One of the first pieces of news we received this month was Bryan Price definitively saying Zack Cozart is the Reds’ starting shortstop. As C. Trent’s article explains, Cozart knew he had an abysmal year at the plate and while looking for flaws in his mechanics, found his hands were too far forward, throwing off his timing and lengthening his swing.

It’s a small wonder Cozart was able to generate 1.2 WAR last year on his defense alone—he flirted with the Mendoza Line early and late in the 2014 season and his wRC+ of 56 was good for dead last in all of baseball among qualified hitters. That’s getting bupkis from the eighth spot in the batting order, which on most days was followed by a similarly non-contributing hitter in the nine hole. I say most days because Mike Leake (in 68 at-bats, mind you) out-slugged Cozart to the tune of .338 to .300 and managed a wRC+ of 40—just 16 runs less than the starting shortstop.

So, his mechanics were probably a little off. And in the midst of a lot of conversations about whether Votto and Bruce can return to their past hitting prowess, Cozart finds himself on a similar precipice and likely has more at stake. Even with his exceptional glovework, hitting as this clip isn’t going to allow him to keep a starting gig, especially in the National League. Offensively, he has never been more than below-average in the majors, thus projecting his 2015 is a question of whether he can get back to hitting 25+ doubles and 10+ homers per season or not. I’m in very close agreement with Jason Linden’s projection—he’ll be better, but not quite 2012-2013 better:

134 G | 494 PA | 20 2B | 8 HR | .241 AVG | .273 OBP | .343 SLG

One big caveat with this line is regarding the number of games played. Cozart’s the starting shortstop and incumbent, thus he’ll surely get most of the first-half workload without much pressure. My projection assumes he’ll be the starter for most of the season, getting a few breaks when he’s really slumping. What it also assumes is that neither Kristopher Negron nor Eugenio Suarez do enough to force themselves into consideration.

Cozart should be able to raise his average from last year with just a little more luck. His BABIP in 2014 was a rough .255 even while whiffing on just 7.8% of pitches in the strike zone—the lowest rate of his career. May and June were his most productive months of the season, with his BABIP and counting stats rising with the rate he was hitting ground balls.

cozart GB-FB-LDNoticing he was able to withstand fluctuations in previous years, we can surmise he wasn’t hitting fly balls with the same authority in 2014. Lo and behold, Cozart’s average batted ball distance (on home runs and fly balls) was the lowest of his career at 257.2 feet. That was only a slight decrease from 2013’s mark of 259.3 feet, but way down from his average of 271.8 feet in 2012. As he approaches 30 (which he’ll turn in August), the power of three seasons ago probably won’t return. If you compare his 2013 and 2014 spray charts, you’ll see he pulled the ball more regularly in 2013, offsetting some of his reduced overall power.

cozart 13-14 sprayThe key to a bounce back from Zack Cozart lies in effectively adjusting his swing as detailed in the aforementioned article. It stands to reason that if he can keep his hands back and thus tighten his swing, he’ll be able to get around on more fastballs leading to more solid contact and extra base hits. Double-digit home runs will probably be a rarity for Cozart from here forward, but it’s not unrealistic to hope for over twenty doubles, a couple triples, and a much-improved OPS. Then, we could all just relax and enjoy his Gold Glove-caliber defense.


62 Responses

  1. Steve Schoenbaechler

    He got up here crushing the ball in AAA, and he started off crushing the ball. He was in some kind of zone. Ever since that injury, though, he simply hasn’t been the same, essentially went back to his “baseball card”.

    I can’t help thinking he’s going to be on a short leash. For, not unless Suarez is the next EE, which I doubt, I can’t see us keeping Cozart’s offense out there for long. I mean, many teams do have that “coffin corner” player for the batting order. But, why put up with it when you don’t have to? Cozart right now is essentially my definition of a bench player (someone who is missing either the necessary tools for offense or defense, and/or something else, i.e. leadership, team chemistry, etc.), being all glove no bat; he’s essentially a defensive replacement. If Cozart doesn’t bat, Price better be putting Suarez in there.

    • jdx19

      Cozart still produced positive WAR last season due to his defense at the toughest spot on the field. I don’t like his hitting either, but unless Suarez is going to bat .260/.310/.330 or something, the downgrade in defense isn’t worth it, IMO.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        Well, those were just about his numbers he hit last season at Detroit.

      • jdx19

        Well, then a sidegrade would be possible. If Cozart bounces back offensively at all, I still think he’s a better option at this point.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        Oh, I do, too. That’s why I said I think Cozart will be on a short leash.

