Cincinnati Reds: Breaking Down Zack Cozart's Early Season Struggles

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Cincinnati Reds: Breaking Down Zack Cozart's Early Season Struggles
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Zack Cozart was once billed as the Cincinnati Reds' shortstop of the future. In 2010, MLB.com's Lisa Winston had Cozart billed as the team's third best prospect.

Cozart was impressive throughout his time in the minors and averaged 16 home runs, 72 RBI, 97 runs scored and 17 stolen bases per 162 games with a .270/.332/.421 slash line.

The 27-year-old prospect went on to make his major league debut in 2011 and slashed .324/.324/.486 over 37 at-bats with two HR, three RBI and six runs scored.

He went on to become the team's everyday starter in 2012, and, although his batting average and OBP—.246 and .288, respectively—were nothing to write home about, he showed decent power with 15 home runs, 33 doubles and four triples en route to a .399 slugging percentage. 

Even with his 15 home runs and 33 doubles, the 2012 season was a relative struggle. Among qualifying NL shortstops, Cozart ranked last in average, OBP, stolen bases, XBH, RC/27, K/BB and BB/PA (per ESPN.com).

Statistically speaking, Cozart was one of the NL's worst everyday shortstops in 2012, and in 2013, he has done little to right the rapidly sinking ship.

Through 29 games played, Cozart has 116 at-bats with a .198/.238/.328 triple-slash, four HR, three doubles, 15 RBI and 14 runs scored. 

More disconcerting than the fact that Cozart has seen harsh drop-offs in all three parts of his triple-slash is the fact that his walk rate is alarmingly low. He owns just a 5.4 percent walk rate this season and a career walk rate of 5.0 percent.

Cozart has made great strides with his strikeout rate—down to 12.4 percent from 18.8 percent in 2012—but if his walk rate remains this low, his struggles will likely continue.

Although this conundrum between his walk and strikeout rates is a big source of his problems, Cozart has also been a bit unlucky.

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Cozart is putting the ball in play on 77 percent of his plate appearances, and while his line drive percentage has dipped slightly—12 percent down from 18 percent—he's still putting the ball in play and giving himself a chance to reach base.

This year, Cozart has been a bit unlucky as his BAbip sits at just .198. We can expect that value to go up as the season goes on and as it does, so will his batting average.

There is, however, a slight issue in the amount of quality contact he makes at the plate. That issue comes in the form of his GB/FB rate and his IF/FB percentage.

Cozart is hitting 1.24 ground balls per fly ball, and it is easy to see where that can become a problem. It's much easier to put the ball where defenders are not if you hit it on a line. Finding holes in the infield can be tough, and Cozart's GB/FB rate and batting average are evidence of that.

His IF/FB percentage is also an area of concern.

Cozart may be hitting more ground balls than fly balls, but when he has hit a fly ball, 24 percent of the time it's been in the infield. The league average for IF/FB percentage over the course of Cozart's career is 14 percent. 

It's important to note that the IF/FB rate does include line drives hit at infielders, but if you have seen enough games this year, then you know that the vast majority of those infield fly balls are pop-ups.

What does this all mean though? Well, in part, Cozart is just unlucky. His .198 BAbip is far below his .270 career average and when that rises, so will his average.

The numbers also show, however, that Cozart isn't making the same level of high-quality contact he has become accustomed to, and that has been his biggest problem this year.

 

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

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