2013 Reds / 2014 Reds

Cozy with Cozart?

Zack Cozart has two full major league seasons of playing time almost exactly. In those two season, he has accumulated 4.8. bWAR and 5.2 fWAR. Those are good marks and point out a player who many of us know has been broadly under appreciated. Miscast during the last two years of Dusty Baker’s tenure as a top-of-the-order table setter, Cozart is likely to finally find his proper home at the bottom of the order this year, where his inconstant (but not valueless) offensive talents can be more easily hidden while his defensive prowess continues to shine.

While it is certainly nice to see a player finally put into the correct role, it is important to look into the future, especially now that we have a fair bit of data, and see what we might expect from Cozart going forward.

I made mention of Jay Bruce’s relative youth in my last piece and I need to contrast that with Cozart’s relatively advanced age here. Yes, Cozart will only be 28 years old this year and that means we should not expect a sudden, precipitous decline. However, nether should we necessarily expect him to maintain his recent value. By both WAR measures, Cozart has derived more than half of his value from defense (I expect this surprises no one). Despite previous optimism on my part, I think it’s reasonable to say that he is what he is with the bat: a serviceable, bottom-of-the-order hitter. He’s not going to kill you, but you don’t want him up with the game on the line if you can help it.

What’s important about the defensive portion of his value is that aging curves generally agree that shortstops begin their defensive declines at age 28. The decline during the age-28 season is very slight, but it’s there and it doesn’t stay slight. The point it that while Cozart has been a solid 2.5 WAR shortstop on average, that is as good as we should ever expect him to be. Average is 2.0 and when you start at 2.5, you don’t have far to fall to become below average.

Let’s look at a possible aging curve that takes us through the end of Cozart’s arbitration years.

Year WAR
2012 2.5
2013 1.9
2014 2.5
2015 2.25
2016 2.0
2017 1.5

That’s a pretty gentle aging curve that takes us through Cozart’s age-31 season. You could very easily lop 0.25 WAR of the top of each season starting next year.

The point is this. At best, we can expect Cozart to be average for 2 or 3 more years and then he should be expected to drag the team down. This is what happens with late bloomers. They feel young because they haven’t been in the majors long, but father time gains even when one isn’t in the show. In all likelihood, this is the year Cozart is caught. We might not quite see it, but it’s going to happen. And, sadly, it means that Reds need to start thinking about who their next shortstop is going to be, because Cozart is unlikely to be worth hanging on to until free agency.

I like Zack Cozart, but he is not an elite player, and if the Reds want to continue to be a winning organization, this needs to be acknowledged.

53 thoughts on “Cozy with Cozart?

  1. “I like Zack Cozart, but he is not an elite player, and if the Reds want to continue to be a winning organization, this needs to be acknowledged.”

    I don’t know if this needs to be acknowledged. Maybe defining what an elite player is. If an elite player is one who’s shown they “can play” at this level, I believe Cozart as certainly shown that. I would consider him definitely “serviceable” for his position. But, if you define elite as something like “an All-Star”, well a vast majority of the league doesn’t have that. So, it would be a common problem throughout the league and thus not easily answered at all, as in it would probably be more useful to try to answer our other problems.

    Can it be acknowledged? Sure, every position on every team can always look to get better, even if it is with the individual themselves. Does it need to be acknowledged? I just don’t think so.

    • @steveschoen: How about this: Zack Cozart is not a player who can be counted on to be a passable major league starter for more than another year or two and if the Reds don’t acknowledge that, they’re going to have a crappy shortstop really soon.

        • @steveschoen: Based on what? A normal aging cruve would give him two years, maybe three if he ages really well. But nothing about him says “ages well.” late bloomers just don’t last long as starters.

        • @Jason Linden: He won’t “age well”? In your terms, based on what, a normal aging curve? First, there is much more that goes into a player’s makeup than “a normal aging curve”. We could very well see the change in coaches causing an improvement in Cozart’s game, especially since the last manager could only show people how to chew on toothpicks. Second, each team has players like that, even as starters. No team is going to have “elite players” at every position every year. They are going to have average players/role players on the team, even starting, and look to replace them when needed. Thus, “can it be acknowledged”? Sure, every team can look to improve their “average players/role players” every year. But, is it needed? Probably not. It sounds like to me you would rather see a better SS out there. And, we all would. But, with our payroll, we just don’t have the money. We have to go with what we can get.