  2. gaffer

    I have nothing against Zach, I would love to have him as our SS if he hit as we expected him based on his AAA and early MLB numbers. But to just cede the SS position to him before he even earns it is the lack of accountability Price continues to demonstrate. This is a very Dusty thing to say. As another example, Marquis is named a starter and for “the entire year” according to Price based on what? Then he stinks yesterday and “that was expected”. Then he says “its based on previous experience” which in Marquis case is pretty bad. So how would any rookie ever play under this approach. ACCOUNTABILITY.

    • RedAlert

      Agreed – the word “accountability” has been a joke at this point – I like Price , but just stop with the accountabilty crap already – he hasn’t applied it to anyone including himself

    • redmountain

      I am not saying this will happen, but Cueto got a little roughed up his last time out. Perhaps it was just one of those games and it will not be bad the next time out. I am not going to dump him because of one game.

      • Chris Miller

        Horrible, horrible, comparison. For starters, Cueto gave up one big hit, a 2 run HR, which accounted for all his runs against him. Secondly, unlike Marquis, Cueto hasn’t had an era over 4 every year for the last 10 years.

    • earmbrister

      Gaffer I’m guessing that Price believes that Cozart HAS earned the position, based on him being the starting SS for the last 3 years. As Steve M. points out below, at some point his cost (salary) will outweigh his benefit , and he will be moved (if Suarez or another prove their worth). Heisey was valuable at league minimum, but was a throwaway at $ 2.2M, with his ever declining production.

      Price is not Dusty, as much as some people want to paint him as such. Of course, Dusty also got the BS anti-rookie label, despite Votto, Bruce, Stubbs, and yes, Cozart to the contrary.

      • lwblogger2

        Some folks are still blaming Dusty for problems and he’s been gone over a year.

      • earmbrister

        Almost as worthwhile as discussing whether Chapman should be a starter or not, We had that debate years ago, move on folks (and that’s from someone that argued loudly for his being in the starting rotation).

  3. VaRedsFan

    I’m a Cozart fan (love the glove). But I’d give him 40 games this year to show that he’s improved. Maybe Negron can force his way into the lineup with good results when he gets the chance. Same with Suarez, although it looks like he might start in AAA.

    Cozart can hide in this lineup if the guys that are supposed to do the damage, do so.
    But if the stars struggle, his weaknesses will be magnified.

    • charlottencredsfan

      If Negron can keep up the pace, both BHam & Zack will need to get it going. The more of CN I see, the more I like. Maybe we have a player here.

      • lwblogger2

        I just look at Negron’s track record and I don’t see a hitter. I like him on the team. He’s a good team guy, is versatile, has a little better than average speed, and can provide solid defense wherever you put him. To me, he’s the definition or a utility guy. I don’t think the bat is going to play over a 450+ PA stretch in the Majors. I do love what I see from him and this season will be interesting. A part of me really hopes that he is better than I think.

      • charlottencredsfan

        Yes when I look at his MiL tack record, I agree. When I see him at the plate, I see something else. Who knows, maybe he has figured some things out. Every now and then one of these guys come along, hopefully he will be one of them.

        Either way, if Billy & Zack stink up the up the joint, a mediocre season could turn into a disaster. That is, if adjustments are not made. Two guys hovering around the .200 mark is just not practical for a good team especially when you figure in the pitchers’ spot.

      • lwblogger2

        I really do like his approach at the plate. I think he’s a legit MLB player. Maybe you’re right and he’ll be one of those very rare guys where the light turns on kinda late and they play better in MLB than MiLB. For the Reds, I’d love to see it.

      • reaganspad

        I agree Charlotte about Kris Negron. I think his initials would be KN though.

        I see a guy who has power to all fields and seems to be swinging at strikes. since I never have seen him play at the minor league level, all I have to go on is what he did last year and what he is doing now.

        He not only looks like a major league player, he looks like he should be in there every day.

        His hustle is refreshing. His glove work has really been a surprise. I would like to see him get some time at SS this spring. I love Zack Cozart and hope that he has figured out his mechanics because he should be a 20 HR guy.

        But if he is not that guy, KN may be the guy even more than Suarez

      • charlottencredsfan

        Spring Training for bloggers too, I guess. Thanks for the correction.

    • JB WV

      Love him too. I think he was feeling some pressure with the team struggling to score runs. Hope he can relax at the plate and put up decent numbers. He used to have some pop. Suarez is only 23, so more glove work at AAA will only improve his defense.

