Coming into the 2016 season, the Reds find themselves with a bit of a logjam up the middle. Usually that word carries an optimistic connotation: “How are we going to get all of these great players time to showcase their talents?” Not this time. The Reds’ logjam consists more of burnt-out flotsam and discarded plywood than any meaningful timber. Between Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, Eugenio Suarez, and Jose Peraza, the Reds have to find playing time for two past their prime, one-trick ponies and two untested, semi-promising, but likely disappointing prospects across three infield positions. Oh what exciting times these are.

Last week, Patrick Jeter took an in-depth look into what we can expect from Suarez, and on Monday, Nick Carrington dove into Dat Dude’s lasting legacy. Today, I’m looking at the Reds other oft-injured elder statesman to see if by some miracle, the situation isn’t as dire as it seems.

After an abysmal 2014 campaign, Zack Cozart came burning out of the gate in 2015, prompting FanGraphs to write a piece titled “The Best 40 Games of Zack Cozart.” Granted the article did spend its entirety convincing us that Cozart’s streak was a fluke, but we never got to test that theory because three weeks later it was all moot. Cozart’s 2015 campaign ended on June 11 after he lunged for first base running out a grounder and shredded his knee in the process. 

With the uncertainty of an elite defender having his mobility potentially hindered, Cozart’s 2016 projections are not awe-inspiring. Both ZiPS and Steamer expect the shortstop to revert to pre-2015 levels of offensive production, but for some reason don’t anticipate him falling any further than that.

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 11.46.02 AM

The projections place Cozart just a tick below his 2013 season, downgrading his defense (13.1 Def to 10.0/9.7) in compensation for the knee surgery. Neither portend Cozart having a full 600 plate appearances coming off of injury, but Steamer’s extended projection doesn’t expect much more production even if he does. Curiously enough, both systems see Cozart’s enhanced plate discipline from last season as anomaly, bringing both his walk rate down and increasing his strikeout rate.

On the first point, it’s only natural that Cozart will lose a step in the field after coming off of major knee surgery. What’s worrisome is how far it will decline. His quick twitch and lateral movement just won’t be where it once was, which for a player who makes his money with his glove is a troublesome turn of events. For at least the rest of Spring Training, Cozart will be wearing a brace, which must be a hinderance despite his claims to the contrary. Also, starting the season suddenly without a bulky piece of equipment will probably take a game or two adjustment and could set the tone for the rest of the year.

While the Reds aren’t dependent on Cozart being productive this season, his ability to play the field could determine his job status come July. As a veteran on a rebuilding team, Cozart is dead weight blocking up the flow of progress. If he can manage to serve some function through the first half, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Reds trying to shop him to a team looking for a solid utility man.

As for the plate discipline, we’ve found the reason why Cozart will be a Red through the entirety of the 2016 season. The projections’ predicted regression is logical given Cozart hasn’t swung a bat in the seven months prior to Spring Training. Yet, there’s still hope that Cozart can maintain the progress he made last year by tweaking his swing. According to Baseball Tonight’s Bill Ripken, Cozart’s 2015 awakening was due in part to his mechanical change of keeping his front shoulder tucked longer. The change allowed Cozart to make stronger contact, as evidenced by the 2.5% jump in his hard hit ball percentage.

Without half a year of practice or consistent maintenance, there is no guarantee that Cozart will be able to replicate the change, giving more credibility to the projections. However, to play devil’s advocate, none of Cozart’s O-Swing% (pitches outside zone), Z-Swing% (pitches inside zone), or SwStr% (swinging at strikes) had statistically significant differences between his abysmal 2014 and resurgent 2015. In fact, the way the numbers trended should’ve indicated an even worse plate approach in 2015. Such is the magic of small sample sizes. I would be inclined to believe that Cozart’s plate discipline will stay truer to 2015’s numbers rather than the previous seasons, but that’s just conjecture.

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The most pressing question lingering around Cozart coming into 2016, however, has nothing to do with his health at all. Before the injury, Bryan Price moved Cozart all around the batting order, having him hit in every slot sans third and fourth. Cozart spend the most time in the second and eighth slots, with 12 and 11 appearances respectively. More tellingly, all 11 of Cozart’s eight hole starts came in the first two weeks of the season before he had proven his rejuvenated streak. After those opening weeks, Cozart only hit below seventh twice, and more predominantly hit second or leadoff for the team.