        • @steveschoen: Yes, those things you mention could happen. there is no evidence they will (Cozart didn’t walk in the minors either, so his approach is probably his approach).

          In order for Cozart to maintain his value, his bat has to get better. Defense at shortstop has a lot to do with athleticism, which is why it declines relatively early. His defense is going to get worse because he can’t stay young forever.

          And again, I didn’t say they need to replace him this year. The whole point of this piece (which, given that I’ve said this in several other comments, I have to assume to intentionally misreading) is that Cozart isn’t a good longterm option. He’s going to be below average soon, and while most good teams do have a below average player or two knocking around, good teams also acknowledge those spots as problem areas and look to improve them. Otherwise, you end up a losing team pretty quick.

        • @Jason Linden: “He’s going to be below average soon, and while most good teams do have a below average player or two knocking around, good teams also acknowledge those spots as problem areas and look to improve them. Otherwise, you end up a losing team pretty quick.”

          True, but right now, we have plenty of holes that “need to be acknowledged”. And, if teams don’t acknowledge their immediate needs, instead ackknowledge their needs they will have 2-3 years down the road, you still end up with a losing team. We have plenty of arbitrations to work out right now. We have to decide what to do with Bailey right now. We have no one for CF right now, unless we acknowledge something like a platoon of Heisey and Schumacher. We need to determine if Chapman will close again now or, if starting, how will we regulate his innings. The players possibly haven’t even begun any kind of workouts with the coaching staff as it stands.

          As stated, addressing Cozart and SS is still probably at least 2 years down the road. I will even say it is a “need” for us, but not a “need” we need to bother with, probably not for another 2 seasons.

  2. I generally agree with Jason on this. Cozart will be serviceable for another couple of years, but the Reds had better hope the system comes up with a replacement by 2016 or 2017.

    The Reds are going to need a lot of turnover in about 3 years, because Frazier is pretty much in the same “serviceable, but . . .” catgory as Cozart; the Phillips contract will be a burden shortly; Bruuuce may be leaving as his contract expires; and Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Leake, and Chapman all have contracts that need to be addressed. And left field is still likely to be the perennial black hole.

    The draft and player development, which to me is the most important part of an organization, will be even more important over the next 3 years. I hope Uncle Walt is up to the challenge, but I have my doubts, given his penchant for Cardinal retreads.

    • @Big Ed: LF is unlikely to be a black hole much longer, because the Reds have 4 OFs that will at least be serviceable in the next two years, thus CF is not major concern either, and Bruce could walk if he wants(dont think he wants to)because Winker will be around in a few years.
      Earvin, Hamilton, Rodriguez, and Winker could have things well covered in the OF. The Reds have a little SS in Rookie A, 2nd base is a bit less covered, but there are prospects. Third base is also a position that has a couple of prospects coming.

      Cozart and Frazier are going to be at least serviceable for a few more years and the Reds going to get a supplemental pick this year. Also, if you look at MLBs top 100 prospects, there are a number of SS/2b prospects.

  3. What else needs to be acknowledged is the scarcity of even average shortstops nowadays. In that environment, his value is a lot higher than you give credit for, both on the field and in trade. In the same way, Hanigan’s trade value just shot up in light of McCann’s big deal with the Yankees. There just aren’t that many serviceable catchers out there either.

    I would also leave open the (slight)possibility that Cozart might have a little left in the tank offensively. The combination of a new coaching staff with a player at an age where his power peaks could lead to some additional gains.

    Is anyone impressed with the Cardinals trading for Bourjos (taking ABs away from the better hitting Jay) and signing Peralta (31, with more than a few years of sub .700 OPS on his baseball card)? I call them lateral moves at best.

    • @Sultan of Swaff: I agree that they are lateral moves at best. Peralta and Bourjos for Beltran and Jay? Sorry, just don’t see it. Of course, Jay isn’t gone yet, I believe. And, Peralta for Beltran? Possibly, but I don’t see an improvement there.

    • @Sultan of Swaff: Simply not true. 15 shortstops were more valuable than Cozart last year according to FanGraphs. That makes sense, given that Cozart’s WAR total was basically the definition of average last year. Thus, we can conclude that there are exactly as many above-average shortstops as we would expect in a given year.

      • @Jason Linden: That may be. But, what were they making, also? For the cost we are giving, I can take what we are getting.

