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Should You Be Buying Into Zack Cozart?

No, you shouldn’t. Well, that was easy. I’ll be moving on to my “Why Haven’t You Bought Jeff Samardzija Yet?” article now.

OK, so it’s not quite that simple and I suppose you want some things like facts, charts, numbers, etc, etc.  You FanGraphs readers are all the same.

Zack Cozart has been a bit of a fantasy darling early this year. Writers have pointed out his 13%+ walk rate to begin the year. His improved .230+ ISO. His .340+ batting average (I hope this is still valid by the time we go live, because it probably won’t be). Because you’re FanGraphs readers, I also know you’ve already looked at his .400 BABIP and processed the fact that he’ll likely regress, but how far? To what level? Will he be 12-team mixed relevant? 10-team? I’d like to take a shot at answering those questions.

First of all, it’s not all bad news with Cozart. As Travis Sawchik would say, Cozart has joined the merry band of fly-ball revolutionaries, as evidenced by his increased fly-ball rate from 2013 to 2016, and he was on my list of possible value picks coming into auction season. His overall value in home-run leagues is capped by his HR/FB%, but I play in quite a few TB leagues so I wanted to keep an eye on him.

Zack Cozart FB% & HR/FB% By Year
Year FB% HR/FB%
2013 31.6% 8.1%
2014 37.7% 2.5%
2015* 42.2% 12.9%
2016 39.9% 10.5%
2017 40.7% 17.4%
* 53 games

I have a tool I like I built in Excel years ago to monitor BABIP-inflated statistics, and to regress the triple slash lines based on expected normalish-BABIP for ROS.

While Cozart is currently sporting a triple slash line of .348/.428/.585, his .394 BABIP says that he should have approximately 10-13 fewer hits than he’s accumulated this far. It’s ~10 hits if you assume a league-average BABIP and ~13 hits if you assume his career .281 BABIP. What this means for you is that Cozart’s talent level right now is only supporting a .251/.331/.528 triple slash, or .274/.354/.541 if you believe he’ll overachieve his career BABIP.

You may be thinking, okay, that’s great, sign me up, but there’s just one more outlier caveat on Cozart’s amazing start to this season. Did you spot it?  He has four triples already! Unless you’re an extremely speedy player, and Cozart is not, triples basically come down to batted-ball or fielding luck. Hit it in just the right spot, or have a fielder take a bad run at a ball, and voila, you’ve got a triple (when you’re not fast).

If we were forecasting Cozart’s triples for the rest of the season, based on his lifetime triples output, he might accumulate three more triples over the course of the final ~125 games, and we should probably have expected him to have only one or two thus far this season. If we correct for this we can adjust his SLG to somewhere between .485-.495, or another way to look at it is via his ISO which I’d forecast to be somewhere around .170-.185.

Overall, if we’re projecting Cozart out over the rest of the season, I think it would be safe to bank on something in the range of .260/.340/.490, which isn’t a bad player and allows for some of his HR/FB% luck to stick in his projection. For those of you playing in OBP leagues, you can monitor the walk rate and perhaps you’ll get some new-found value there this year. With the growth we’ve seen in Cozart’s fly-ball rate, along with his corresponding doubles and home-run output over the past three years, he should safely set career highs in SLG and WAR.