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 %|
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 %|
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.