  4. Michael A Caudill

    Zach Cozart has been on a decline for 3 years . Last year was horrible , and should have been replaced by Negron. Negron had a .271/.331/.479 , his glove is good . After that horrible year , you would think Cozart .221/.268/.300. Would have to earn his position back . But , theirs no completion for Shortstop announced by Price . The question I have is what incent does he have to get better ? But , what got me is this about the problem . Zach came out said , that he had been reviewed film . And he found a problem in his swing , this year . But , he thinks that he fixed the problem. He started out at .127 , when to .300 and now back to .273 in Spring Training . His gold glove caliber defense, and rated #29 in offense . I think Negron deserve the position , he is batting .348 in Spring Training .

    • charlottencredsfan

      No question, Negron’s approach at the plate is far superior to Zack’s. Does Zack have any trade value?

      • gaffer

        Give the lack of quality SS, maybe. But most teams (NL particularly) are looking for some offense at SS too, so it would probably be more of a dump than a trade for value. Too bad we will never know.

      • Steve Mancuso

        I think there’s a decent chance at a reasonable trade market for Cozart at the trade deadline. Last year, there were several teams that just needed a major league shortstop, let alone one of the top defenders. With Suarez waiting in the wings and Cozart’s salary moving upward in arbitration, he’s a prime candidate to trade. The shortstop market is dreadful, so he could be worth something pretty good. And he wouldn’t be too expensive for the rest of 2015.

      • gaffer

        Steve, that assunes we are out of contention. When we are 5-8 games back in July, do you see the brass doing a fire sale? I doubt it.

      • Steve Mancuso

        That’s a fair point. Either way, they’ll try to trade Cozart before next year. Unless his hitting rebounds quite a bit, they won’t want to get to the next level of arbitration with him. I think that’s why they are talking about Suarez (has to play every day) like they are. They see him as the starter in the near future.

      • Kevin Michell

        I think he would probably net a similar return to the Hanigan trade in a vacuum. Likely would have to go to an AL team so his lack of offense isn’t so conspicuous.

  5. Carl Sayre

    Comparing spring training BA is ridiculous hitter A may be facing nothing but big league pitchers while hitter B may be facing AA pitchers getting a look. Cozart has to hit but for Suarez or Negron to take that spot I would think they would have to hit 50 points higher. Cozart defensively makes every play he should almost every spectacular play and sprinkle in about two dozen OMG how did he do that plays. I don’t like Price making a decision this early it does seem like he is the Dusty 2.0 version but even at something like a 240 BA with Cozarts glove is acceptable.

    • charlottencredsfan

      Between Billy and Zack, one has to put up some numbers. Can’t have 3 gaping holes in a lineup.

      What little I have seen of BHam, it looks like second half Billy. I’m not encouraged at this point – his front foot is still all over the place. Small sample size to be sure but it isn’t looking good at the moment.

      • gaffer

        BHam batting at 7 or 8 would be a minor issue, but he is in permanant marker at leadoff.

  6. WVRedlegs

    At 5:00pm (EDT) the Cincinnati Reds are the featured team today on MLB Network Radio’s hour long radio show.

  7. Art Wayne Austin

    Of the shortstops in my time Roy McMillan was in a class by himself, super quick hands in getting the ball to first and a great clutch hitter. Clutch-hitting is where Cozart and “.”2nd half” Billy failed us. Clutch hitting is an individual, character, competitive trait. The batter has to feel the weight, the momentum, the very game of baseball on his shoulders. At this time there is no “advantage” pitcher, forget about technique, negativism, you, the batter, are now center-stage, you are going to knock in that runner, your reason for being on this earth has arrived, this pitcher is not better than you, perhaps other times, but not with runners on the bases. This is your time.

    • Steve Mancuso

      That psychological narrative is way overdone. By the time these guys make starting lineups in the major leagues, they are all pretty tough-minded. Studies show that virtually all major league hitters bat the same with runners on base as they do without, subject to normal random variation, of course.

      And if certain players have this killer character trait, why does it only show up in one or two percent of their at bats? Example: Roy McMillan hit .243 throughout his career. He hit .258 with runners in scoring position. If McMillan benefits from a fundamental something or other in his character, and not just random variance, why does it raise his hits from 24% to just 26%? Seems like that dramatic storytelling “reason for being on this earth has arrived” etc. would lead to a larger difference, if not random.

      Are you saying “clutch” players only try their hardest when runners are on?

      Hitters like Joey Votto are just flat better in all circumstances than hitters like Zack Cozart or Roy McMillan. Votto has better eye-hand coordination, better patients, better pitch recognition and maybe a better batting plan. That shows up in his overall numbers as well as with RISP.

