When a player like Zack Cozart starts the season hot, being cautiously optimistic makes sense. However, it’s June and he’s still producing. In fact, Cozart’s second in the National League in batting average (.344), third in OPS (1.054) and fourth in slugging (.622) entering Week 10 for fantasy.
Not only do the Reds need to make a decision regarding Cozart’s future, but so do fantasy players. Many will suggest to sell high, but one season outliers do happen and if there’s an adjustment like Daniel Murphy made, a player’s outlook can change. Here’s five things to consider when evaluating Cozart going forward:
- Zack Cozart’s pacing towards 27 home run and 97 RBI
Upon first glance, these stats seem unfathomable. Entering this season, Cozart’s never hit more than 16 home runs in any of his five previous major league seasons. His hot month of May in which Cozart hit six home runs seems to fuel this statistical oddity. Looking at his home run to flyball percentage, it’s only up by four percent against last year.
According to ESPN’s home run tracker, Cozart’s nine home runs can be classified as five with plenty of distance, three just enough and one just enough or lucky. Sorting this out does not prove easy. But Cozart’s true average home run distance of 388.9 feet looks appealing. All players benefit from a lucky home run occasionally, and with five being legit, the power will slow down but still be a part of his game the rest of this season.
- Improved plate discipline
With the premise Cozart’s batted ball data does not show any discernible difference this year, delving deeper into his approach makes sense. For starters, Cozart’s almost doubled his walk percentage compared to last year. He’s walking 14.1 percent of the time while striking out 17.4 percent through his first 180 at-bats. Small sample size aside, he may be onto something. [the_ad id=”384″]
Cozart’s also slightly reduced his swinging strike percentage (1.6 percent) and increased his contact rate by 1.4 percent. These seem fairly minute, but he’s cut down his O-swing (swings and misses at pitches outside the strike zone) by almost five percent. This stands out when trying to find a distinguishable difference. Playing with Joey Votto may be paying off along with hitting in front of him.
- Regression’s inevitable
To satiate those who scream regression, Cozart’s batting average must come back to earth. His average (.344) has been fueled by a 105 point jump in his BABIP. Most things in baseball even out, and Cozart’s batting average should fall victim to this. To what level will be a part of determining how much he will slow down in the months ahead.
Keep in mind the batted ball data is staying in line with last year along with the improved plate discipline. He’s not really trying to hit more home runs, they’re just happening.
- Splits hero
When researching Cozart, the most surprising part lies in his splits to start the season. He’s not showing any signs of weakness, which makes it difficult to wrap one’s head around the results. Here’s his results through his first 213 plate appearances:
- Versus LHP: .441 average, 1.252 OPS, .324 ISO
- Versus RHP: .322 average, 1.009 OPS, .267 ISO
- Home: .340 average, .979 OPS, .227 ISO
- Away: .349 average, 1.141 OPS, .337 ISO
So, Cozart’s hit better against left-handed pitchers, with more power but still faring well against right-handers, as well. Another surprise, he’s hit better and with a higher ISO on the road than at his hitter-friendly home hitting environment.
- Buy high on Cozart?
Due to the volume of information available to most fantasy players, the term buy low or sell high sort of loses its luster. But, when handling Cozart for the remainder of 2017, what should we do? On Sunday, Cozart became the first shortstop since Jimmy Rollins in 2007 with a triple and two home runs in the same game. Not bad.
Cozart also became the first shortstop since Cal Ripken Jr. to homer twice and hit a triple with five RBI. Anytime a shortstop’s comparable to Ripken, he warrants attention. If one decides to add Cozart via the waiver wire (unlikely but he’s only 83 percent owned in ESPN leagues) or by trade, what can be expected?
Starting with ZiPS rest-of-the-season projection of 77 more games, 285 at-bats with 41 runs, nine home runs, 37 RBI and three steals with a .272/.333/.451 as a baseline makes sense. Cozart’s dealt with injuries in the past, which makes his projection a bit lower than one would expect. Still, adding this projection to his season so far, he would finish with 73 runs, 18 home runs, 74 RBI and five steals with a .299 average.
If Cozart can accrue at least 550 total at-bats with health, his numbers would near the 20 home run and 80 RBI range. Six shortstops achieved this last year, two of which (Manny Machado and Brad Miller) not pacing to be eligible at the position next year. It may come with some regression, but Cozart seems to be onto something this year. He may not carry it over to 2018, but his last four months will be much more telling.
For now, the improved plate discipline with strong splits point to either an outlier season for fantasy purposes or an improved Zack Cozart moving forward. Either way, it’s worth finding out.