COMMENTARY | Back in January, I wrote about what Reds fans could expect from 1B Joey Votto and his healing knee. While Votto is an important piece of the puzzle, the Reds are still a team and have several young guys who need to continue their development.
In 2011, SS Zack Cozart was called up in July but lasted just 11 games after a freak injury that needed Tommy John reconstructive surgery. Unhindered by his injury, Cozart developed into a solid defender but didn't show a lot of consistency at the plate.
Cozart committed 14 errors in 138 games, and had a .975 fielding percentage last season. While 14 errors isn't a good number, it's not abnormal for a rookie. Cozart maintained a value of 7.7 fielding runs above average based on ultimate zone rating (which takes into account double plays turned, range, and errors). His range, glove, and arm seemed fine, but fewer errors would be nice.
Offensively, Cozart needs to mature and take a step forward. Cozart hit .246/.288/.399 last season, usually from the leadoff position (443 at-bats), and often looked like he was trying too hard.
Part of Cozart's problem was that he swung early in the count too often. He saw an average of 3.79 pitches per plate appearance, which was slightly below the league average (3.81). Though the comparison is unfair, Votto saw 4.29 pitches per plate appearance in 2012.
Patience at the plate is an important quality: it can help an individual's performance as well as the team's. Though Cozart hit over 25 percent of his home runs on the first pitch (4/15), his batting average was better when he waited.
On the first pitch, Cozart hit .254. On a 1-0 count, he hit .302, and on a 0-1 count, he hit .348. Seeing just one pitch gained him about 50-90 points in batting average. I don't expect that Cozart will start seeing 5-6 pitches every at-bat this season, but a couple more per game could help. By comparison, veteran 3B Scott Rolen hit terribly early on last year, but ended up relatively close to Cozart, hitting .245/.318/.398. One could argue that Rolen helped his team out a little more by seeing more pitches on average (4.09). Cozart also saw the fewest 2-0 (53) and 3-0 counts (15) among Reds regulars. Moving down in the order, most likely to 7th, will help Cozart wait for more pitches and favorable counts.
With patience and the ability to generate batter-friendly counts comes consistency. Last season, Cozart's month-to-month batting averages were not consistent: .271 in March/April, .208 in May, .274 in June, .213 in July, .267 in August, and .240 in September/October. His inconsistency has unfortunately remained, well, consistent over his career. In 2007 (A ball), he hit .239, .280 in 2008 (A), .262 in 2009 (AA), .255 in 2010 (AAA), .310 (AAA) and .324 (MLB) in 2011, and .246 in 2012 (MLB). Inconsistency in the minors, paired with one full year of inconsistent at-bats in the majors makes Cozart a tough candidate for an accurate projection of statistics. I think he'll hit .265/.310/.420.
Right now, Cozart is a middle-of-the-pack shortstop. In order to prove himself as a hitter, he'll need to show more plate discipline. He may not improve by leaps and bounds this season, but at age 27, he can't wait around much longer.
Andrew J. Roth studied journalism at Lehigh University and received his Master's from the University of Illinois. He has been following the Reds and Major League Baseball since he met Barry Larkin in 1993. For Reds and other sports tweets, follow him on Twitter @AndrewJohnRoth.
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