As of the conclusion of business Wednesday, the Reds had completed 16% of their 2015 campaign. Here are two of the more interesting story lines from this young season:

1. Zack Cozart, superstar? In 38 plate appearances in 2011, Cozart broke into the show with a hot bat (122 wRC+) and slick glove. Yet from 2012 through 2014, Cozart had a hard time getting the bat on the ball, never recording above a 90 wRC+. Until this year. Through 100 plate appearances, our shortstop has hit more home runs than he did all of last year and is putting up 139 wRC+. Is this sustainable?

When a player undergoes such a large swing in performance, one question always comes up: is this due to random variation (luck)? Perhaps. Cozart’s career BABIP is .278 but this year is all the way up to .319. Most MLB aging curves suggest that hitters will peak when they are 23 or 24 and slowly decline in ability up till their age 30 season. After a player’s turns 30, they begin to decline more rapidly. Due to Cozart’s age (he turns 30 in August), this sudden increase in hitting prowess is unusual and probably unsustainable.

Yet, Cozart’s expected BABIP is .322. Compared to previous seasons, Cozart is hitting more line drives (20.8% this season, 18.5% career), fewer infield popups (10.7% this year, 14.1% career) and has greatly improved his HR/FB ratio (17.9% this year, 7.4% career). Cozart is also not “selling-out” to pull the ball to left field, either. Based on Fangraphs’ batted ball metrics, our shortstop is basically right in step with his his career hit distribution (47.4% left, 28.2% center, 24.4% right).

You can see the difference between Cozart’s 2009-2013 batted ball distance and his 2015 numbers in the following hot/cold charts (from ESPN/TrueMedia Networks):

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2. How bad is Byrd? Marlon Byrd is only walking in 3.1% of his at-bats, down from 5.5% last year. His lack of walking combined with only a .233 BABIP has driven his on-base percentage down to .237. He is striking out in 28.9% of his at-bats and is only putting up a 72 wRC+.

To be fair to Byrd, his xBABIP is .321, which means that he has been fairly unlucky given his batted ball profile. His wRC+ has rebounded from “unplayable” to 72 in the last two weeks. After going nearly 80 consecutive at-bats without a walk, I thought this canary had keeled over in the coal mine. At the plate, Byrd seems to have woken up in recent weeks.

But Bryd’s performance at the plate is not what I want to talk about. Since most of us consume baseball via a glowing rectangle, we are unable to independently gauge players’ fielding abilities. This leaves us with less-than-satisfying defensive statistics. Defensive statistics are not as precise as hitting stats, but they are improving. Marlon Byrd’s UZR/150 (defensive runs saved/lost, scaled to 150 games), -23.3, is more than concerning. His struggles at the plate are well known, but if Byrd’s UZR/150 is even remotely accurate, the Reds could be losing more value in the field than at the plate with their new left fielder.

13 Responses

  1. Kurt Frost

    The good news is Byrd is only $8 million next year.

  2. Steve Mancuso

    There were hints that Zack Cozart would hit better this year. Hitters with his distribution of line drives, fly balls and ground balls in 2014 should have had a batting average on balls in play of .293, but his was just .255. Adding 30 points would have produced a line of .251/.298/.330. Not great, but not the worst hitter in the league. In terms of power, his batted ball distance only dropped 3.5 feet from 2013, yet his HR/FB rate fell from 8.5 percent to 2.5 percent, which possibly suggests some bad luck. His batted ball distance has jumped a lot this year (257 to 298 feet). As Mike says, it’s early and the odds are against him sustaining anything near it. That said, it wouldn’t be surprising if Zack surpasses his performance from last year by a comfortable margin. Good news.

  3. Greg Dafler

    Interesting notes on Cozart. If he can maintain his approach and continue to drive balls like he has been, then we shouldn’t expect a regression to last year’s numbers. In fact, last year’s numbers were an outlier for him. His 2015 HR/FB rate is not sustainable, but it looks like he’s bounced back to at least what he hit in 2013/2014.

    Marlon Byrd through April 22 (14 games): .115/.130/.135 w .167 BABIP
    Marlon Byrd Apr 23 thru last night (12 games): .349/.404/.1.195 w .385 BABIP
    His career BABIP is .325

  4. beelicker

    For whatever reason(s) 2o13 Cozart came out of the gate ‘hitting’ 4 for 38 (.111) & his 2o14’s ‘start’ was an even more lackluster 1 for his first 29 (.o34) … if you begin seasons with that kind of regressive ‘mean-ness’ it obviously & negatively (off)colors the daily perception the rest of the way? This time around the horrible season kickoff(s) seems to have been circumvented (via a mere 1 for 12) before things really started kicking in …

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/gamelog/_/id/30466/year/2014/zack-cozart

  5. jdx19

    Poor Zack. I’ve never seen such a sad heat map as the first one posted up there!

    • beelicker

      Literally, the Mighty One was swinging at any/everything, which is why the more strikes the pitcher is somehow made to throw to ZC the better he hits. Unless you learned to lay off … on, I don’t know … at least something, it seems like with the pitcher’s spot coming up you would be just the worst possible lineup position

  6. jdx19

    For Steve M, Charlotte, and Jeremy Forbes: Ran a few quick linear regressions on some reliever data (2000-2015, 300 IPs, n=195)

    WAR/IP to BABIP: R-sqared of -0.145 (higher than I expected)
    WAR/IP to K/9: R-squared of 0.615
    WAR/IP to ERA: R-squared of -0.699
    WAR/IP to FIP: R-squared of -0.902
    WAR/IP to xFIP: R-squared of -0.731

    Regarding BABIP, a quick and dirty way to describe that is somethign like “as a pitchers’ value increases, around 14% of it can be attributed to decreases of BABIP.”

    The negative correlations are that way because “low is good” in the case of BABUP, ERA, FIP, and xFIP.

    Using a much larger sample, ALL pitchers, no just relievers, from 1990 to now, min 150 IP. Sample size of 1181 pitchers. R-squared for BABIP to WAR/IP is -0.136. Pretty close to the releiver sample.

  7. rhayex

    I actually emailed Fangraphs about Cozart’s start, asking if it was for real. I included this article; hopefully they run an article on it!

    While Cozart wasn’t last in WAR last season at the SS position, he WAS last in offensive WAR, which makes the fact that he put up 1.2 purely on defense astounding. From everything I’ve seen and read on the subject, he should be able to keep this up. I’m just amazed that he’s suddenly discovered how to hit again at the age of 30.

    • ohiojimw

      The likelihood is that he has made basic mechanical changes and probably also changes in his mental approach. He has talked about looking at a lot of video and working on things over the off season but has been (rightfully so) very guarded about what he is doing differently.

      The test will come when the league has time to figure out and adjust to his new approach. Hopefully he will be quicker to adjust next time.

    • Jay King

      I was watching MLB Network about a week ago or so they did a 5 min. blip on Cozart and how he has changed his approach and how he has kept his head in longer and stuff. It was very informative. I think its a big reason he has improved so much this year. Sometime bad habits fall into place over time and someone, caught his change in battle style over his past 2 seasons.

  8. Captain Hook

    Based on the ol’ eye test I thought Byrd has actually been playing a pretty good left field.

    • beelicker

      Byrd may have inherited a little Heiseyism out there, a showman’s gift for making the routine look difficult & the merely difficult at times downright spectacular … meanwhile right now his bat is smokin’