    • lwblogger2

      That’s the mentality but over a large enough sample, very few people prove to be clutch hitters or poor in the clutch. There are exceptions of course but they are few and far between. I used to be a firm believer that some players were better clutch players than others. This was especially true when I still played. Now, even though I see it in some seasons, over the long haul, clutch numbers tend to normalize with overall numbers for all but very few players at the MLB level. I think it matters more at lower levels of competition, like the levels I played.

    • CP

      Roy McMillan
      career stats: .243/.314/.321

      career stats with RISP: .258/.334/.327

      2 outs with RISP: .238/.333/.293

      McMillan was clearly a better hitter than Zack Cozart, but nothing indicates that he was clutch. Our brain is wired to remember certain things. Subjective memories/feelings are difficult to discard, even in lieu of evidence otherwise.

    • Jeremy R Howdyshell

      Also, something to keep in mind is that better overall hitters are not typically thought of as clutch because they always perform at that level. Think though that another small part of why many sub-par batters show as slightly better with RISP is because the pitcher will go after that sub-par batter more so than say Votto. If you have a guy on third with the game tied in the ninth I would much rather be aggressive against Cozart than Votto, Frazier, Mesoraco or Bruce in hopes of getting out of the inning before having to face one of those guys, and more aggressive pitching equates to more hitable pitches because the pitcher is making sure to keep the ball in the zone and then they will pitch around the better guys in hopes of not having them get the run in. In a sense when you have a team with better players as a whole it makes your weakest link look better. When Votto and Bruce weren’t playing well this past season that made the approach to guys like
      Cozart less aggressive because if you don’t get him you can the guy after him. I bet if Votto and Bruce bounce back along with Phillips that Cozart will look better to because pitchers will target him more in the lineup.

  8. lwblogger2

    My Cozart projection came out to… 495 PA, 8 HR, 23 2B … .241/.280/.352 … Would the Nation take those numbers considering his defense?

      • gaffer

        Suarez would probably be closer to .257/.318/.360, which seems similar but the roughly 30 more walks alone would be about 5 more runs (.5 wins).

      • jdx19

        And Cozart is likely at least half-a-win better in the field. I really think the two guys are a push if Cozart doesn’t have a better offensive season and Suarez does what his projections say.

      • lwblogger2

        Kevin, great work on the projection. Not sure if I’ve said it before or not. Clearly you guys are really putting in the research and not pulling numbers out of a hat.

      • Kevin Michell

        Thank you very much! I appreciate that a lot, especially after a few late nights of looking at charts and graphs feeling a bit like Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind”.

  9. Art Wayne Austin

    For those who think I’m in left-field concerning Roy McMillan read the SABR article on the internet. Type in Roy McMillan on Google, it’s about three articles down.

    • lwblogger2

      McMillan was a nice player. Loved the article. Not sure what it said about his clutch factor other than to say he was regarded as clutch and had some big hits. A .015 difference in his avg suggests that he was slightly better than normal. The guy is going to be remembered for his glove though. That biography praised it well above everything else and seemingly, rightfully so. Wonder how much footage is out there of him playing. I’d love to check it out.

      • Matt WI

        Here’s a great post by Joe Posnanski about the topic of clutch. He talks about a 3 year streak where Pat Tabler was other-wordly with the bases loaded, and how he believed as a kid that it was “skill.” But, over time, you just recognize that over the course of all the at bats in all the games every played, somebody of Pat Tabler’s career stat zone would hit a streak like this.

        Pos did a great follow-up mention of this in another post about seeing an old friend at the airport. He realized that the odds of seeing someone he knows aren’t all that crazy at all; the odds it would be that one particular individual were high, but having that occur shouldn’t be that strange, even when if feels that way.

        Anyway… the above mentioned link:

      • Matt WI

        And to be sure, Posnanski doesn’t eliminate confidence as a factor, but doesn’t see it necessarily as repeatable skill issue.

  10. Redfuture

    If I were manager (a very big IF) I would have to consider replacing both low OBP hitters in the currently constructed lineup, Cozart & Hamilton. I would have to consider this lineup for a major portion of games:
    SS Negron (or Suarez)
    1B Votto
    3B Frazier
    C Mezoraco
    RF Bruce
    2B Phillips
    LF Byrd
    CF Boesch
    Cozart & Hamilton would still play a lot toward the end of games.

    • lwblogger2

      You really want Boesch roaming CF every game?

