2017 Reds

2017 in Review: Zack Cozart

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Going back to the start of the 2017 season, we can think of three questions that every Reds fan could have been wondering about Zack Cozart. Would he stay healthy? Would he continue to build upon his improvements in the previous injury-shortened seasons? And what would he name his new donkey?

Okay, that last one was probably not on the minds of anyone because the thought of Zack Cozart making the All-Star Game (and earning his very own donkey) was a fun thought, but almost a pipe team in reality. However, despite not being entirely healthy, he did manage to improve his plate approach, post stunning offensive numbers, and grow into a true all-around threat for the Reds, accumulating 5.0 fWAR and earning his first All-Star selection.

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Dealing with quad injuries on both legs that resulted in two DL stints and cost him roughly a month of the season, Cozart ended up playing essentially the exact same amount as he did in 2016. The major difference is clearly what he was able to do with that playing time. Every single offensive stat except base running improved and for the most part they were massive jumps. While he saw some decline on defense, he still provided positive value. All in all, he doubled his WAR for the year, and when broken down to WAR per game played, Cozart ranked 10th in MLB, two spots ahead of Joey Votto.

Consider this also comes three years after slashing .221/.268/.300 in 2014, and the improvements Zack made truly are historic. His 85 point wRC+ improvement from 56 to 141 is 23 points greater than any other individual wRC+ improvement over that span of time (Wilson Ramos doubled from 62 in 2015 to 124 in 2016).

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Somewhat amazingly, Bryce Harper’s wRC+ decreased exactly 85 points from 197 in 2015 to 112 in 2016. So if you remember just how bad that year was for Bryce in comparison to his monster 2015 season, that is how good Cozart’s 2017 was relative to his historically bad 2014.

It is easy to see where the biggest change in Cozart’s game came from; it’s the same place as his donkey, Joey Votto. Many of the Reds players seemed to take notes from the former MVP this year and Cozart was no exception, as his plate discipline numbers all saw improvement.

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Said Cozart in a mid-season interview with C.Trent: “I feel like I don’t give away at-bats anymore. I think that comes from hearing Joey – everything counts”. He also said, “I’m in no rush to get the at-bat over with,” which a statement that certainly showed itself in the numbers. Zack increased his pitches seen per plate appearance from 3.71 in 2016 to 4.19 in 2017, easily the highest of his career and good for 16th in baseball. Cozart was also among the league leaders in terms of points dropped off his O-Swing% and Swing%, which in turn increased his BB% by 4.9 points (3rd in MLB, right behind Suarez) and helped boost his OBP by .077 points, good for 2nd in the majors.

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As mentioned above, one of the only downsides to 2017 for Zack was his mobility as he was undoubtedly affected by injuries. Defensively, he took a slight hit, and while he was still a top ten fielding shortstop according to Fangraphs, his value was much more driven by his offense, which is a complete 180 from the rest of Cozart’s career. Even in 2016, his WAR numbers were buoyed by defense when the offense started to slide later in the year. In 2017, his defense becomes almost a non-factor as the fatigue and injuries started to take their toll. However, a slight drop in defense is a price the Reds gladly accepted for a huge increase in overall production.

Did Cozart stay healthy this year? Not quite, but he managed to fight through the injuries that did come and took the field as often as he could. Did he build upon his previous improvements? Without a doubt, yes. There really isn’t enough you can say in that respect. And most importantly, of course, is the final question: what would he name his donkey?! Well, the Cozart family landed on Donald, a tribute to his son Cooper’s favorite cartoon (Donald Duck).

But the real story here is that Zack Cozart actually earned a starting spot on the National League All-Star team. You really could not have written a better story. After coming out hot to start the 2015 season but going down with the brutal knee injury, it was great to see Cozart not just rehab and get back to playing regularly, but also to make substantial gains in his production. It was really a great bright spot for the Reds this year.

No matter what happens with Cozart going forward, this was certainly a year to remember.

20 thoughts on “2017 in Review: Zack Cozart

  1. I have been in the sign / extend Cozart camp for some time, primarily because there is no one in the Reds system to fill his shortstop shoes well. Steve Mancuso and others have argued convincingly that the Reds will need to trade for a starting SS and CF for 2018. These two options both underscore the same conclusion: Cozart was huge for the Reds in 2017. I expect Winker and Senzel to be big boosts to the Reds offense, but there will likely be one step back as well – the loss of Cozart. A big tip of the Reds cap to Zack for 2017. I hope he’s healthy and productive (and well paid) wherever he takes the field next year.

