Can Zack Cozart Keep This Up?

Zack Cozart made his MLB debut with the Reds in 2011, with an extremely short big league stint followed up by three uninspiring offensive seasons. In his three full seasons Cozart was mostly a defense-first shortstop, with his wRC+ of 83 in 2012. It bottomed out in 2014 when Cozart was the worst qualified hitter in baseball according to FanGraphs’ leaderboard.

But 2015 so far has been a different story. Cozart and his 108 RC+ are fourth best among all qualified shortstops ahead of guys like Ian Desmond, Wilmer Flores, and Troy Tulowitzki. So what, if anything, is different with 2015 Zack Cozart that could signal this performance could be sustainable.

The first thing that one notices when looking at his stats for 2015 is that Cozart is cutting down on his strikeouts.  Never one to strikeout excessively, his career high is 18.8% in 2012, Cozart has been lowering that number every season and that has continued this season with Cozart only striking-out 12.8% of the time. The plate discipline numbers do show some indications that this trend could continue. Cozart’s swing percentage numbers are within fractions of percentage points away from his career averages but his contact percentage numbers are significantly higher. The biggest jump is O-Contact or out of zone contact rate where Cozart has made contact on 75% of his swings a bug jump from his career average of 69%.  The positive note is that not only is Cozart making more contact he is making better contact.

Cozart has also seen a big jump in his ISO compared to previous seasons as his .185 is significantly higher than his previous full season high mark of .153.  Using the new batted ball data FanGraphs has added to their site, Cozart has been making harder contact this season with 26.4% of his balls in play being classified as “hard”. This is the highest number he has posted in that category since his brief stint in 2011. That fact combined with the fact that Cozart is hitting less balls on the ground- 41.3% in 2015 vs 45,5% career- and hitting more fly balls- 40.5% vs 36.1%. This data also supports the jump in power for Cozart, as hitting balls harder and in the air more often is a recipe for success when looking to increase power.

These changes in Zack Cozart thus far in 2015 are supported by data that suggests that they may hold and Cozart will continue his unprecedented success at the plate. What is interesting is that Cozart actually holds a BABIP of .262, which is actually slightly below his career average signaling that he could actually see and increase in is average as the season goes on. Cozart has been really good this year for a poor Reds team that is almost out of contention already and could be sellers come July. As long as Cozart keeps this level of success up he could be one of the many Reds who will likely be on the move.

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