Reds By The Numbers

Nose on the Ball: Cozart’s High Contact Start

Zack Cozart tends to play in bursts. I don’t quite mean his quick-twitch, hot off the button fielding for the Reds at short, but that does certainly apply. Rather, I’m talking about his bat.

Think of his first 11 games back in 2011. Those fleeting two weeks of .324/.324/.486 slashing and fans hoping for a well-rounded, centerpiece shortstop. Think of last season and his “is this the same Zack Cozart?” first 40 games that left him in the top three on the team for wRC+, fly ball after fly ball hitting the grandstand with his new refurbished swing. Think of his present.

Try not to think how the previous two bursts ended when you think of the present but enjoy the present nonetheless because Zack Cozart is once again on a tear.

Before the season, I wrote on Cozart’s 2016 projections, his injury, and his place in the organization, ultimately concluding this season would likely be his last with the team. Boy is Zack trying to make me eat my words.

For starters, Cozart has had a hit in every game he’s played in in 2016. Through the first seven games, 44 swings, Cozart never swung and missed. The streak ended on swing number 45, but swing 46 kicked off a new streak with a hard double.

In total, through 10 games and 40 plate appearances in 2016, Zack Cozart has seen 128 pitches. Of those pitches, he has swung at 69 of them, with all but eight of those 69 being in the zone. Cozart has made contact with 64 of those 69 pitches, only two of the swings and misses being in the strike zone, both on the outer half.

To put that feat in context, Joey Votto, the resident plate discipline demigod, has seen 237 pitches, swung at 98 of them, and made contact with 83. That’s a 84.7 percent contact rate as compared to Zack Cozart’s 92.8 percent.

Cozart’s contact heat map looks far more like an abstract rendition of Elmo than a man’s repeated attempts to smack a small, fast-moving ball with a relatively thin stick.

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Graph taken from Fangraphs.com

But enough fawning over Cozart. The real question is: is it sustainable?

Short answer: it’s very unlikely. As of right now, Cozart is making contact with pitches outside the zone at a rate nearly 1o points above his career average and at 5 points above his career average for pitches inside the zone. While sustaining either increase would not be out of the realm of possibility, the law of averages tends to lead to a bit more regression.

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Contact aside, Cozart’s batting average didn’t climb to the astronomical .432 it’s at by a bunch of foul balls and ground outs. A part of the reason Cozart has been so successful early on is that he’s pulling less balls (down 6 percent from career mark) and centering more (up 5 percent). Also, he’s just hitting the ball really freaking hard, with 30 percent of his balls in play classified as that.

But all of that said, it’s still only a sample size of 40 plate appearances. If Cozart is able to draw this success out, or even a modicum of it, for the first 40 games as he did last year, then the Reds might be getting some calls inquiring about the Ole Miss grad.

Couple Cozart’s success with his fielding mate Eugenio Suarez’s own hot start and the top of the Reds’ lineup is almost fearsome. Suarez’s contact rate is nothing to admire, but his hard hit ball percentage has jumped 7.5 points from his career average and his fly ball to home run percentage 12 points. My inner cynic still doubts the Reds chances despite this surprising development–the law of averages rarely hits lightly–but the promise this holds for the future overshadows that doubt for the moment.

Don’t count on Cozart being this good for the rest of the year; it just won’t happen. But maybe the shortstop has turned over a new leaf? The new swing seemed to help him last year, and it certainly hasn’t hurt with the start of 2016, so who knows? Maybe Zack Cozart did have a bit of career rejuvenation at age 30? Or maybe another injury is lurking right around the corner?

I think I speak for us all when I say I desperately hope its the former.

 

18 thoughts on “Nose on the Ball: Cozart’s High Contact Start

  1. The thought occurred to me recently that perhaps Cozart seriously buried his sorrows in the video room during the early part of recovery from the surgery when he could do virtually no physical activities then put the lessons learned to work when he started baseball oriented rehab.

    • I keep thinking that guys like Cozart and Bruce with the right teaching would improve. both are capable. I think our new hitting coach is a keeper.

      As far as Zack is concerned, I do believe that hitters can improve when their selection improves. Zack’s one swing and miss was a breaking pitch in the dirt. You always hope that you will hack at strikes and Zack has been doing that this year and fowling off other pitches.

      The goal is to be stupid cub like. those guys now do a great job of spoiling pitchers pitches and swing at strikes that they can hit.

      Zack and to a lesser extent, Jay have been doing that this year. Both of them have reduced those horrible swing and miss the ball by a foot because you were guessing so badly versus working the count to your favor and make the pitcher serve something up to you that you can whack hard.