        That’s one thing with the stats. You can’t look at just one position and it’s offensive numbers. You have to look at the defensive numbers (like you did) as well as how much the team is paying and how the rest of the team is structured.

        For example, sure, we may be able to get better SS’s, but they would cost us more money. And, we decided to put a bunch of our money in our 1st baseman, 2nd baseman, and RF. How much money did the other teams decide to put into those positions?

        Now, I do believe we didn’t need to put so much money into the bullpen. But, again, that’s where we put money into. And, in about 2-3 years, all of that money will expire, and then we will have the money to do things like get a better SS, provided we don’t have more pressing issues at that time.

        • @steveschoen: Yeah, I’ll take Cozart for the league minimum. Of course. But then, this is his last year of that. Then he’s going to start getting raises. In terms of real value, he’ll probably be a wash in 2016 (that is, he’ll be worth what he’s paid) and in 2017 he’s likely to make more than he’s worth.

        • @steveschoen: I didn’t say that. What I said was that after two more seasons are gone, he’s probably going to be below average. Given that (especially since he’ll be making more money then), the Reds should start thinking about a replacement now. That way, they’ll be prepared when the time comes.

        • @Jason Linden: Oh, I wouldn’t doubt they are thinking of replacements and moves for every position every day of the year. But, again, it’s one thing to consider it and then, when considering the rest of the team and the entire payroll, getting it done is another.

          “he’ll probably be a wash in 2016 (that is, he’ll be worth what he’s paid) and in 2017 he’s likely to make more than he’s worth.”

          Well, the start 2016 is still 2 seasons away. Also, have you looked at those other SS in the league and what they are making and would be making, also? Most likely we still wouldn’t be able to afford them.

          There’s no guarantee getting some minor league prospect will do any better than what Cozart is doing right now. If there is someone available who can do a better job, as the team is currently constructed, we won’t be able to afford them. It’s easy to say we “need to address it”. But, it’s more difficult to say what to do about it. If we address it, we would have to get rid of someone. Who? BP? Bruce? Cueto? Latos and/or Bailey? Chapman? Cingrani? Minor league prospects? Getting rid of almost anyone opens up another hole. Open up the payroll? The Yankees and Angels have shown that opening up the payroll haven’t translated into WS teams much less playoff teams.

        • @steveschoen: So what is your argument? The Reds should ride Cozart until he’s a dry husk? Winning teams don’t do that. I have said about 17 times now that I think they’re fine for a couple of years, but ss is definitely a position that should be considered unsettled. They’ve got a few years, so keep an eye out on the draft and watch for shrewd trades.

          Also, 7 of the 15 ahead of Cozart are making less than $5M.

        • @steveschoen: So what is your argument? The Reds should ride Cozart until he’s a dry husk? Winning teams don’t do that.

          But, every winning team will have a couple of Cozart type players out there starting. A couple of years down the road, then we can start to consider what we are going to do about SS. But, right now, SS is low on our needs list.

        • @steveschoen: I think you’re missing the gist here. Basically, most (not all) Reds fans think Cozart is pretty dandy as a SS. Most of those same people (myself included) are/were content in thinking that Cozart is fresh, young, and could carry the team for the 6 years or so they “own” him, contractually speaking… that is an important point to Jason’s argument.

          Jason is simply reminding us, which I admit I needed, that Cozart is older than most think… which is going to adversely impact his value to the team sooner rather than later. Instead of being able to plan around having a relatively weak hitting SS (like they can this coming season), soon, the Reds will have to really think about planning about the SS. That’s all. It’s a fairly reasoned argument. Barring a miracle, the second Cozart isn’t a great SS, he’s pretty much lost the value most of us are fine with for the moment.

        • @Matt WI: Oh, I get the gist just fine. Jason made it sound like we need to consider changing SS right now. Changing SS is low on our needs list right now. As you said, soon, the Reds will need to consider it. What’s soon? This coming season? I don’t think so. I’d take Cozart for another at least 2-3 seasons before I consider replacing him. Now, I wouldn’t rule out, for instance, drafting a SS who may take 3-5 years going through the minors. I simply understood Jason’s post to mean the Reds should consider replacing him now if they want to remain a winning organization. As for now, that is low on our needs list. As well as, every winning team has a couple of players like Cozart on it, role players just good enough to fill the role.

