Having gotten tired of trying to write about the entire, sputtering offense and having reached a point in the season where we can have some idea of what players are doing, I’ve decided to take the next several weeks (I’m going to do this until I get tired of it) and look in depth at one player in an attempt to deduce any trends outside the conventional stats that might give some idea of why he is doing well or not so well and if that figures to continue. I’m starting with Zack Cozart.
We all remember when Cozart came up and blew us away for a dozen games before he got hurt. During his first full season, he managed to provide an adequate bat for a shortstop with sparkling defense, but it’s been all downhill from there. This year, his 51 wRC+ is dead last in all of baseball among qualified players. That is, Zack Cozart has been the worst hitting every day player in the majors. No matter how much his defense sparkles, that ain’t gettin’ it done.
Looking at his traditional numbers, we see two things that don’t fit with his career to this point. HIs batting average is too low and so are his homers. Cozart doesn’t walk much, but he has traditionally hit with a high enough average and enough power to compensate (again, for a slick-fielding shortstop). But this year, that hasn’t been the case.
Looking at the first level of advanced stats, we see that his ISO (Isolated Power) and BABIP are way down. BABIP tends to have a lot do with luck, as I’m sure you all know, but ISO doesn’t usually. And it is possible that the drop in ISO could be reflected in a lower BABIP. That is, if he isn’t hitting the ball hard, it may explain why his BABIP, and thus his average, is so low this year.
This doesn’t seem to be the case on first look. This year, he’s hitting a line drive 18.2% of the time against a career rate of 18.6%. His fly balls are up a little and his ground balls are down a little, but not enough to cause the variations we’re seeing.
The one thing that does jump out is that his fly balls are only going for home runs 1.9% of the time. I went looking for his fly ball distance and found that he had lost about six feet of distance this year. His fly balls in 2013 averaged 260 feet, but this year, it’s 254. The site I was looking at also had the average angle and I noticed that he went from having a negative angle (hitting to left) last year to having a positive angle (hitting to right) this year.
And, in fact, if you look at Cozart’s spray charts from last year and this year, it’s pretty clear. It’s also clear (duh) that he hits the ball further when he pulls it.
I don’t know that Cozart’s sudden tendency to use the whole field explains everything about what has gone wrong this year, but I do think it explains a lot of it. It probably explains nearly all of the power drop. Cozart reportedly changed his approach last August to use the whole field, but it isn’t paying dividends. I wonder if he might simply be the kind of player whose marginal power requires him to pull the ball if he’s going to take advantage of it. He doesn’t seem to have enough juice to hit it out to right with any kind of consistency.
In any case, the pull-hitting Cozart of previous year hit enough to be an average or even slightly above average player when his hitting was combined with his defense. The one who uses the whole field… not so much.
Jason has been a fan of the Reds since he was born. He really had no choice in the matter. He has been writing at Redleg Nation for a few years, and also writes and edits at The Hardball Times. His debut novel, When the Sparrow Sings, is available now and concerns baseball, among other things. You can find more information at jasonlinden.com.