It was a real shame to see Zack Cozart’s season end on a routine sprint to first base. Everything was going right for the guy for the first time in years: His walk rate, a career high (6.5%). His strikeout rate, the lowest of his career (13.6%). The result through 53 games was his best triple-slash line in years (.258/.310/.459) to pair nicely with his always superlative defense.

Enter Eugenio Suarez. The chief return for Alfredo Simon stepped right into the shortstop role on June 11 and promptly hit .328 with three doubles and two homers in his 66 plate appearances over the rest of that month. Since then, his batting average has dipped but his power has come to the forefront (.287 average with 11 doubles, one triple, and seven home runs since July 1). Whatever woes have befallen the Reds’ offense at various points of this season, production from the shortstop position hasn’t been one of them.

For writing a comparison of Cozart and Suarez, now is as good a time as ever—the sample sizes are pretty close to one another with Suarez having just 40 more plate appearances than Cozart so far this year. When you stack their offensive numbers next to each other, more similarities appear than just their home run totals (both have nine):

Cozart-Suarez

I chose wOBA to measure their overall offensive production since it’s a little easier to understand than wRC+ (think of wOBA as you would on-base percentage: Around .320 is what you should expect from an average major leaguer and around .360 is pretty darn good year. For context, Joey Votto’s 2015 wOBA is .424 and Jay Bruce’s is .317).

For Cozart, that’s an awfully good year and his first wOBA over .300 in a full season since joining the MLB club (his 11 game stint in 2011 produced a .353 wOBA, but in just 38 PA). Even if you regress his career-bests in walk and strikeout rates closer to his career marks (4.8% BB%, 16.3% K%), the latter is still significantly better than Suarez’s strikeout rate.

And then there’s that BABIP, which is a good .018 points under the career mark he had heading into this season (and is identical to his 2015 batting average, which is a pretty cool statistical rarity). Of course, his fly ball rate—3.9% higher than the next-highest season of his career—is one culprit, especially as it continued to rise through his last month of action. But his home run-to-fly ball rate combined with near-bests in line drive rate (19.3%) and hard-hit rate (25.4%) make it reasonable to think Cozart was a little unlucky on balls in play.

The one thing with wOBA is that it doesn’t take one’s position into account. Even though around .320 is league average (in 2015, it’s actually .312), that’s across the board regardless of whether one is a middle-of-the-order corner infielder or defense-first outfielder. Looking at just shortstops, league average wOBA is .293 this season, which alone makes Cozart’s performance at the plate more impressive. Indeed, among all his fellow shortstops in the majors this year (with a minimum of 200 PA), Cozart’s wOBA ranks eighth, tied with Xander Bogaerts and only .006 points behind one of the cogs of this year’s Cardinals lineup, Jhonny Peralta.

Of course, we already know another name above him on that list—Eugenio Suarez is third amongst all MLB shortstops in wOBA, just a hair above Brandon Crawford, Francisco Lindor, and Troy Tulowitzki.

Suarez’s lack of MLB experience makes his stat line a little less scrutable. However, he is also pretty close to his total of plate appearances last season, so it’s worth taking a look at his 2014 and 2015 side by side:

Suarez 2014-2015

The only real negative is the decline in his walk rate, although that seems reasonable with a roughly six percent increase in swing rate over last year and the slight decline in his strikeout rate. It seems like Suarez has effectively traded some plate discipline for a big boost in power. That increase in slugging percentage doesn’t quite fit one aspect of his batted ball metrics—his ground ball rate has actually gone up over six percent from last year while his fly ball and line drive rates have correspondingly dipped—but is somewhat backed up by an over eight percent decrease in the pitches he’s hit softly into play (which itself makes sense in the context of that big leap in HR/FB rate).