      I think both of those guys have turned a corner and when their slumps do come, they will not be as long or as deep as what we have seen from them in the past.

      Now, just to get Joey and Meso out of their slumps…

  2. I’m desperately hoping for nothing, just enjoying Cozart’s high level of play in the moment. Makes watching the Reds fun.

  3. If Cozart does have a breakout 2016 season, he will likely be traded at the deadline to make room for Peraza and get a solid return, unless by some miracle the Reds are still in contention.

    • Zack will be 31 in August…..yeah no way you can build a contending team in 2018 around a 33 yr old shortstop. Bruce is 29 so he could go either way but I hope we keep him!

  4. Don’t feel bad Wesley, Zack Cozart is making alot of people eat their words. Many, many posters on here are having several servings of crow. It is so wonderful to see Cozart coming back even better than before. It goes to all the hard work he put in last season and this winter rehabbing his knee. You don’t hear anything for the medical staff when a player returns this way. Kudos to all involved in Cozart’s great recovery.
    The .432 batting average certainly won’t continue, but if he keeps it at a .280-.300 clip for the season, all is well at Shortstop.
    With Blandino struggling mightily in the minors, it might be a good idea to keep Cozart around for a few years. Move him to 2B, Peraza at SS, and Suarez to continue at 3B. BP goes to the bench, or finally accepts the trade. You probably lose nothing in defense at 2B with Cozart over BP and Cozart’s stick might play better than BP’s too. And Peraza has a spot to play.
    The thing that really impresses me this year about Cozart, (small sample size warning inserted) is that his hitting splits have disappeared. He was woeful vs. RH pitchers in the past; career = .242, 2015 = ..236, 2014 = .211, with 2013 an outlier at ..257. This year he is busting RH pitching to the tune of ..462, and .357 vs. LH. I like that!!

  5. Contact rate begins to stabilize around 100 PAs… so if Zack continues with this for a few more weeks, it would suggest a fundamental change in his swing mechanics or eye-sight or something like that.

    • This is so simple it probably isn’t just that but I see his mechanics keeping his nose on the ball if you will just like the title said. The “mechanics” of his swing is he isn’t flying open or as the hitters call it pulling off the ball, the front shoulder flys open and the head goes with it and you cannot hit what you cannot see. That in a nutshell is about every cliche used in trying to teach hitting, but all true. Him keeping his head down on the ball and not flying open early is physical but it starts between the ears his approach has been to concentrate on staying on the ball is a concious decision. He of course cannot keep this up, but even a .260 BA and his glove is a nice piece of trade bait at the deadline and hopefully he can parlay it into a career contract for him.
      The fact that Bruce has changed his mental approach at the plate( again a small sample size) gives me hope that he will become that consistent power hitting corner outfielder. Him trying to hit the ball back up the middle and the other way makes him a much better hitter he might sacrafice a small amount of power but I prefer a .265 BA with 24 HR’s to a .225 and 28 HR’s.
      This again is a small sample size with both of them but the approach is so much better IMO. I want to give both of them credit for the work and the apparent willingness to change but the change in hitting coaches can’t be a coincedence.

      • Chris Welsh noted that Cozart is keeping his head still now, also. Patrick’s note about stabilization is well-taken, but Cozart definitely looks different and is hitting the ball harder.

  6. glad to see Coz tearing it. Still waiting for a feature story on Brandon Phillips awesomeness and I would love to see Steve be the one to write it.

  7. What has Peraza done to think he is the savior at shortstop? Everybody seems to think this guy is the chosen one. This is the same love affair that everyone had for Hamilton a few years ago. How did that turn out?

    • How did that turn out? He’s an elite centerfielder. That’s how it turned out.

      • Elite? Do you watch baseball? Guy cant hit his weight. If he is elite then everybody else in the league is what?

        • I think he meant “elite center fielder” as “he plays center field elitely,” which is accurate.

        • Thanks, Patrick. That is, indeed, what I meant. And he evidently provides enough value doing that and running the bases (when he gets on) to be worth having on the team. The game has two halves, and ignoring the one where our guys are wearing gloves and catching the ball is short-sighted.

    • I don’t think Peraza is more than a 2-2.5 WAR guy, but he’s a way better hitter than Hamilton. They really aren’t fantastic comps.

  8. I’d like to see a story that attempts to identify a common strand for the improved plate approaches. Bruce and Cozart seem to have made strong changes. Are these linked?

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