Entering 2016, Cozart’s designated “role” in the batting order is up in the air. RotoChamp projects the order as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 2.25.43 PM

Bryan Price has already told fans and reporters not to “read anything into the lineup here in camp” because both Cozart and Devin Mesoraco are absentee. Realistically, RotoChamp’s projection makes the most sense considering Price’s managing style, but by no means is it optimal for the club. With the questions around his plate discipline, Cozart should absolutely hit in the bottom half. In terms of best fit lineup, the Reds have two options dependent on how flexible Price will be with Hamilton.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 2.26.01 PM

Ultimately, any way you play these eight, there’s a lineup full of free swinging, high strikeout hitters plus Joey Votto. If Cozart can indeed return to 2015 form and not regress as far as the projections anticipate, then hitting second is probably in the club’s best interests. But that’s a big if given the circumstances.

Cozart is slated to get his first taste of spring action tomorrow during one of the split squad games against the A’s or Cubs. The team has been in no rush to get him on the field, so it’s unlikely he’ll have more than two at-bats or a couple innings in the field. The thing to watch is his mechanics at the plate and if they resemble old Zack or new Zack. If the shoulder starts pulling out again, expect to see Peraza and possibly Alex Blandino getting significant playing time much earlier in the season.

Unlike in Patrick’s analysis of Suarez, there’s no overwhelming positive outlook for sweet Zack Cozart. There’s just passable results, mediocre results and disappointing ones. The shortstop is a known quantity on the wrong side of 30 coming off of knee surgery. He has a job simply because there are no other options now that Suarez needs to be at third. Despite what I said previously, Cozart will not be traded for anything more than a bag of balls because the risk far, far outweighs the reward. What we can look forward to is one more year of highlight reel double plays before both he and DatDude ride off into the sunset.

53 Responses

  1. Hotto4Votto

    Help me understand the graph. The way I read it, it looks like the projections have his K% drop and his BB% increase. That is the opposite of what you wrote (and what I would expect). The graph has his 2015 K% was 6.5% and the projections have it at 4.9%, 5.3%, and 5.3%. The BB% for 2015 is at 13.6% and is projected to be at 15.5%, 15.3%, and 15.3%. Those numbers don’t seem correct, as both would be incredible rates. Are the numbers in the graph just labeled wrong? Because that makes sense.

    Also, if anyone is disappointed in Suarez I believe the expectations were too high. We got him for 1 year of Alfredo Simon, and he was never someone who was highly touted as a prospect. He has put up solid numbers across parts of two seasons and at a relatively young age. I expect him to continue to be solid moving forward.

    It should also be noted, that Cozart not batting 8th after the beginning of the season may have been effected by Hamilton moving to 9th in the order. I don’t know when exactly occurred, but once the move happened, it was inevitable that Cozart was going to bat 7th or higher in the batting order.

    In general, though, I agree with your assessment of Cozart. The best we can hope for is that a contender needs a defensive minded SS and that Cozart’s knee has recovered enough that he can still be considered defensively gifted. If we can even get a return similar to what we got for Byrd, I’d consider that a win. At the same time, I wouldn’t have been sad to see Cozart non-tendered either.

    • IndyRedMan

      If anyone is disappointed in Suarez then they’re following the wrong team? That’s like people on the Titantic complaining about the caviar.

      • Patrick Jeter

        Agreed. Suarez is, at worst, a solid regular who has a chance (perhaps small) to be one of the best hitting infielders (non-1B category) in the game.

    • Patrick Jeter

      K% and BB% column headings are switched. The numbers are right, though, if you transpose those headings.

      • Hotto4Votto

        That’s what I figured but wanted to make sure I was reading correct. Thanks.

  2. sultanofswaff

    It’s crazy to hear Bryan Price still talking up Hamilton as a leadoff hitter. Based on what I’ve heard from the new GM, this puts Price directly at odds with his new boss. Makes zero sense.

    There will come a point, likely pre-All-Star break where the Reds will surmise that they can get the same production from Peraza for the league minimum. The real test for me will be whether, like mentioned above, Price will see eye to eye with the front office. I’d be shocked if Price and Cozart are with the organization in August.