That .355 BABIP is certainly unsustainable (unless you’re Votto) but Suarez is, so far, setting a precedent of keeping it above .300 (with the huge caveat that he’s still something like five more seasons from having a career BABIP that could be considered ‘stabilized’). More hard-hit balls certainly help in this department as well and that will be the metric to keep an eye on in tandem with his BABIP going forward. But there’s some consolation in knowing that we don’t know exactly what kind of MLB hitter Eugenio Suarez is just yet—perhaps his true talent level is something along the lines of a .300-.330 BABIP. It certainly would be nice if that is indeed the case.

Of course, the great differentiator is defense. We know Cozart’s glove. We love Cozart’s glove. Though advanced fielding metrics are still somewhere between rudimentary and misleading, defensive runs saved (DRS) does a pretty good job of enumerating Zack Cozart’s defensive prowess. DRS is a total for the season of how many runs one man at one position prevented over the average player at that same position. Cozart’s career high came last year with a whopping 19 (although that was still a good ways off from Andrelton Simmons’ 28 in 2014 and the same’s insane 41 DRS season in 2013). This year, he posted a solid 7 DRS in just under 450 innings.

How does DRS view Suarez? A little unkindly—his DRS for this season is -4, which follows a -5 mark in 622.1 innings last season. In the context of this season, that’s just a hair worse than Jean Segura and a shade better than Starlin Castro. That’s not bad with the offense Suarez is providing, but it’s certainly a heck of a drop-off from Cozart.

It should obvious, then, that Suarez and Cozart’s overall value is incredibly similar when combining offense, defense, and baserunning—Cozart posted a 1.3 WAR though his 53 games while Suarez has managed a 1.5 WAR in 62 games thus far. That’s ostensibly dead even.

It also seems to tell us what we’ve already been thinking: Cozart was having such a good year, he deserves to have his job back next season to see if he can keep it up. But Suarez’s bat is far too good to not play nearly every day. Suarez’s great arm makes a move to third base the perfect solution if not for a certain Home Run Derby champion more than holding his own at the hot corner. Moving him to second base seems like a waste of his arm and, to be fair, unnecessary with Brandon Phillips still providing well above-average defense (and flair). Of course, there’s always the island of misfit fielders—left field—which remains unclaimed for the time being.

So begins the competition for 2016’s starting shortstop job. When you’re as offensively-challenged as this Reds ball club is, problems like this are no problem at all.

Join the conversation! 54 Comments

  1. “Enter Eugenio Suarez. The chief return for Alfredo Simon”

    Just curious, but was this true at the time of the trade? I thought the SP received was considered the better prospect, with Suarez expected to be insurance for Cozart and a backup infielder.

    Either, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Suarez. Wondering if 2B will be a better position for him after BP’s tenure is over? I don’t see it as a waste of a good arm if 2B cuts down on his errors.

    • Was Suarez the chief return even at the time. . . .yes, Crawford was known as a potential “bust” even when we traded for him. That is why we were able to get him also.

    • If you’re looking for a potential replacement for Brandon Phillips when his contract is up (after 2017, which is still far away) keep your eye on Alex Blandino. He’s started playing 2b this season, after his use at SS has been received with skepticism. I think Blandino is a far more likely successor at 2b than Suarez.

  2. Good work, Kevin. I think there are some important questions that need asked about these two.
    1. We all thought that Cozart was a really poor offensive player coming into the season. Do we really think he is that much improved after 214 PAs? I doubt he is as bad as he was in 2014 but not as good as he was in 214 PAs in 2015.

    2. Is Suarez really this good with the bat? Reds need to make a good evaluation here. He is likely a much better hitter than Cozart and at 23, may get better. But he probably isn’t quite as good as he has shown thus far. At least not yet.

    3. Will Cozart ever have the same range after knee surgery?

    4. Can Suarez play SS long term? If not, they really don’t have any long-term options. From most accounts, Blandino is a second baseman. Suarez has much better range.

    • Yeah #3 is a pretty big one. A whole lot of his DRS comes from that range. Then, of course that puts more pressure on his bat if there’s any ill effects from surgery.

