball value.) If a hitter has a slow swing, he has to start earlier to catch up with a fastball, which then leaves him vulnerable for the off-speed stuff. Then if he sits off-speed, the fastball goes right by. That half frame is often the difference between successful minor leaguer and successful major leaguer.
I'm biased on this, but I think swing mechanics can be used as a grading tool for prospects. From 2004-2006, Kooz OPS'ed 950 or better in A+, AA, and AAA. From numbers alone, Kooz looked like the real deal. But if you were to look closely at his swing, you could get a red flag.
However it turns out for Kooz, I am now glad the A's traded for him. It led to a pretty awesome story about a ballplayer and a family. The type you don't hear very often. Here's to him shaving that half-frame off his swing! Go KOOOOOOOOOOOZ!!!!!