    • dan

      One can hope that it is June instead of August right? Surely Price is on a short leash. I would imagine that is why Pinella is there. Not to take his place, oh no. To tell the big boys upstairs that Price has no clue what he is doing. Pretty sure Pinella would have no problem doing that whatsoever.

      • ohiojimw

        Given the past professional relationship between Pinella and Price, I suspect Pinella’s first role is actually to mentor Price and try and help him through; but then, if they reach such a point, the flip side is Pinella will inform the FO if it is time to pull the plug on Price.

      • Anthony Ridley

        If he needs mentoring, that further makes my point that he should HAVE NEVER GOT THE JOB IN THE FIRST PLACE!

      • jim t

        Price is here to help grow the young pitchers. He isn’t here to win a pennant. That isn’t happening anytime soon. His forte is developing a pitching staff. Something he is very good at and has a bunch of success at

      • Jonathan Morgan

        Should of stayed as the pitching coach than.

  3. dan

    I am kind of surprised they didn’t just cut him loose especially considering that the team is going into 2016 with all accounts and purposes to intentionally lose.
    Even if the team isn’t driving for that #1 draft pick in 2017 (don’t deceive yourself they are and your inner child hates it) his crippled leg probably makes him not the best of choices to begin with. Surely we can find a SS in an international league if we must and a pay them league minimum.

    • ohiojimw

      This was my thinking too. I thought they should have bundled Cozart with a significant portion of his projected salary off to another team and let them take an essentially out of pocket cost free risk free look at Cozart in spring training as if they cut him before camp broke, the money sent with him would have been the lion’s share of his separation settlement.

      Now the the Reds are stuck with the risk and the full $2.9+M salary cost unless they would cut him before camp breaks which I don’t see them doing.

      I know lot of folks don’t see the logic of my position. Ask yourself this. Is the value the Reds are most likely to receive from trading Cozart greater than the amount of his full season salary? If the answer is “no”, then there is no reason for Cozart to have been in the Reds camp.

      • redsfan06

        This mirrors my thinking on Cozart. The sooner the Reds trade him the better. They are not likely to receive an additional $1.5+ million in value for paying him for half a season, so trade him as soon as he looks like he can still field the position. Let some other team worry about his hitting.

      • ohiojimw

        I found my link to the CBA; and, if I interpreted the language correctly, by bringing Cozart into camp at the annual rate of just under $3M, the Reds put themselves on the hook for $500K and change (30 days pay). If he is still in camp within 16 days of opening day (that’s around the 18th/19th of march), the hit goes up by another ~$250K or so (45 days pay). If he is still with the team (active or DL) as of opening day, he is due the entire contract amount.

    • greenmtred

      We don’t know how his leg will be–he says it feels good. He’s a good enough fielder, when healthy, to be an asset, and even though expectations for this team in 2016 are low, I doubt that they will be trying to lose. Pro athletes (with some notable exceptions) have a hard time doing that. It looks like a hard balancing act: they want to get an idea what their young players can do, but they need to avoid alienating the fans by intentionally cartwheeling into the abyss. And, yes, there is a human angle to this: Cozart, in the nascent stages of what may have been a bit of a breakthrough season for him, sustained a serious injury while hustling for the team–not hitting a water cooler or fighting in a bar.Tossing him aside like a piece of detritus is not a decent thing to do and would send a bad message to other players, current and prospective.

      • Jack

        I know I’m going out on a limb on this site to say this…but I have the same feeling as Greenmtred. A think a ‘team’ is more than a collection of statistics arranged in some optimal order…ultimately a team succeeds when everyone is considered family and pulls for each other (including us fans)…to dump Cozart at this point would be cold. Perhaps we are all a little too engrossed with our statistics and treating these players like baseball cards. I’m not saying that the Red shouldn’t be trying to put the best team possible on the field, but I like to think that the organization has some humanity to it,

      • lwblogger2

        I pretty much agree with what you’re saying here. The only point of contention at all being just how healthy that leg is and how much it will effect his defense. I fully agree however that non-tendering him wasn’t the right move. I’m glad the Reds are seeing what they have in him this year. If it doesn’t pan out, then you release him and eat the salary. If it does pan out, he may have some value near the trade deadline.

