2016 Reds

Should the Reds Extend Zack Cozart?

Remember when it was reasonable to debate whether Zack Cozart’s offense was so poor that the Reds couldn’t afford to keep him in their lineup? He was a poor offensive player in 2012 and 2013, but his 55 wRC+ was the worst among qualified players in 2014. Basically, he may have been the worst offensive player in baseball that season. And he drove me crazy, but no one seemed to care about that.

Fast forward to the present, and Cozart doesn’t even resemble that player. The guy who never hit .255 over an entire season has been over .300 for most of the year. His career high OBP was .288 in 2012 but currently stands at .332. The biggest difference in results, though, comes from Cozart’s considerable uptick in power. In Cozart’s first three seasons, he never slugged better than .399. Right now, he’s slugging .532 and may represent the Reds in the All Star game.

His impressive play puts the Reds in a difficult situation: should they trade him or try to sign him to a reasonable extension? This predicament resembles the Jay Bruce issue except that Bruce had a longer track record of success before struggling the last two years. But for over 400 plate appearances between 2015 and 2016, Cozart has hit like a top five to seven shortstop in all of baseball.

Cozart’s vast improvement began with watching video. After his disaster of a season in 2014, Cozart took to the film room and apparently found a mechanical error in his swing. He made the appropriate changes and last season slugged .459 while posting a 104 wRC+ in 214 plate appearances. Before we could see whether Cozart could sustain his hot start, he suffered a knee injury that required season-ending surgery.

I certainly didn’t think Cozart would pick up where he left off after rehabbing a shredded knee. But he’s been even better. Is this real? Has Cozart really become a top three shortstop in the National League? The underlying numbers may help answer this question and give us some clue as to whether the Reds should sell high or buy in for more.

First, here is a table comparing Cozart’s batted ball data from his first three full seasons with his last two (2015-2016).

cozart_batted_ball

Cozart’s success has largely come from been hitting the ball harder. That jives well with the eye test. In fact, in 2016, he has a Hard% of 33.3%, much higher than his career mark (24.6%). Hitting the ball harder is obviously better than the alternative, but the other numbers are promising as well. Groundballs are the worst batted ball type because they rarely go for hits, let alone extra-base hits. They have become even less productive since teams started shifting drastically.

Cozart has decreased his GB% significantly while increasing both his LD% and FB%. Batters typically hit between .650 and .700 on line drives, and Cozart’s LD% is over 24% in 2016, likely contributing to both an elevated BABIP (.306) and his impressive batting average. As we will see shortly, he needs to hit for a high average to get on base at a reasonable clip.

Another large change between Cozart’s poor offensive seasons and the last 400+ plate appearances is that he has doubled his rate of homeruns per fly ball.  After hitting only four homeruns in 2014, he was on pace for around 30 homeruns in 2015 before his injury. He is on a similar pace now. Last season, Brandon Crawford led all shortstops with 21 homeruns, so if Cozart hits between 25-30, he will be in elite company.

Players who see this kind of production increase have often improved their plate discipline. In Cozart’s case, his swing and contact rates have remained incredibly stable over his career, and he does not walk much at all, meaning all of his on base ability comes from his batting average.  However, Cozart has cut down his strikeout rate in every season from a career high 18.8% in 2012 to a solid 12.9% currently.

The numbers suggest that Cozart may have indeed fixed some type of mechanical error. For 416 plate appearances, he has hit more lines drive and the ball harder in general, greatly increased his power, and struck out less. Those factors indicate an improved player.

Even if Cozart regresses to a roughly average player, a pretty steep decline from where he is currently, his defense makes him an above-average player at the least. It made sense to question whether Cozart could return to his defensive wizardry after major knee surgery, but he has shown no ill effects thus far.

All of this Cozart goodness combines for the third most WAR among shortstops in the National League (1.8). A top three shortstop is a good thing to have, but of course, there are other factors to consider when deciding whether to trade or extend him.