      Real quick tangent on the fielding position for Suarez- didn’t put this in the article but one random idea I had was Frazier to LF, Suarez to 3B. 98% sure that’s never going to happen, but just a thought I wanted to throw out there.

      • If not for some guy out in Colorado (Arenado), Frazier could easily be the NL Gold Glove winner. You don’t move a potential Gold-Glover out of their position.

    • The high BABIP and K/BB ratio scares me about Suarez

      • His walk rate will likely stabilize a bit closer to his 2014 numbers in the next couple years. His MiLB walk rates are higher than his walk rate this year also. .276 career hitter in MiLB, .361 career OBP.

        • I can see him realistically hitting .270-.285 with a .340-.350 OBP and 20+ HR power in a full season.

      • I agree, and mentioned it previously in another thread. I think he’s a decent hitter for a shortstop, but he’s definitely hitting over his head right now.

    • Move Cozart to 2B. I agree with #3. Range could be an issue now. Suarez has much healthier and younger legs. Makes a huge difference at SS. I like BP a lot but he’s getting long in the tooth and is now injury prone. Time to move him.

  3. How come no one talks about how cozart might be gone after next year? Then what? Suarez is the ss of the future, or at least should be

    • Cozart’s not a free agent until 2018, unless you’re thinking the Reds non-tender him in 2017, which I doubt unless he isn’t able to recover well from his injury.

    • I repeatedly mention on nearly every Cozart/Suárez article that the Reds should attempt to trade Cozart such as they did with Heisey, or just non tender him this offseason.

      • No need, he will only get a minimal raise in arbitration. I bet he gets only 3.5 million.

      • Why? There’s certainly some reason to believe (that BABIP) that Cozart’s improvement at the plate was due to a different approach. The increase in power would also seem to indicate this. Suarez should be in the lineup somewhere, probably, but Cozart, if he recovers well, is much better defensively at a critical position, and with the Reds’ investment in pitching, defense will continue to have outsize importance.

  4. I doubt Cozart is ready to return early in 2016. Eugenio will likely start the season, but he has to be considered the eventual 2B or 3B of the future. Remeber BP and Frasier are both FA’s that same year.

    The other way to look at the “comparison” is that Suarez is EXACTLY who many on this site screemed for last year. He is the exact inverse (offense/defense) of Cozart (but overall same value). Its hard to say that it has made any difference in the outcome however.

    • Frazier will be re-signed long term. And I agree, my best estimate is Cozart would be ready a month or 2 into the season, not by opening day.

      • Not if he’s taking the same steroids Achilles rehabilitation program as Wainwright. 🙂

      • Do the Reds really need another long term contract on the wrong side of 30?

        • I talk about this a lot too and I think I’d be comfortable with him until age 34 or maybe 35, which would be 2020. Frazier would probably consider a 5-year, $100 million or so deal

  5. I would hope Suarez’s glove will play better at 2B. His DRS should be in positive numbers there. BP has a +7 so far this year and COL’s DJ LeMahieu is a +5. I think Suarez could put up a +5 at 2B. I like Cozart (post-knee injury) as backup INF with a new SS (or even a new CF) that might be able to bat leadoff. If they get a new CF that can leadoff keeping Cozart at starter as a SS is doable.
    BP is gone this winter. The 2B position is going to be needed to move another bat, a better bat to. Which in turn should lead to the addition of a legit leadoff hitter at SS or CF. Drastic times call for drastic actions, and parting with BP is just one of those actions needed.

    • I think BP should have been gone last winter, but you must also remember that he has FULL no-trade rights, as a 10 & 5 player.

      • Who the heck trades for BP? The cubs are not so supid nowadays, the Yankees have stopped paying for old guys (sadly) and the Mets are poor.

        • BP keeps hitting and fielding, and you guys keep trashing him.

