The Angels have been trying to make Michael Kohn happen for a few years now, but thus far he hasn’t happened. The way things are shaping up, it looks like he’ll get another shot this year. Will he actually be able to make good on the opportunity or will he burn what might be his final chance?
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate because my math skills are only “meh”)
What happened in 2013?
It was actually a surprise to see Kohn contribute to the Halos so early in 2013. He missed most of 2012 due to Tommy John surgery, so by most schedules it should’ve taken Kohn a few months more to be big league ready again, especially since he was a fringe big leaguer before the surgery to begin with. He nearly made the Angels out of training camp and then made only a handful of appearances in the minors before getting called up. It was all looking so bright and cheery for Kohn.
In fact, for the first half of the season, Kohn was quite excellent. He had a 2.54 ERA, limited batters to a .286 wOBA and struck out more than a batter per inning. Of course, he did that with a high walk rate, an unsustainably low BABIP, an unsustainably high strand rate and his usual home run problems, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that he got pounded into the ground by the regression hammer in the second half of the season.
Things got so bad by the final month of the season that Kohn had been essentially demoted into a mop-up man on the depth chart. So much for bright and cheery.
What do the projections think he will do in 2014?
Don’t expect the bright and cheery to return in 2014, at least that’s what the projections say. Steamer has the best case scenario projection for Kohn in which he cuts his walks down to an acceptable level, still limits hits and misses a fair number of bats. The problem is that Steamer, like all the other systems, has him giving up over one homer per nine innings. That’s a fatal flaw that Kohn just isn’t going to be able to overcome unless he starts fanning batters at a Frieri-like rate. None of the projections think he can even come close to doing that.
The net result is that the systems other than Steamer have him pitching at a level where he is just barely good enough to stick in the role of a middle reliever who you’d rather not use in high leverage situations. Even then, Steamer has his FIP being right on the same level as the other projections, so Kohn will need some luck to be on his side if he wants to be anything other than the low man on the bullpen totem pole.
Does the Monkey agree or disagree?
The overarching problem for Kohn though is that calling him an extreme flyball pitcher is actually an understatement. That means he is always going to be prone to giving up homers, and that is a problem if you ever want to sniff a high leverage situation as a reliever. It turns out that throwing almost exclusively fastballs, living up in the zone with poor command can be kind of an issue when it comes to suppressing dingers.
To illustrate my point, Kohn coughed up seven homers in 53 innings of work. That’s a 1.19 HR/9, a pretty ugly number by any standard. However, Kohn’s HR/FB rate was 8.8%. That’s actually a pretty good HR/FB. Most pitchers would love to have that HR/FB. But because Kohn gives up so very many flyballs, that above average HR/FB results in too many homers. Just imagine what his home run rate is going to look like if he gets even a little bad HR/FB luck.
Because of all that, I can’t trust in him too much. That’s why I have such a low inning projection for him. The Angels actually have bullpen options this year and if Kohn starts getting taken deep too often, they will have alternatives to turn to, unlike last season.
What are the known unknowns?
As with Salas earlier today, we don’t know if Kohn will be on the Opening Day roster. He hasn’t had the best spring, but he hasn’t been terrible either. Even before all the injuries, he was on the bubble. My guess is that he does make the team, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he doesn’t last long. Either way, he should get some looks in the majors before everything is said and done. I just doubt they are long looks.
The one thing about Kohn’s game that actually baffles me is that he has reverse platoon splits. The sample size is small enough to wonder if that is, in fact, actually his true talent or just noise. Either way, it is weird and it makes Kohn both hard to project and hard to effectively deploy.
I tend to believe that Kohn’s splits are a product of his true talent. He was basically just a fastball guy last year as his slider and changeup were not effective weapons. That’s why Kohn is working on his breaking ball this spring. Even he admits he isn’t about to magically develop a wipeout slider, but he does know he needs a second pitch that he can actually get over the plate in order to enhance the effectiveness of his excellent fastball. How well he is able to succeed in that goal will go a long way towards determining if Kohn can fix his splits issue and beat his projections.