Cozart turns 31 in August, traditionally an age when players, especially middle infielders start to really decline. The Reds have control of him through the 2017 season, so an extension may not kick in until 2018 when he will turn 33. That’s a dangerous extension.

The decision really hinges on when you think the Reds can compete and whether you believe that either Jose Peraza or Eugenio Suarez + the prospects from a Cozart trade outweigh the production Cozart will give over the next 3-5 seasons.

While Suarez has struggled at third base, he showed some potential at shortstop before being moved, and frankly, while I believe in the bat to a certain extent, he hasn’t exactly proven he can have prolonged success at this level.

He currently own a career 97 wRC+ with a .258/.310/.416 slash line in roughly 900 Major League plate appearances. He turns 25 in July, so he has some time to figure things out.

If Suarez could play close to average defensively at the position, the bat likely plays. I understand that he has often impersonated Pele at third this year, but struggling at third doesn’t necessarily mean he would be a bad shortstop. Range has not been his issue. Still, Suarez does not inspire much confidence on defense right now.

Peraza has started most of his games in AAA this season at shortstop, which would seem to portend his role in the Major Leagues. Scouts think he would be excellent at second but that he has potential to handle shortstop as well. As far as his hitting ability, he has zero power, but Baseball Prospectus does have this to say:

His feel for the barrel is outstanding, and he consistently makes hard contact thanks to his hand-eye coordination and a compact, quick stroke. The hit tool could be plus if took more pitches and worked more counts, but he doesn’t, so it isn’t.

Peraza’s .301/.340/.386 slash line in the minor leagues fits this description to a tee. He may hit for an excellent average, but he doesn’t have elite on base skills and possesses almost no power. He does have outstanding speed that could boost his value if he can manage to get on base enough.

So encouraging. Or discouraging. I can’t decide. The reality is that Peraza has a regular job waiting on him somewhere, and it will likely happen in the near future. Because Phillips isn’t going anywhere, and Billy Hamilton has suddenly figured out what a bat is used for, shortstop would seem to be the place for Peraza.

Trading Cozart now is likely selling high and would bring a pretty good prospect or two in return. Not elite prospects but something useful for a rebuilding club. An extension of three years or so probably wouldn’t break the bank, and the Reds may get an above-average player or better. These are the tough decisions that rebuilding clubs need to make. Hopefully, the Reds choose wisely.

 

 

34 thoughts on “Should the Reds Extend Zack Cozart?

  1. extend him. peraza will be the second baseman. see if he will take a 3 year deal.
    he and hamilton easily best defenders on the team. phillips decline even more stunning when compared to cozart.
    suarez a bad defender. makes cozart even more important moving forward. am hoping reds take the third baseman from Tennessee tonight or moniak.
    if the third baseman then it potentially solves a problem

    • Although this is just the eye test and not based on stats, I thought Suarez was a horrible shortstop and is pretty much equally bad at 3B. Not sure where you (Nick) saw the potential at SS. I came to realize how much I took Zach’s defense for granted once he was gone. I cringe at the though of Suarez at SS again. On the subject of extending Zach, if the Reds think Peraza is the future SS, then trade him, if not, extending him depends on the length (not long) and size (not too big) of the contract extension.

      • Agreed, Suarez is proving on a nightly basis that he is not the future at 3B and his work at SS left a lot to be desired last season, his glove needs to greatly improve if he is going to be a part of the competitive end of this rebuild. Can Rolen work with him at 3B?

  2. Would not seriously consider an extension. The Reds have him under control for one more year through age 32. Both his defense and offense should regress, which would likely make his ceiling an average player (or slightly above average player) during the extension. Don’t make the mistake of buying high when Cozart has not shown he can sustain this level of success.

    • Regression is not automatic at 31, just common. I agree that a long-term extension wouldn’t make sense, but I don’t see anybody on the team who can carry Cozart’s glove, and now he’s hitting, too. He might make a dandy 2nd baseman when he starts to lose some range and isn’t as good at short.

