We all want to talk about what positions the Reds can upgrade this offseason. That is the fun part of the offseason. The Reds clearly had some holes offensively. You could make a case that outside of first base (Votto), center field (Choo), and right field (Bruce), every other position was sub-par offensively. You might be able to talk me into Phillips being average offensively, but we will save that argument for another time.
The Reds basically have six possible positions that they could upgrade this offseason (assuming they don’t re-sign Choo): LF, CF, 3B, SS, 2B, C (Votto and Bruce’s jobs are safe). I don’t believe the Reds will look to upgrade at catcher, as Devin Mesoraco made some really good strides in 2013, and showed flashes of his top prospect talent. So then outside of RF, 1B, and C, it really is a crapshoot where Jocketty will look to improve this team.
I’m not here (today at least) to tell you where the Reds should look to upgrade, but I’m here to tell you where they shouldn’t: shortstop.
It has been an interesting ride for Zack Cozart since his call up in July 2011. Cozart came up and showed off his great glove and hit .324 in 11 games before suffering a freak elbow injury. In now 300 MLB games, Cozart’s slash line is a less than impressive .254/.284/.381. His inability to reach base via the walk has really hampered him at the plate, and ruined the Reds plans of making him a top of the order hitter. Between 2012-2013, Cozart 4.7 BB% is tied for the 9th lowest in the MLB (compare that to Votto’s MLB leading BB% of 19.1), and his .284 OBP over that span is tied for the 2nd worst in the MLB (compare that to Votto’s MLB leading OBP of .450).
Why then would I say that the Reds shouldn’t look to upgrade at shortstop? The answer is defense and power, and that leads to his overall value at the shortstop position.
Let’s start with defense. Between 2012-2013, Cozart’s 27.0 defensive runs above average are the 4th most among MLB shortstops, and are the 12th most of any player at any position. His ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 14.3 and his defensive runs saved of 16 are both the 6th best among MLB shortstops between 2012-2013. Cozart’s revised zone rating (RZR) of .837 is the 2nd best in the MLB among shortstops between 2012-2013. Cozart has clearly been one of the best defensive shortstops in the MLB over the last two seasons.
MLB defensive rankings among SS between 2012-2013:
|Yunel Escobar||- – -||18||0.816||15.3||8.4||28.5|
|Brendan Ryan||- – -||33||0.789||15.9||10.4||26.3|
|Jose Reyes||- – -||-20||0.802||-8.5||-5.3||2.9|
Next, let’s talk power. I already discussed Cozart’s inadequacies at the plate above, but what Cozart has provided offensively is good power for the shortstop position. Cozart has 27 home runs between 2012-2013, good for the 8th most among MLB shortstops. Cozart had been miscast as a top of the order hitter. Cozart is simply a player that will give you great defense, and hit a few homers, which provides nice value for the small dollar amount he is currently receiving.
Most HR among MLB SS between 2012-2013:
|3||Hanley Ramirez||- – -||44|
|5||Jed Lowrie||- – -||31|
Lastly, let’s talk value. In 2013, Cozart made $527,500 (or 0.49% of the team’s payroll). In 2014, Cozart is pre-arbitration eligible, and will most likely make around $500,000. In 2013, Cozart had a 2.1 WAR (good for 16th among MLB SS, so right around the middle of the pack). In 2012, Cozart had a 2.4 WAR (good for 15th among MLB SS, so exactly right in the middle of the pack). Now where Cozart will stand out the most is when you compare him to a few other MLB shortstops making a lot more money, as the chart below shows:
|Player||Team||WAR||Contract (in millions)|
I don’t think Zack Cozart will ever be a perennial all-star shortstop, but he can certainly provide the Reds with plenty of value for his price. If the Reds are lucky, Cozart will be able to translate his success offensively at the end of the 2013, into 2014. Over the last 40 days of the 2013 regular season, Cozart lead the Reds with 41 hits, positing a slash line of.311/.338/.447 with 3 HR and 21 RBI. If Cozart can hit anywhere near .280/.320/.400 in 2014, while playing his usual stellar defense, you are looking at a very good shortstop. That might be a little bit of a pipe dream, but don’t discount just how valuable Cozart’s defense is to this team.