  4. Another point I do like about the Cozart Arbitration years is:

    Let’s say he follows his aging curve as you suspect. The Reds have 2 years to find their “next shortstop” and if the arbitration works out nicely, still have 2 years of above-average utility infielder. Glove guys with average bats can make for good stop gap guys and can spell other ageing veterans. I think it seems like a nice deal.

  5. @Jason Linden: Your premise seems pretty basic and obvious. Cozart is neither elite nor young. He is a sound defensive SS with some offensive contribution. Cozart fills a need and role for the Reds right now, but nothing more.

    Because Cozart was miscast and misused over the past two seasons, we really don’t know if there is more available than we’ve seen or if we can just expect more of the same from Cozart, until he begins his inevitable age-regression curve. I look at his performance after the all star break, .282/.315/.400, and compare it to his performance before the all star break, .236/.265/.369, and hope that Cozart has more to offer if he is used properly going forward. Since the increased production was totally based on his increased BABIP from .261 to .324, I have my concerns. Cozart is a free swinger. He always has been and I can’t see that changing at this point in his career, so the Reds simply have to ‘acknowledge’ what they have and utilize him to maximize his production.

    You and the other editors for The Nation have much more patience and restraint than the Old Cossack. Thanks for your contributions. I’m particularly looking forward to your looking-forward perspective regarding Todd Frazier.

  6. Since we are reviewing Cozart as the Reds SS, I thought the ‘pending’ Peralta contract warranted a comparison of sorts. It looks like the Birds are getting ready to sign Peralta for ~$52MM for 4 years. Phillips is signed for $50MM for 4 years. Both are pretty comparable:

    Phillips is entering his age 33 season.
    Peralta is entering his age 32 season.

    Phillps has slashed .279/.329/.428 over the past 4 seasons.
    Peralta has slashed .270/.328/.426 over the past 4 seasons.

    Phillips has produced 14.4 WAR over the past 4 seasons.
    Peralta has produced 11.0 WAR over the past 4 seasons.

    The only real difference is that Phillips is coming off a down season while Peralta is coming off an up season. I don’t see that Phillips’ contract would be hard to move ‘as-is’ since the market has pretty much determined the same value for Peralta. Is a team needs a solid 2B, Phillips will match up better than anyone not named Cano.

    • And as an additional comparison throw in Omar Infante entering his age 32 season and projected to sign a FA contract at ~$25MM for 3 years…

      Infante has slashed .295/.327/.415 over the past 4 seasons.
      Infante hs produced 10.7 WAR over the past 4 seasons.

      The Yankees are starting to squeeze Cano pretty hard to see who blinks first. Cano’s decision may come down to how much he really wants to play for the Yankees after they finish playing hardball in their negotiations. The Yankees are negotiating like they are the only game in town. I can see a team making a play like the Angels made for Josh Hamilton by putting a significant offer on the table with a 10 minute, take or leave ultimatum, in order to avoid a bidding war with the Yankees.

    • I still think the Blue Jays line up as very good trading partners for moving Phillips and Hanigan this offseason with possibly some lower level prospects coming this way, maybe Daniel Norris (LHP/A+), Franklin Barreto (SS/ROK) & Matthew Dean (3B/ROK)

  7. Thanks for this reminder, Jason. I too, keep thinking we are set at SS for the next 3 or 4 years simply because Zack is fairly new to the majors. But, of course, that’s not true at all. Last year, 3 or 4 players had to shoulder almost the entire load of the offensive production. The organization needs to think about getting better production across the lineup, instead of relying on big seasons from 3 guys.

    • @Richard Fitch: In terms of players in the org right now, you can count on Votto and Bruce for offensive production and there’s hope for Mes, Frazier, and Hamilton. But that’s pretty much it, long term. It’s a shallower pool than I tend to think it is.

  8. Reds sure don’t have many people on the 40-man who are going to back up Cozart, so they’re obviously not too worried. As far as projecting 2 years down the road, I find that amusing. Everything on this planet will be 2 years older in 2016.

        • @Johnu1: Um, no. Cozart is only a major leaguer as a defensively superior shortstop. His bat plays nowhere else. Additionally, Hamilton was never viewed as a shortstop in the majors. Presumption was he’d move to 2nd.

        • @Jason Linden: Doesn’t mean Hamilton can’t play SS, just because he was “never viewed” as one. (He was SIGNED as one.) Honestly if Cozart doesn’t play SS, I don’t much care what he does.