  3. It all depends what others are offering for him…If you get another offer of a Zack Wheeler (for Bruce or Cozart), you take it. If you get offered Scott Scheblers, even two of them, you pass.

    • A non-injured Wheeler would have been an easy deal to make. A severely injured Wheeler was a much bigger gamble and the Reds were right to decline that trade.

  4. No! I like Cozart a lot but when guys like Zack and BP are running a little cold then the pitchers get to roll thru a 8 pitch inning! No thanks! Its almost impossible to walk either one of those 2? Not to mention he’ll be 31 this season!

  5. For me it all depends on the cost. Cozart can’t expect to be paid like a Top 3 shortstop in any negotiations because he’s only been a Top 3 shortstop over a small time.

    If a reasonable amount could be reached, say, 3yrs/21million, I think you do it and plug Peraza into 2nd and keep Suarez at 3rd.

    If Cozart thinks he’s worth $10M+ per year, given his age and injury/performance history, I say you attempt a trade.

    Also, it seems like I’m alone in the thought that trading Cozart won’t be a slam dunk. The Reds may not be able to move him…

    First, you need a contending team that has an opening for a starting shortstop. Second, that contending team has to buy into the fact that Cozart is a new player at age 30 after a knee surgery. I don’t think both of those requirements are easily met. Possible, yes, but I still say the likelihood of Cozart bringing anything back other than a single B-prospect (if a trade happens) is less than 50%.

    • I would do that deal 3/21

      Zack is playing defense like he always has, at an exceptional level. I do not see a player in the system to replace that.

      Even if one appears, Zack and 34 playing utility and providing pop of the bench is not a horrible thing.

      Suarez at ShortStop is a horrible thing. I do not get this: “struggling at third doesn’t necessarily mean he would be a bad shortstop.” There are just so many things that a Shortstop needs to do and understand that I do not see how a bad third baseman could be a good shortstop.

      I see Felipe Lopez when he was playing SS, maybe not even at that level.

      Good SS’s are hard to find. Great ones even harder. Right now at this period in his career, Zack Cozart is a great shortstop.

      I am a huge Jay Bruce advocate, and Jay has a few 40 HR seasons in him, including hopefully this one. But SS is so critical to the team 3/21 is a no brainer

      • Regarding Suarez at SS, I’d like to remind you that he’s never played 3B professionally. He’s played SS and 2B. Scouts were mixed on his abilities at SS. Range and arm are the most important traits for a SS. Soft hands, and great first step are the most important traits of a 3B. I’ve seen good SS who were not so good at 3B. The Reds only really gave Suarez one year at SS. He looked really good at times and crappy at others. I personally think he was better at SS than he has been at 3B though.

        • LW, I have a lot of respect for your posts and enjoy reading them. I am not sure I can agree here however.

          I agree that Suarez was better at SS last year as you say than he is at 3rd now. But I am sorry, if you cannot field grounders at 3rd base, you are not a shortstop. I do not know where you put soft hands in rating a SS, but to me they have to have the best hands because everything else you do depends on you catching the ball. Arm, range and turning the double play, none of that matters if you cannot play the ball and have a great first step.

          I can see SS’s moving to third as they age and lose a step. In this scenario, and maybe we should do this because of the year we are having and not just since the Old Cossack suggested it, but move Phillips to 3rd and Suarez to 2nd

          Suarez to me looks like an outfielder.

          All the more reason to extend Cozart

          • Suarez may well end up in the OF. Just not sure if it were up to me, I’d be ready to give up on him at SS.

        • I don’t get the comparison, you put washed up SS;s at 3rd because it doesn’t take as much talent. I will be nice and say that Suarez at SS was bad (while I am thinking he was terrible). I was for finding him a position when he was a .290 hitter that logic dictated he was more probable a .260ish hitter. Then he was shifted to an unfamiliar position but one that takes less talent than short and some idiot convinced him he had to hit for power from the corner. We now have a batter who is clueless what that piece of leather is for and not hitting his weight.