  2. You said that his defense slipped slightly but was still top 10. You also said that that’s a price the Reds gladly paid and I second that statement. So, here’s to hoping that the Reds PAY to bring him back. I mean, come on, great offense and top 10 defense! Doesn’t get much better than that! Say what you want about young players getting a chance, so in light of that sentiment, I’d feel a lot better about Senzel at 2B than I would Peraza. And that’s assuming Gennett doesn’t come back (which I hope he does). What that infield of Saurez, Cozart, Gennett and (of course) Votto accomplished offensively last year would be hard to break up. I’d be very ticked (again) if they broke that up. I’m excited for Senzel’s future but maybe the reds could have him spend another full season in the minors learning second base and shortstop for 2019. My thinking behind that statement is that if the reds only keep one of either Cozart or Gennett beyond 2018, then Senzel could easily slide into whichever position is vacated in 2019. I was about to ask what I thought was a fun question to ask, right here, but as I got to thinking about the question as I was typing it I kinda figured out the answer that I think most would give. Plus, there would be several big assumptions that the question would have to encompass. The question was going to be about Cozart and Gennett. The 1st big assumption that would have to be made is the reds keep both players thru next year and only 1 of them from 2019 on. The second big assumption that would have to be made is that both players repeat their offensive performance next year. I was gonna ask which one of them would have the highest trade value in that scenario (again, assuming that the reds are committed to keeping only one of them from 2019 on and both of them all of next year to give Senzel time to learn both positions with another full year in the minors). Ignoring the possibility of Senzel spending another full year in the minors and the assumptions that the reds wanna keep both next year and only one from ’19 on…the question can basically be asked like this: which one of them currently has the higher trade value?

    • Gennett will be back unless the Reds trade him. He can’t become a free-agent yet.

  3. I hope Zack is able to sign a contract for big money somewhere else. it was really painful to watch him run the bases and field ground balls last year.

    I think you fill in the ss position the best you can over the next 2 years with peraza or possibly move suarez over there until 2020 when Hunter Greene becomes our franchise starting shortstop

  4. This winter the Reds will re-sign Zack Cozart to a 3 year / $39 – $40M deal. This is looking to be more of a certainty. Annual salaries in the neighborhood of $11M, $13M, and $15M will buy a lot of donkey food. I don’t think the Reds and DW want to lose Zack Cozart to free agency and will pay to keep him, unless some other team offers Cozart crazy money.
    The favorite at this time to be the 2018 Reds starting SS has to be Cozart. Way too much risk leaving it solely in the hands of Peraza.

  5. If you are rebuilding you can not afford to sign a 32 year old SS to a big contract. Zack had a great year. I was happy he was an All-Star and the donkey story was fun to follow. But I agree with Steve. You have the pieces to trade for a young SS & CF. With those pieces in place and hopefully better (& healthy) pitching, the Reds could make a giant leap forward next year. It will be interesting to see what Mr. Williams does this offseason.

  6. Hey Matt

    Great feature on Zack.

    Just read your profile. Looks like you are on top of Black Butte. I live in West Linn

    Been a Reds fan since Pete Rose was coming to Portland for the Pete Ward baseball clinics as a kid

    • Nice! I am living in Sellwood. That pic is from Detroit lake on top of stahlman point. Highly recommend. I made it down to Bend last week but didn’t get up to black butte. Heard great things though.

      • Very cool! I live in Vancouver, work in Portland. Just the other day, someone in Fred Meyer said, “Don’t see too many people in Reds caps around her.” (Which is infinitely better than when they think I’m a Bears fan.) Apparently, there are a few of us.

  7. Cozart’s defense slipped during the 2017 season, but Cozart played most of the season with two bad quads and he still produced positive defensive results. Folks, no one with one bad quad, not to mention two bad quads, is going to play good defense at any position, especially SS. Cozart’s defensive performance during 2017 was a positive result, not a negative result.

  8. Signing of zack goes to main point of how good will be reds pitching. If the powers that be think good in 2018/2019, then the reds need cozart or an out of organization solution at SS.
    Started listening to Waite Hoyte when Roy McMillan and Johhny Temple played up the middle. I’m afraid Jose P. and Scooter would be shakiest defense up the middle in the last 50+ years for reds. Jose screws up too many routine plays. Scooter is Scooter.
    So, if pitching OK, sign zack. If not, best served moving on.

  9. No need to sign him as we have Our future shortstop waiting on the wings in HUnter Greene. I can live with Peraza at short for. 1-2 more years until he arrives

    Keep scooter at 2nd for the next couple of years. Then move Peraza to second once Greene arrives.

  10. If the Reds really could make a trade for a CF like Yelich and get Cozart to sign for 2 or 3 years that would be an awesome lineup:

    Winker
    Cozart
    Votto
    Yelich
    Suarez
    Senzel
    Schebler
    Barnhart
    Pitcher

    Lots of OBP and 2B guys

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