          The question, as I understood it, what to do about SS when Cozart’s skills break down. I suggested Hamilton and somehow I am being told that’s not an option. I also said something about 2 years from now. If you plan to seal off options before they are even eligible to be considered, there isn’t much room for discussion.

          Hamilton has played SS, so I assume he doesn’t have to learn it. He might not be all that great at first, but the alternatives are those unknown options that you’re evidently interested in exploring ahead of the ones that are already under contract.

        • @Johnu1: Hamilton made 31 errors in his last season as a SS. In 125 games.

          Just because BP is on the block and Mesoraco appears to be the starting C doesn’t mean the Reds are throwing defense out the window…

        • @CP: He isn’t going to play SS this year. All I suggest, despite appearances that I am really Agatha Christie, is that the search for a SS could begin with Hamilton. Why do I not assume he can’t be taught to play it better?

          The assumption is the Reds draft a young guy and teach him to play SS. So why not just teach Hamilton to play SS and skip the do-over?

      • @YorktownRed: Several interesting points:

        The main one is the Cubs peculiar decision on pinch-hitting in the 9th. The announcers didn’t even address it, as if it was normal. Or perhaps they were in the era when announcers didn’t question, just reported.

        The pitch count thing did come up but not initially. Brickhouse and Pettit just “knew” he had thrown a lot of pitches.

        I thought the quick-stop stretch by Maloney was interesting. You can’t do that now. But it was a pitcher’s way of holding runners without wasting time throwing over.

        The game really HAS changed a lot since 1965.

        Hitters also stayed in the box. An at-bat lasted a minute or so, not the obligatory 10 minutes it takes now.

        Maloney’s comments at the end are also interesting.

    • @Johnu1: I was infamously high on Cozart back during his last year with the Reds org. He has not been the same offensive player since he hurt his oblique in Louisville in May of that year (2011).

      I think all that has been proven in the last 2 years is that is likely not a bench player.

      Nothing wrong with picking him up as a depth option to have at AAA. If he he was playing everyday at AAA and had found himself offensively, he might be a guy who could come up and play everyday in the majors for a short spell.

      • @OhioJim: I WAS JOKING ON SAPPELT. Seriously, I was. He is a right-handed version of a left-handed AAA hitter.

        On topic:
        I think the problem here is that there are 2 ways to upgrade at SS and one of them entails hoping you find another Jean Segura. If you want Segura, you do what the Brewers did — give up your pitching.

        The other way is to draft smart. In any event, that player is NOT going to be ready for prime time in the 2-year window that the OP suggests.

        If there was any suggestion that I thought Cozart was a prime SS, I can’t find it. The topic for me is the notion that he has to be replaced — and how. The proposals fall pretty short of realistic.

      • @OhioJim: It wasn’t as much his oblique as it was his elbow, when it got hurt fielding a bad throw from Votto. Before that, Cozart was in the batting zone for about 2-3 months. It was like hitting softball pitching for him. Then, he got hurt.

  9. I do not know that we can count on Hamilton for offense yet, but I think that Earvin, Rodriguez, Winker, and others could well be in the line up pretty soon. If Mesoraco improves as much as he did this past season and gets the playing time, he will be a good producer. Frazier had a down year, but he still appears a player with room to grow. It is not unusual for a player of Cozart’s age to continue to improve offensively and still be a good defensive player (though not elite)for several seasons. He could also be crippled in a car crash and never play again. What is my point? I am sure that the Reds have contingency plans for most everything, so I am not going to worry about it, I will let the pros do that.

  10. With the 21st pick in the 2014 MLB draft, the Cincinnati Reds select, the best college SS available. Should be ready by the time Cozart hits his decline.
    I also say they should trade for the Astros 2B prospect Delino DeShields Jr. and have both ready at about the same time.

  11. The Birds have filled their black hole at SS by upgrading from a 54 OPS+ to a 119 OPS+ without sacrificing much defense and filled their defensive hole in CF without sacrificing any offense. Unless they feel that Taveras is not yet ready for full time duty in Busch Stadium, they look pretty well set for 2014, but will probably still look for upgrades to the roster. They filled both glaring holes without giving up any key contributors for 2014 and upgraded their defense at both 3B & 2B with the moves they made so far. Hello…WJ? Anybody home?

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