        • They’re not trashing BP, they’re just being realistic. No team is going to trade for an aging 2nd basemen with a fat contract, unless the Reds eat most of the contract.

  6. Let Suarez play every day at different positions. Seems too obvious to me. As other RN articles have noted with grim accuracy, our position player WARs are the same as our division rivals, but it’s the bench that fails miserably. Suarez as a super sub is part of the fix to that problem. We need depth for it’s own sake AND to prevent Walt from signing over the hill nobodies.

    That said, I’m not sold on Cozart moving forward. I think like Frazier his great start was due for some serious regression…….possibly back to the levels that made him one of the worst offensive players in the majors. In that light, I’d rather have Eugenio’s bat in the lineup.

    • If the reds can find a way to start him 120 times next year as a super sub then I am all in. Anything less than that is a waste of ab’s for what seems to be a pretty strong young middle infielder with a good bat.

    • This idea also helps with what was being kicked around in the recent post on Todd Frazier’s struggles…Suarez could give the guy a few more days off and maybe keep him going stronger over the long haul.

    • I do like the super-sub idea. The question I have is: has he really played anywhere besides SS? I don’t think so, and so it could be difficult for him to all of a sudden start playing multiple defensive positions and keep it all straight. A lot of good fielding,I suspect, is having good instincts bred by repetition. If he has to learn LF, 3B, and 2B all at the same time, I imagine wires will get crossed and his defense at all 3 positions, as well as short, will suffer for it.

  7. I guarantee that Suarez would walk more frequently than Cozart if he was batting in front of the pitcher like Cozart does. Cozart is a hacker and I’ve seen a few signs already that Suarez can lay off close pitches and could possibly be a good #2 hitter or productive even in the 5th/6th hole? Only time will tell though but Suarez has such a nice/short swing compared to Zack.

  8. Lets face it….if Suarez has a big dropoff from how he looks now and Mesoraco’s 2014 is a mirage then forget being a good offensive team again anytime soon? Those 2 and Winkler are our only hope? Perhaps they could deal Chapman and prospects for a Justin Upton or Puig or something?

  9. quite a dilemma, but I don’t see Suarez playing OF though

  10. I’m surprised no one else has mentioned this, but Suarez’s approach to the plate (leg kick, hitting out in front of the ball) is very similar to Justin Turner’s, and that’s not a bad thing. I read that he was working with Marlon Byrd on that a while ago. I’d be all for using Suarez being a super sub, much like Turner was last year and Zobrist has been while getting a bat for left field

    • It’s not too surprising. Turner actually adopted Byrd’s approach when they were teammates. I think I read somewhere that Suarez had taken similar advice from Byrd as well. In a rudimentary summary, the concept is to get bat to ball earlier in the pitch as opposed to letting the ball get deep.

  11. If Cosart returns close to where he was then he has to play because of defense.Suarez plays because of his bat and he will get better because of his age.Unless leadership has a plan on who plays left next year I would send Suarez to the fall league to learn the position.He could become another Zobrist and play everywhere as long as he plays.

    • I agree James–move Suarz to LF. The real question IMO is what someone mentioned above–we have 3 players with 1 yr”career”
      Years at plate in Dev, Cozart & Suarz. Who’s to say any can sustain those #s long term????

  12. If everything is a wash, then age/contract status should rule. Prep Suarez for a super utility player going into 2016, but start him at SS until Cozart is ready and let Cozart prove that his hitting this year is normal rather than the last several years. Suarez just seems like a good #2 hitter (assuming Votto is at 3), which we haven’t had in seemingly the last decade.

  13. I see Suarez as the opening day shortstop since I doubt Cozart will be able to go full steam ahead at that time. Then, depending on what happens on the trade-front during the offseason, Suarez will be the super-sub and anchor, hopefully, a strong bench.

