Two weeks of baseball hardly gives us enough information to evaluate anything. Through two weeks, Coco Crisp and Dexter Fowler are two of the league’s best power hitters. Through two weeks, the Mets look like contenders.
At this point in the season, the average position player has had about 50 plate appearances and the average pitcher has thrown between 15 and 20 innings. It doesn’t make sense to write any player off just yet, but that is exactly what I am about to do.
After a posting a disappointing line in 2012, Cozart has struggled mightily in the early going. He can’t buy a hit, a walk, an extra base hit, or anything other than a ground out. The interesting thing about Cozart’s season thus far is that most of his peripherals haven’t changed much. He is making contact at a rate that is only slightly below what it was in 2012, and he is striking out just as often as he did last year. His plate discipline numbers look roughly the same. I wanted to write an article about Cozart before the season started, and it seems like my window for publishing something on him is getting smaller by the day—Dusty Baker is growing increasingly frustrated with his shortstop.
Cozart caught my attention because he is a dead-pull hitter. Actually, dead-pull might be an understatement. In 2012, roughly two out of every three balls Cozart hit were to left field. In 2013, we have seen more of the same (though we are looking at a small sample size). The power numbers don’t look so great, either. Cozart hit zero opposite field home runs in 2012, and two doubles.
Cozart’s inability to spread the ball across the field in his first full season as a major league ballplayer should have been a major concern for the Reds, as strong push/pull tendencies sometimes indicate that hitter might have a hole in his swing. It should be obvious that Cozart likes pitches on the inner half of the plate. The graph below confirms that most of his extra base hits have come off inside pitches.
Cozart’s inability to hit to right field is concerning, because it is tough to pull outside pitches. Cozart made most of his outs on outside pitches in 2012, giving us further reason to suspect that he can’t go the other way.
One thing that Cozart had going for him in 2012 was his pitch selection. Pitches on the outer half are tough to pull, and Cozart has yet to display any sort of opposite field approach. In 2012, he chose not to swing at pitches that he can’t pull, as the chart below confirms. Cozart’s plate discipline isn’t great, but this approach allowed him to play to his strengths. He avoids swinging at anything on the outer edge of the plate if he can, and he particularly doesn’t like anything down and away.
2013: Word gets around
If major league pitchers find out that a hitter has a hole, they’ll attack it. Cozart doesn’t just have a hole, though, as he struggles with pitches on the entire right-hand side of the plate. Pitchers have made adjustments in 2013, so we’d hope that Cozart has improved his opposite field swing as well. How exactly are pitchers approaching Cozart in 2013? Take a look below.
Pitchers are pounding the outside part of the plate in 2013, because they know that Cozart can’t hurt them here. It looks like a season’s worth of evidence has convinced pitching coaches that there is no reason to offer up a pitch that Cozart can pull. I’m sure Reds fans can confirm that Cozart’s at-bats look somewhat repetitive, to say the least.
Cozart is still attempting to take pitches on the outer half of the plate, and he has had to resort to this strategy too often this season. He can’t leave the bat on his shoulders all season, though. Cozart can thrive when he is selective in hitter-friendly counts, but he finds himself in trouble when he is behind.
Cozart is still pulling the ball, but the results aren’t the same as they were in 2012. He hasn’t made as much solid contact on pulled pitches, and is rolling over increasingly often. He ground ball percentage for pulled batted balls is absurdly high (currently 68.4 percent), and he makes an ideal infield shift candidate. His abysmal BABIP should obviously regress and give him some help, but not by much if teams begin to shift against him.
I know that it is still early, but I can imagine a scenario in which Cozart takes a trip to Triple-A Louisville to spend some time developing an opposite-field approach that will work at the major league level. True, the Reds need a starting shortstop now—but with such a glaring weakness in his offensive game, Cozart won’t be able to put up the numbers that he did last year. If Cozart works through this rough period in Cincinnati, he could learn a thing or two from teammate and opposite field hitting guru Joey Votto.