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2014 in Review: Zack Cozart

What do you want in a shortstop? A decent stick? Solid defense? I hope it's one or the other.

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

It's a bit unfair to be a Reds shortstop, what with Cardenas-Concepcion-Larkin holding the position down for more or less a third of the team's history. Zack Cozart hit .324/.324/.486 in a measly 11-game trial in 2011 before getting his arm bent the wrong way, and dreams were sparked.

For a couple of seasons, Zacky was a dependable bottom-of-the-order shortstop: solid defense, can turn on about 30 misplaced fastballs a year, competent baserunning, and 2 WAR. This is a decent thing, especially for league minimum!

What 2014 signifies says probably more about the tea-leaf reader than Cozart himself. Did he get figured out by the league? Is he getting old? And most importantly; is he worth keeping around as he gets older (he turns 30 next year) and more expensive (2014 was his last year before arbitration)?

So, the facts. .221/.268/.300 is bad even in 2014 suppressed run environment. A .600 OPS is the new Mendoza line, and Cozart had to fight the sun in order to see it. On the other hand, he had the best fielding and baserunning metrics of his young career. So what gives?

He's probably not getting old. While still giving due deference to the shakiness of defensive and baserunning metrics, Cozart grading out well on both of them seems to signify that he hasn't yet lost a step. This is very important for a shortstop, especially one on a defense-first team like the Reds. It's a bit odd, though, since the 6' Cozilla never really has the lithe starmaking plays that the perceived-great shortstops has, but rather seems to be simply well-positioned with soft hands and an accurate arm. "Simply" doesn't really cut it, though. He's one of the best defenders at short. He also had yet to be caught stealing in the Major Leagues, which is at least moderately remarkable.

But that bat. What to do about that bat? There's a few reasons to think that 2014 was a blip. His K% (14.5%) and BB% (4.6%) were at or around his usual middling standards. He hit about his usual amount of fly balls (too many), and that woeful SLG can be explained by an incredible 2.5% of his fly balls turning into homers. Also, that .255 BABIP is pretty far off from the .280 he usually sports. He's not a great hitter, but the bummer of a year, his busted wrist, and just tough luck may explain it. He at least had the decency to be at a moderately-respectable .589 OPS at the Break before going .202/.239/.293 the rest of the year.

On the other hand, Cozart's been getting more and more aggressive in his career and has had less and less to show for it. I think it's probably a bit irresponsible to expect him to suddenly retool his approach, but c'mon man. Swinging at every other pitch isn't gonna get him far, even if he's being pumped with fastballs. There's a chance pitchers are just trying to knock the bat out of his hands. There's a chance that it's working.

What does this mean for 2015? He'll still be cheap. And there's something to be said for a stalwart, new dad, calming presence in the middle of the diamond. Even if he can't hit a lick. Someone is going to have to press Cozart for playing time before he gives up his spot, his bat isn't going to do it for him.

Kris Negron probably has enough value as a utilityman that he's really going to have to be gangbusters in order to dethrone Cozart. Ramon Santiago (and, wow, Mrs. Santiago, to say nothing of adorable little Santiagos) are probably off to make a decent amount of money somewhere else next year. Rey Navarro is a switch-hitting 25-year-old who just put up a .282/.343/.435 over two levels next year and might be something. But he also is a free agent and may as well just not be. It's Zackuum's world, until it's not. Until then, more time in the batting cage as well as the nursery for the All-American.