The biggest story involving Zack Cozart this year was most certainly related to his spot in the batting order. He actually opened the season batting seventh, but after his scorching start that included a .108 OBP over his first nine games (he actually hit second in his eighth game), Dusty Baker had seen enough of Cozart’s strong on base skills to move him permanently to the top of the order sandwiched between Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto. It then took until mid-June before Baker realized the error of his ways and Cozart began shuttling back and forth between the top and the bottom of the lineup. Finally by mid-July, Cozart had officially become a bottom of the order hitter and would only see the two hole, or any lineup slot higher than sixth, once the rest of the way.
We’re familiar with this narrative because we’ve written a lot about the silly criticism Joey Votto has received this year for his low RBI total. But, did you realize how useless Cozart was in fantasy leagues? He somehow earned a little more than a buck, ranking 16th among all shortstops in value, but that’s rather surprising given that he was barely above replacement level in any of the five categories.
Did you know that Cozart stole zero bases this year? I didn’t. He didn’t even attempt a steal! Even large and lumbering Adam Dunn stole a base and attempted two, and he posted the sixth lowest Spd score in baseball this season. Sure, Cozart only stole four bases last year in four attempts, but he also swiped 30 bases at a fantastic success rate as recently as 2010 at Double-A. It’s clear that he does have some speed and given his time in front of the super patient Votto, you wonder how he managed to avoid even attempting a steal.
Personally, I headed into the year thinking he had double digit steals upside. Now, future owners would just be happy with high single digits. Heck, even one steal would be an improvement! With Baker gone though and former pitching coach Bryan Price taking the helm, we’ll have to see what his running philosophy is. I think the speed is still there so that you may end up paying for only a couple, but receive 10-20.
Typically your middle infielder will either contribute with their speed or their power. Those who provide both are called top-five rounders. Unfortunately, Cozart failed to get the memo that he needed to produce in at least one of these fantasy categories. While his HR/FB rate was similar to his 2012 rookie campaign, his fly ball rate plummeted and it cost him a couple of dingers. Even more ominous though is that his average batted ball distance was just 260 feet, which ranked a measly 274th out of 300. Last year he finished at 272 feet, so this was a significant drop. Aside from what appeared to be a minor hip ailment that cost him a couple of games, it doesn’t seem like injury could be blamed.
So he doesn’t offer speed or power, and we see that his .254 batting average is not very helpful either. It’s not as harmful as it used to be in this depressed batting average era, but it certainly doesn’t generate positive value. You see, Cozart suffers from the same affliction that Andrelton Simmons does — too many pop-ups. This season he posted the 7th highest IFFB% in baseball, and he wasn’t much better last year, as he posted the 17th highest figure. While his .285 BABIP wasn’t as low as Simmons’ and doesn’t scream positive regression, it was a bit below his .302 xBABIP. The ground ball tilt helped offset all those pop-ups, but you wonder what kind of swing plane he has when it produces both grounders and infield fly balls. Just weird.
Heading into 2014, you have to assume that he’ll be locked into the bottom of the order given two straight seasons of sub-.290 OBP marks. I still see some stolen base potential here, but that’s about it. He’ll also be 29 next summer, so he’s not as young as you might have assumed. With limited upside, I see no reason to draft him outside of NL-Only leagues.
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