    • jdx19

      Boesch is horrendous. He’s an enormous downgrade over Hamilton. Don’t let a few spring training homers of minor leaguers fool you. Negron or Suarez over Cozart as an argument has a bit more weight, but Hamilton’s defense and baserunning alone are worthy of a starting role. But, he probably shouldn’t bat leadoff until he can maintain an OBP north of .310 or so.

      • lwblogger2

        I think Boesch may be ok in a bench role. He can crush a mistake from the left-side in a pinch-hitting role. I have a little more faith in his bat than Steve does. That said, his defense is pretty bad on the corners and I can’t imagine it being even adequate in CF.

  11. JRS1972

    They should trade Chapman to the Cubs for one of their 343 SS prospects.

  12. WVRedlegs

    Just listened to Walt Jocketty on MLB Network Radio. Steve M. may be ready to do some Chapman-like summersaults.
    Votto batting second in the lineup is Price’s call, but sure looks like it is etched in stone now. WJ, “Brian has been having Joey hit second.” “We have Billy and Joey at the top of the lineup.”

      • lwblogger2

        I think what he was saying is that Steve M. will be happy enough about Votto hitting 2nd, to do a somersault like Chapman did after that one save a couple years back. I don’t think there was any Chapman related news to report.

      • WVRedlegs

        Yes, spot on. Votto second.
        No Chapman news. Except today is one year to the day that Chapman took that line drive off his forehead. I still cannot believe how quickly he recovered from that.

  13. Art Wayne Austin

    I was a die-hard Red’ fan in the ’50s(actually cut my teeth in ’47) when Gabe Paul put together the fore-runner of the Big Red Machine. There was one big difference the Reds played mainly sub-.500 ball, with cast-offs in my first nine years, now, the farm system was in full bloom. Only CF(Bell) & 3rd were acquired thru trades or waivers. Even though the middle of the line-up had staggering RBI numbers, the pitcher would usually gain the advantage except for McMillan, if the game progressed to the 8th spot. Kluzewski would knock in a run 16% of the time for every at bat and McMillan only 9% of the time but you’re talking about a clean-up hitter vs an 8. I’m sure McMillan saw better pitches than Klu but McMillan knew his limitations and 9 out of 10 times rose to the occasion.

    Everyone of the Reds’ starting 8 know what is expected of them, some rise to the occasion to win more games than Central, Play-off and World Series opponents. It is truly amazing Cozart makes as much contact as he does but so few meet the sweet part of the bat. It’s apparent with Cozart’s ’14 performance that he is like the college guy that made an A in one class and flunked the rest. When ask what happened he said I spent too much time on one subject. I hope his fielding doesn’t suffer but he needs to do his part as the 2nd clean-up man.

  14. Jeremy Conley

    I like Gaffer’s post above about accountability. I have no problem with Cozart being on the team, but at this point I don’t see how you can just give him the every day starting job.

    When Cozart was coming up in the minors, no one was saying that he was going to be a sure thing starter. He played well enough that the Reds were willing to take a shot with him. At this point, hasn’t he played badly enough to let someone else play a little?

    Cozart could just become the new Janish, a great defensive shortstop on the bench. Nothing wrong with that. Suarez has put up better numbers in the minors than Cozart did, and he’s doing it at 3 years younger than Cozart was in the minors. Suarez may just be better, and at this point, what more could Cozart do to show that someone else should get a chance?

    I guess he could be the worst hitter in the game by more.

  15. Grand Salami

    Watching Coz at the plate and fall behind early, I get the same knot in my stomach that I had with Drew Stubbs. It’s the inescapable feeling that the hitter is guessing a lot b/c his mind is just in the wrong place. It’s like watching Charles Barkley try to play golf – mental blockage.

    • lwblogger2

      I don’t know if that’s it. When a hitter is guessing his mind is in the right place but he’s just flat out not seeing the ball well. When he’s guessing and not making good contact, it is often because he’s simply guessing poorly. It is unlikely an issue of mental approach and more an issue of physical hitting talent. It gets more exposed at the MLB level where most of these guys have 2 or 3 very high-quality pitches and it’s “A” harder to guess, and “B” harder to get good wood on the ball when you guess right, and “C” the velocities are high enough that you can’t ‘react’ to the fastball if you didn’t guess it (frozen for the called strike 3).

  16. Tom Reed

    If the Reds are going to challenge this year, their offense must come alive. I’d give Cozart the month of April to see if he can average at least .250. If not, then Suarez should start at shortstop and the Reds will have to sacrifice Cozart’s defense.