  4. Chris

    Any middle-infield analysis that does not start and end with the phrase “de Jesus” is inherently flawed, IMO.

    Just kidding. Good piece.

    • dan

      I would have to say that it might be a worth while experiment to give de Jesus the fulltime job to see what he can offer. Well at least for 2016 it isn’t like he would be the scapegoat for suckiness or anything like that.

      • Patrick Jeter

        He’ll be 29 on May 1st. A career minor leaguer who has been around average as a AAA hitter is very, very unlikely to become anything other than below-average at the major league level.

        If the Reds are going to be competitive in 2 years, DeJesus will be 31 and likely even less valuable than he is now.

        I don’t see anything in his profile that suggest any sort of upside other than “veteran utility man.”

  5. IndyRedMan

    SS with a knee brace…..reminds me of the scene in the Bad News Bears remake where Billy Bob gives the kids his best motivational speech in the dugout so the one kid cranks up the power on his wheelchair and motors out to RF at top speed

  6. WVRedlegs

    I don’t get all the angst about Cozart. He’s a low-cost, low-risk option at SS to start the season. He plays gold-glove caliber defense with an inconsistent bat. Give him and the Reds a chance to re-build some of his trade value. It is a re-build year, no? He has one more year of arbitration/team control after this year. He could be an attractive trade candidate come mid-July. If this were mid-July now instead of mid-March, the Cardinals might be knocking down the door for Cozart. Cozart doesn’t kick the ball around on defense like Suarez. Peraza, by all accounts from the Reds, is the long-term option at 2B, not SS. Cozart hit 9 HR’s in just 53 games last year as most of his power numbers increased last year before he went down with his injury. Lets give him a chance to see what he can do, if he can continue what he started last year. All indications are that Cozart was aggressively re-habbing his knee, and not just doing the bare minimums of re-hab. Cozart has earned a chance, and deserves a chance, to see what he can do offensively and defensively for the Reds.
    Cozart busts LH pitching. At the very least, a platoon of he and Peraza at SS would be an ideal solution. Get a look-see of both at the position. I’d rather have Peraza at SS and Suarez at 2B anyway.

    • ohiojimw

      Cozart used to play GG defense at SS. Given that he is coming off of what amounts to reconstructive knee surgery for his age 30 season, whether he will ever again play GG defense is the big question mark and why it would have made sense given the Reds situation to just cut the ties and move on.

    • Patrick Jeter

      I think you have the most optimistic outlook on Cozart I’ve seen. 😉

      Calling his bat “inconsistent” is pretty kind, I’d say. He’s been consistently bad virtually his entire career and 2 months of unrealistic HR/FB% shouldn’t change our minds on that.

      Just my $0.02.

      • greenmtred

        I’m pretty close to wvredlegs in optimism. Those homers weren’t carried over the fence by co-operative eagles, and his approach at the plate looked different even before he started to get better results, Is he a risk? Of course, So’s everyone, particularly everyone coming off a serious injury. You don’t automatically cut ties with every guy who gets hurt, and Cozart provided value with his glove.

      • Patrick Jeter

        I don’t think anyone is arguing that Cozart can provide value. The prevailing argument (as I see it) is that Cozart’s incremental value over someone like Peraza, for example, is worthless since the Reds won’t compete this year. So, is a year of experience for Peraza (or whomever) more valuable than an arguably better on-field product in ’16?

        I guess it all depends on each individuals point of view about what should be done at the beginning of a reboot/rebuild.

      • Shchi Cossack

        That really is the summation of the argument. The problem becomes the Reds handling of the situation. Playing (and paying) Cozart for the 1st 2/3 of the season has no inherent detriment for 2016. If the Reds truly feel Peraza is the middle IF answer going forward, keeping Peraza on the 25-man roster and burning a year of service time as a utility IF is ludicrous and that I fear is the real risk. The Reds just do not have good management sense concerning the 25-man and 40-man rosters.

        Play Cozart at SS with intent to let him rebuild value and trade him prior to the trader deadline when middle IF, especially SS, are at a premium value. Let Peraza reaquaint himself with SS at AAA and set himself up to take over the SS position full time in 2017. If Cozart doesn’t rebuild any value during the 1st 2/3 of the saeason, the $3MM experiment failed, but it’s just $3MM. The risk/reward on that $3MM justifies the attempt. This is not the $12MM-$13MM the Reds are investing in Bruce this season (which I also think has a justifiable risk/reward).

