A partial list of warning signs, regarding Zack Cozart:
· He has missed something like 170 games in the past three seasons
· His fielding value, as measured by Defensive Runs Saved, has fallen from excellent in 2014 (19 runs saved) to average in 2017 (2 runs saved)
· His 2017 hitting line was fueled by a significant spike in BABIP
· His HR/FB rate also jumped substantially in 2017
· Although Cozart was good all year, how we think about his 2017 season is heavily colored by how he started the season. His OPS on May 31 was 1.030. That’s really, really good. It happened and we don’t get to magically dismiss it. But the last four months of 2017 would indicate a maybe-a-standard-deviation-above-normal career year spike (871 OPS from June through September), not an “OMG MVP” spike.
I’m probably a pessimistic (realistic?) person by nature, but the intent of starting a review of Cozart this way is not meant to be a sad trombone note but more like a reminder to myself to not be swayed by recency bias. To be transparent, my first thought when thinking about Cozart’s impending free agency was “Of course the Reds should try to re-sign Cozart and/or put forth the qualifying offer”, assuming that the standard QO would put the Reds on the hook for about $18 million, which would maybe be full value for a 2 win player. Thinking about Cozart in 2017 (4.9 bWAR) makes this calculus a no-brainer, but assume Cozart was to replicate his 2016 season (2.0 bWAR, 92 OPS+) instead. Now you’ve maybe paid a fair price for his services but have learned nothing about how the infield should shake out in the eventual post-Cozart landscape.
No reasonable contract offers are risk-free and so it’s not like I’m pointing out anything ground-breaking in suggesting that the Reds are wise to consider the potential downsides of a Cozart extension. What I am saying is that while my tendency is to criticize the Reds’ inherent conservatism when it comes to attracting and retaining players, I can’t do it here. I can’t see any upside to paying Cozart on the basis of what he did in 2017, spectacular though it was.
One of the unfortunate things of coming to this conclusion is that it discounts how much fun it has been to cheer for Cozart, who appears to be nothing short of fully likeable. And for all the warning signs posted at the top of the page, Cozart is without question a fundamentally better hitter than he was when he broke through. His walk rate has gotten better, he hits more line drives, he hits the ball harder, etc. This progression is a success story, both for Reds management and for Cozart himself. I hope he gets the contract he’s looking for, I hope he plays for many more years, and I hope none of those seasons are with the Cardinals.
Zack Cozart has played in 743 games for the Reds, with just over 3,000 plate appearances. His cumulative batting line is .254/.305/.411 (92 OPS+) and he has 82 HR, 280 RBI, and 375 runs scored. His career-best 2017 season vaults Cozart from #156 to #108 on the all-time list and he climbs one spot on the list of franchise shortstops, to #8.
Top 15 Shortstops in Reds history