  14. I don’t have the numbers to back up this opinion but more of an eye test. Suarez looks uncomfortable at SS even on the plays he makes. He is by no means a terrible SS or even a bas one he just isn’t a good SS nevermind on Cozarts level. I question is that super defense going to be there after such a horrible injury? Then I have to ask with continued playing time is Suarez going become a better than average defensive SS, because if he continues to hit so well and isn’t a liability at SS then what? I have read the comments on here about replacing BP at 2nd. The two things that I disagree with on that is Suarezs “struggles” are not with his throws he has a very strong arm. The problem seems to be the arm with the glove on it . The other thing is I know BP is getting long in the tooth and has a big number contract but with all the bad baseball this year can someone explain to me how it is BP’s fault? I would love to see this team be good enough to make Suarez that super sub but unless we have a LF fall out of the heavens if he can learn the position when was the last time the REDS had a .280 hitting LF with 20 home runs?

    • He can play short. He looks uncomfortable at the plate too. But he can hit.

  15. “with all the bad baseball this year can someone explain to me how it is BP’s fault?”

    There seems to be a perception that many people are ‘blaming’ Phillips for what ails the Reds. From the Old Cossack’s perspective, it’s not really about Phillips, it’s about the contract. On the open market, Phillips would have garnered an equivalent or better contract as a FA when the Reds extended Phillips. The problem was the Reds ereally couldn’t afford that contract for an aging 2B but also didn’t have another option available to play 2B during their brief window of opportunity. Now that window of opportunity has slammed shut and the Reds are stuck with the contract. This was not Phillips’ fault. This was solely the fault of Reds management (WJ) with a good dose of ownership interference (BC) thrown in.

    • Dude I agree with you. It started on 700 wlw with the sports talk which is not sports talk. It’s opinion talk. They blame Phillips because he’s making 17 mil. He’s worth every penny just from his defense. They said the same thing about Larkin in that 3 year 27 mil contract that he deserved.

      Phillips has saved so many runs it absolute ly amazing. Regardless of what docmike says, he is an elite second baseman. Top five in baseball. Defense second to none.

      As a white guy I’m embarrassed to say that if he was white, this city wouldn’t get enough of him. In another city like new York, Brandon would be king.

      • @Anthony: what you hear on WLW or read on other Reds websites is only a very small group of “fans” and I use that term loosely. If you are at GABP, Brandon is King with the fans there.

  16. Agreed. Phillips is not a bad player. He’s just not an elite 2nd basemen, yet that’s what the Reds are paying him as.

  17. Everybody is showing so much skepticism about Suarez. Let’s face it. He’s better than cozart in every category. I like to look at the numbers too. But Suarez with that swing is showing you he can hit. Keep in mind he had about 300 ab’s last year with Detroit, so this ain’t his first visit to the rodeo.

    Zach cozart is going to be Zack Cozart. The 200 hitting, good range but only decent arm shortstop. Just average. I look for Suarez to be a Miguel Cabrera type. He’s got that much talent. Also, they weren’t really wanting to give him up in the trade. Call Jim leyland. Which might have contributed to dumbrowski getting canned.

  18. Suarez should be one of the players the Reds should be building a new competitive team around. Should the Reds put Suarez on the bench and play Cozart out of some misguided sense of loyalty, it will certainly prove the Reds are not desiring to compete for a championship,

    • Shouldn’t the Reds wait and see what Cozart looks like, post injury? He was hitting well–not much to choose from between him and Suarez–and is great defensively. Suarez should play someplace, assuming that he is actually the sort of hitter he appears to be now, but if Cozart comes back healthy and continues to hit acceptably (big ifs, yes, but certainly possible), he’s one of the best all-around SS’s in the game.

  19. Cozart is a late bloomer. He’s soon to be 30 with a tough injury on his knee and making about 4MM. As much as I love defense/pitching as the right way to build a team around, he’ll enter the decline phase soon and become expensive. Suarez at 25 might improve his glove to a passable stage. He has certainly made some very flashy plays and the arm is there. Besides, DeJesus has proven to be a very good utility player.

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