          • The bat is what will keep him as an MLB starter. If he continues to “hit” like he is currently, then his defense isn’t going to be good enough for any extended time at any position. I fully agree with you there.

  6. As he will likely start to decline by 2018, I think it’s in the Reds best interest to trade him for a good return. Of course if the Reds don’t like the return, they hang onto him and hope that they can be competitive, or that they like the return better in the off-season or the 2017 trading deadline.

  7. I bet Cozart ends the year more at .276/.311/422. I would extend him at say 3 years and 20 million including the arbitration year. But if they use his stats right now it’s overpriced, for that it’s more like 4/40 million and we would regret that. It’s stupid to buy out arbitration years on small data samples, as they made that mistake with Mesoraco and it has cost multi millions. Reds have routinely eat the second years of two year deals in arbitration, to name a few see Larue, Arredondo, Lecure,

  8. I wouldn’t go more than 3 years with a Cozart extension, and that would take his last arb. elg. year a 2 free agent years. A 3-year deal around the $20M mark would seem fair to both sides. Absolutely no longer in years and not higher in $$. If Cozart wants more, then trade him in July.
    Suarez needs time at 2B and move BP to the bench, and then work a miracle and trade him.
    If you keep Cozart, then explore trading Peraza in a package and get a quality established player at a position of need, maybe 3B or C. Winker and Duvall handle LF with Duvall also getting a little time at 3B.
    A similar 3 year deal for Bruce could also make sense. One that takes his option year and 2 free agent years. That would potentially run each player through the 2019 season. It would also help solidify the lineup for the next 3 seasons, which will allow the front office to concentrate the re-build on their prized prospect possessions and sorting things out in the rotation and building a quality bullpen.

      • Maybe he could trade him for a nice MLT – mutton lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomatoes are ripe…

  9. Like so many things, it depends. In this case on the potential return and on the alternatives in the infield. BP seems to be in fast decline, leaving Peraza to play 2nd. SS is a premium defensive position. Cozart is probably too 3 or 4 in the league with his glove AND with his bat, so it would take a really good offer to let him go. If no such offer is forthcoming this summer, I’d look to extend him but not for more than 3 years, and 2 would be even better. If the Reds do lock him down I doubt they’ll seriously regret it and I’m sure they’ll have bigger concerns at other positions. If the goal is not buying low or selling high but just having good players then I for one am happy to see Cozart in a Reds uniform for three or four more years.

  10. Were I the Reds, I would wait until he is a) about to be arrested, b) reveals himself as a clubhouse cancer, c) expresses his hatred for Cincinnati, d) is shown to have used PEDs, or e) has earned his 10/5 no trade rights, and only then would I accept the best offer a team makes for him.

  11. Pitching help is on the way. Woohoo. Mat Latos has been DFA’d by the Chicago WhiteSox. (Sarcasm). That was $3M the WhiteSox ate.
    Even with a 6-2 record they cut ties with him. His other numbers were not good. A 4.50 ERA with a 5.50 FIP. Latos’ most damning numbers are the difference in his fastball and change-up. It used to be about a 10mph difference. This year it is a mere 4.7mph difference.
    Are the Reds bullpen woes so desperate enough that they would give Latos a look as a reliever for one inning outings?? He can drop the change-up as a reliever. Pass.

    • He poured gasoline all over that bridge and then threw a lit flare at it, setting it ablaze. Once the fire died down, he called in a snake and napalm airstrike to finish that bridge off. Just to make certain the bridge was destroyed, he had divers attach thermite to the ashes and set off those charges underwater.

  12. I think that the Reds are quite fortunate that Zack decided to have a career year in 2016 just when we had an opportunity to trade him. He is aging, has had a serious knee injury, and has by any predictive measurement almost no chance of repeating or continuing his current offensively tear. Trade him for youth, take what you can get and say thank you very much. It will be the best we can ever get for him.

  13. Cosart is building trade value every day and somebody will want him.It won’t be a popular decision but he needs to be traded.

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