      • greenmtred

        I get that, Patrick, and am generally in agreement that the young guys–the future team–need to play alot. Trading Cozart at some point this season would probably make sense, though I’d be sad to see him and his magic glove go, no argument. Cutting him during the off season while he was recovering from injury is what I object to: it simply isn’t the way a person or organization should treat people.

      • lwblogger2

        Keep in mind though that you also would burn a year of MLB service time on Peraza. It may not hurt him to spend a good part of the year in AAA, especially at SS.

    • RFM

      “Peraza, by all accounts from the Reds, is the long-term option at 2b, not SS”. I don’t know what you’ve been reading, but that’s not the sense I got at all. They definitely saw him more as a short-term option at 2b since he’s played there more recently, but all signs are that he’s being moved back to SS, although it may take some time before he’s game ready. If there’s a 2b-of-the-future in the organization it looks like Blandino, not Peraza. Peraza is the one who can also handle SS.

      • WVRedlegs

        That was what the front office was saying on the Reds Caravan just about a month and a half ago. You didn’t read my last sentence. I like Peraza at SS over 2B.

    • lwblogger2

      I bet the Cards are hating that they don’t have Pete Kozma anymore. He would have been a viable sub for Peralta. Can’t hit a lick but got the job done defensively.

  7. Tyler Burdett

    Got a feeling the cardinals might be knocking on the Reds’ door for Cozart possibly with Peralta’s injury. Who knows though.

    I’m fine with Billy Hamilton hitting lead off. This is a make or break year for him to prove he can hit at the big league level. Give him all the opportunities to hit and learn. The Reds are not World Series contenders this year so development and game experience is important for the players. I really want to see Hamilton be successful.

    • Patrick Jeter

      Replace one injured SS with another injured SS? Not sure that’s written in The Cardinal Way.

      • ohiojimw

        Maybe there is some sort of reverse osmosis starting up since it already looks like there will be more former Reds on the Cards than vice versa this season. 🙂

      • Patrick Jeter

        Oh, that would be awesome. As long as they are washed up, gritty Reds!

  8. Patrick Jeter

    “There’s just passable results, mediocre results and disappointing ones.” I think that sums it up perfectly, Wes. Good work.

    PS – That first RotoChamp lineup is about as close to “worst possible” as a major league manager could construct. Boy does it suck. I hope Price’s real lineup doesn’t end up anything close to that. It runs almost directly opposite to the maths! Hamilton, Cozart, Phillips could possibly be the 3 worst hitters, and they hit 1-2-4… the spots that should be reserved for your 3 best hitters.

  9. Carl Sayre

    I read the comment that as he understood the CBA Cozart could spend all of spring training with the team at a cost of 750 thousand dollars. This is what I didn’t have a clue about. The defense is worth his salary so at first glance it would seem to commit 750 thousand dollars or 25 percent of his salary to see if the knee has healed well enough or if someone has interest is good idea. The problem is what if he is close to his old glove and his bat is about the same as his career numbers I could see this FO saying well you know we are already into him for this much lets keep him he is coming around. I love great defense and before the injury IMO Cozart played great defense but if it is not what it was before he cannot break camp with the club, waste of money.

  10. RFM

    Maybe you should give him a chance rather than prematurely write him off.

    • Wesley Jenkins

      Honestly, I’m one of Cozart’s biggest fans. Love him as a player, think he’s been more than productive when he’s been healthy (sans 2014), and think he plays right. That said, the facts just don’t add up to him amounting to much. It has nothing to do with my personal feelings towards him. But major knee surgery, 30+, and elite by glove don’t keep you in the league too long.

  11. Tct

    I find it strange how many people want to discard Cozart. They keep calling his 2015 season lucky despite the fact that his BABIP was in the .250’s. They point to his home run/fly ball rate of 12% as unsustainable. And yet they never mention how he was unlucky in 2014 . His HR/FB rate in 2014 was 2.5 % after being in the 8-9% range in 2012 and 2013. And then it jumped to 12 % last year. If you are going to say he was lucky last year then you need to say he was unlucky in 2014 and the “real” Cozart is probably the guy we saw in 2012-2013. That guy was an 80wRC, 2 win guy which is more than acceptable for his salary.

