2017 Reds / All-Star Game

A Patient Zack Cozart

At times in past seasons, Zack Cozart has been a player Reds fans loved to complain about because of his poor hitting. This season, Cozart has been one of the bright spots for the Reds, so much so that he has replaced the struggling Jose Peraza in the second position of the lineup.

In 24 games, Cozart is hitting .329/.423/.549 with four triples, 14 walks, 13 runs scored and an OPS of .971. He leads all NL shortstops with a 1.1 WAR and a 152 wRC+. He trails only Francisco Lindor in all of MLB. As of May 3, Cozart was 10th in the NL and 21st overall in MLB in WAR, and 9th in the NL in wRC+. He would be the top Reds player in both of these categories if not for the outstanding season teammate Eugenio Suarez is having.

So, how has Cozart improved his game to be at the top of the National League, at least in the early going? It starts with his BB%. Currently his BB% of 14.4 is the highest of his career, and he has doubled it from last season when it was 7.3%. Cozart is seeing 4.6 pitches per plate appearance, higher than any other player in the NL and behind only former teammate Todd Frazier(?!) in all of the majors. Simply put, Cozart is being more selective at the plate. This leads to him getting on base more and is the reason manager Bryan Price moved him up in the lineup. Zach Buchanan from the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote a piece this week about Cozart’s newfound patience at the plate and talked with Cozart about why he feels he’s walking more than in previous seasons. It all has to do with being more relaxed and not chasing pitches.

Cozart’s swing% [total swings divided by total pitches] has dropped significantly this season. Throughout his career, he has consistently swung at roughly 47% of pitches he’s seen. In 2017, his swing% is 37.8%. For comparison, the league average for swing% in 2017 is 45.9%. Cozart is almost 10 percent lower than that. His z-swing% [percentage of pitches swung at inside the zone] and o-swing% [percentage of pitches swung at outside the zone] have also decreased this season. The table below shows how much of a difference there is between now and the last two years.

Z-Swing % O-Swing % Swing %
2017 60.3% 21.2% 37.8%
2016 66.4% 28.9% 47.0%
2015 65.8% 31.4% 47.3%

When Cozart swings at fewer pitches, it means he is going to find the pitch he wants, leading to more contact. More contact means potentially more hits, and his BABIP is .419, 200 points higher than in 2016. Some of that is likely luck, but he’s getting hits because he’s making more contact. His contact% doesn’t reflect as much of an increase as his swing%, but it has increased by 3 percent from 2016.

Z-Contact % O-Contact % Contact %
2017 92.6% 73.3% 86.3%
2016 91.6% 65.1% 83.2%
2015 92.5% 73.8% 85.8%

It’s clear that Cozart has made an adjustment at the plate. He has seemingly taken the Joey Votto approach to hitting: don’t swing at pitches outside the zone and wait for the pitcher to throw a pitch he can hit, and it has paid off for him thus far. The 31-year-old is a free agent at the end of the 2017 season, making him a prime trade candidate at the deadline. If he continues to be patient and keeps hitting like he has been hitting, the Reds will likely try to trade him for one or two good prospects from a desperate contender in July.

But first, we the fans need to get him to his first All-Star Game, if for nothing else than to see if Joey Votto will really give him a donkey. Cozart was on track to make the All-Star game in 2015 until his knee injury sidelined him and started strong last season before hitting just .210 in June to fall out of All-Star consideration. If indeed Cozart is in his final months as a Red, it would be fitting to see him play one ASG in a Reds uniform. Just call me the leader of the #VoteCozart campaign.

 

**Author’s note: I’ve been an unashamed Zack Cozart fan for the last several years (even when he was playing horrible) if you’re wondering about my closing plea to get him into the ASG**

All statistics are courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and MLB.com.

12 thoughts on “A Patient Zack Cozart

  1. All star voting is available already (although it’s absurdly too early) I’ve already voted for Cozart also as well as Suarez, Votto, Duvall and Schebler – LOL Big development for Cozart!

  2. Let’s see – good glove, good bat, professional attitude and work ethic, good clubhouse presence and two healthy knees. I’m not sure the Reds could afford to extend him but I’d certainly be in favor if they did. If not, he should bring real value in return. Either way why wouldn’t you #VoteCozart? AND he gets a donkey from Votto? I’ll definitely max out my votes.

    • I agree about the extension. The Reds ought to at least consider discussing a short one with him, keeping in mind Cozart’s age. Nothing more than 2-3 years and only at the right price. So Zack may not be interested, since he’s positioning himself for a decent free agent deal – his last chance to make solid money.

      You also have to wonder if Jose Peraza’s alarming start to the season (small sample) is changing the dynamic in the front office in any way.

      • I’d assume it should change the FO dynamic. I think they (and me) were under the assumption he’s ready to be a somewhat productive starter right now. Looks like he may need more work in AAA to figure out how to hit decent pitches (ie-not first pitch breaking balls), because BABIP is (was?) his only offensive calling card. Without that, he’s a replacement level utility guy.

        • Yeah, he’s fast, but not a proven net-value base stealer yet. Defense is Ok, but essentially replacement level, as you say. No power. No on-base skills. The problems relying solely on a hit tool are slumps and luck.

  3. Great post Ashley. The insight that Zack’s improved production is related to his improved plate discipline is important. I hope his middle infield teammate takes note.

    I’m all-in for a campaign to get Zack to the All-Star Game. Will be interesting to see if the Reds join in on that or if they hold back because they think they’re going to trade Zack before the ASG.

    • That’s a good point about the Reds starting a campaign for Zack. I think I’ve only seen tweets for Adam Duvall and Joey Votto so far. It’s early so it could still happen, but I don’t think they’ve done anything yet.

  4. Good stuff. I would be lying if I said I have been a Cozart supporter all along, it was pretty easy to pick him out of those 2010-2013 lineups as the one who didnt perform offensively. That said, super happy for him and if he is traded I hope he gets a taste of some playoff success

  5. I’m a big Cozart fan. he’s doing a great job at ss & the Reds have no one to replace him. Fact is though that the money required to sign him for 3 years would be best spent in signing Luis Robert. Hopefully Williams gets equitable value in prospects for Zack. We’ll surely miss him when he’s gone.

  6. Cozy has gone from a hacker to an attacker at the plate.Taking walks which he never has prior to this year and of course playing good defense.Best scenario,outside of a short term 2-3 year deal is he continues his fine play and somebody desperately heeds a shortstop at the deadline

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