    And dumping him to save 2-3 million would be really foolish. Seriously, 2 million is peanuts in baseball. A guy who has always been a 1.5-2 win player is well worth that. And looking at recent prospect valuations, all it would take is for Zack to be able to land a grade C type prospect at the deadline for him to be well worth his salary. Think Taylor Sparks or Sal Romano type prospects. Zack is more than capable of bringing a guy like that back and possibly even a little better.

    • Patrick Jeter

      In your opinion, what is the value of Cozart putting up 2.0 WAR for the Reds in 2016 at the expense of taking playing time from younger guys that will likely figure in the next Reds’ contender in 2018 and beyond?

      Good point about the use of the HR/FB rates. To be honest though, the entire conversation (on either side) is worthless without batted-ball authority figures. 2.5% may be been right in line, as could have 12%.

      • Tct

        Who is Cozart taking time from? Peraza is 21 and hasn’t really hit AAA pitching yet. There is so much criticism these days for the Reds bringing up Hamilton in 2014 before he had succeeded in AAA. Peraza is in the same situation and it doesn’t really make sense to start his clock right now.

        You could make the case that Suarez should be playing short. But someone would still have to play third. And I just don’t think Suarez has the hands to play short.

        But the biggest reason for me is that Cozart is still an asset with surplus value. The Reds don’t have enough talent to be throwing away assets. Play him now and hopefully at the deadline you can get a decent prospect that will contribute on the next Reds contender. It won’t be a great prospect, but maybe you get a future high leverage reliever or fourth outfielder.

      • ohiojimw

        You speak to the nub of the issue with Cozart. Many folks feel he no longer has any surplus value given the injury, his age, one year of remaining team control after 2016, and the Reds changed situation. Only time can tell which view is closer to being correct.

      • Patrick Jeter

        Even if Cozart has some surplus value, I disagree with the notion that it will be enough surplus value to bring back a prospect. He can bring back a minor leaguer, no doubt, but likely some sort of filler or a low-end lottery ticket.

        Perhaps lost in all this talk…what are the odds that a contender needs a defense-only starting shortstop at the trade deadline? Pretty slim, I’d think. Seems to me, the only guys moving at the trade deadline each year are guys who can hit in some fashion or pitchers. Unless an injury occurs, it’s pretty unlikely anyone would want Cozart for free, let alone giving up a prospect for him.

        Sure, it doesn’t hurt to keep and play Cozart. Perhaps he will hit well and return a prospect, but I don’t think it should seem strange to you that some other people think Cozart is likely to be a non-factor while taking up a roster spot for someone that could use the big league experience. And yes, Peraza is that guy Why does it matter if he hasn’t proven he can hit AAA pitching? He’s a defense-first, base-running, slap hitter.

        Starting his clock is a complete non-issue, as well. Think about arbitration and free agency. What is rewarded? Counting stats and power. Defense and base running are undervalued. Peraza is very unlikely to get large arbitration awards or a large free agent contract even if he proves to be a solid 2-3 WAR middle infielder. So, a theoretical world where the Reds want a 7th year of control for Peraza is likely a world where the Reds are already happy (because Peraza will have proven to be a good player if they still want him) and they will likely be able to afford him, since his skills don’t cost a ton on the open market.

        This will probably just have to be an “agree to disagree” sort of thing. Which is fine. 🙂

      • lwblogger2

        I agree with all of this aside from having a higher opinion of Suarez’ potential at SS than you. As far as Cozart, I think you are right on the money here.

  12. Steve Young

    Cozart is not going to be a part of the rebuilding process. Phillips, Bruce, Mesoraco are all going to be traded. It would be best to start Peraza in AAA, and let Phillips and Cozart mentor the younger Reds like Duval, Scheduler, Suarez etc… Reds are still in demo mode until they can get rid of Bruce, Cozart, and Mesoraco. Building through the draft, building up the farm clubs until you can get the young talent to the big leagues at a value that a small market club can afford is the new model the Reds are following. This “rebuild” is going to take several years. The Reds may not be “relevant” as far as a serious playoff contender for several years. The amount of years will be dependent on something the Reds are not very well known for…. Drafting well…