Can Zack Cozart Continue the Excellence At Shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds?


Sep 27, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds shortstop Zack Cozart (2) throws to first base during the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

As a baseball historian I love research. I can spend hours at Baseball-Reference, The Baseball Cube or Fangraphs, hyperlinking my way throughout history. It is simply fascinating to a fan who loves the game.

I knew the Reds were solid at shortstop for a long time but wanted to see how many shortstops they had over the last half of the 20th Century. By that I mean consistent starters, not subs or reserves. I found that they were very blessed in that area.

From 1952 until 2004 the Cincinnati Reds have essentially had four shortstops, all All-Stars and all Gold Glove winners. There are no serious gaps of time in that period where they were without a star-caliber shortstop.

You could even go further back into the 1940′s and include Eddie Miller in that mix, although he played with the Reds only from 1943 until 1947, being on the All-Star squad four of those five years.

Beginning in 1952 Roy McMillan stepped into the lineup as a starter and stayed there until he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves at the end of the 1960 season for pitchers Joey Jay and southpaw Juan Pizarro. McMillan enjoyed a decade of success with the Reds in the fifties. He was named to two All-Star teams and won three Gold Gloves. In 1956 he came in sixth place in voting for the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award, hitting .263/.366/.344. He actually was higher in the voting than teammate Frank Robinson.

After splitting time at shortstop in 1960-61 Leo Cardenas became a fixture in the Reds lineup until the end of the 1968 season when he was traded to the Minnesota Twins for pitcher Jim Merritt. He managed to be on four All-Star teams and won a Gold Glove for the Reds during that time. Nicknamed “Chico” because of his size (5’11″, 150 lbs), he supplied some power to the lineup belting 20 HR and knocking in 81 in 1966. That was the first season the Reds had to endure without Hall of Famer Frank Robinson who won the Triple Crown with the Baltimore Orioles, after being traded basically for Milt Pappas.

Woody Woodward and Darrel Cheney split the job for the 1969 season and in 1970 we saw the emergence of a 19-year career by Dave Concepcion. He manned the post from ’70 until he retired after the 1988 season. During his tenure Concepcion was on nine All-Star teams, eight in a row, won five Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers. In 1981 he came in fourth in the MVP voting while batting .306/.358/.409. He was only outvoted by Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Andre Dawson and by teammate George Foster. Many Reds’ fans believe he is worthy of the Hall of Fame. I must respectfully disagree with them. He is relegated to the Hall of Very Good in my humble opinion.

Hall of Famer Barry Larkin was a rookie in 1986 but didn’t take the lion’s share of the job until 1987. He was the starter from then until he retired after the 2004 season.  He was a 12-time All-Star, won three Gold Gloves along with nine Silver Sluggers. In 1995 he was the Most Valuable Player in the NL batting .319/.394/.492. In 1996 he displayed serious power by leaving the yard 33 times. He is the newest member in the Hall of Fame being enshrined in 2012.

During those 52 years, the shortstops combined for 27 All-Star teams, 12 Gold Gloves and 11 Silver Sluggers.

From 2004 until 2011 the Reds tried several shortstops without much success: Felipe Lopez, Rich Aurilia, Royce Clayton, Alex Gonzalez, Jeff Keppinger, Jerry Hairston, Jr., and Paul Janish.

That brings us to last season when Zack Cozart took over the reins and completed his first full season on the job. He batted .246/.288/.399, hit 15 HR and was in serious consideration for the Gold Glove which was won by Phillies’ Jimmie Rollins.

Can he do it? Does he have what it takes to be the shortstop for years to come. Apparently the Reds’ management thinks so as they sent Didi Gregorius to Arizona this offseason. He has a tough job in front of him to even approach the success of his predecessors. I know he has the talent and the skills. Injuries or trades are the only things I can see that would not allow him to continue the Reds excellence at shortstop.

REDS  STARTING  SHORTSTOPS  FROM  1952-2004

Year G PA R H HR RBI SB BA OBP OPS+
RMcMillan 51-60 1348 4937 497 1074 42 395 30 .249 .326 75
LCardenas 60-68 1157 4436 415 1058 72 413 26 .261 .313 89
DConcepcion 70-88 2488 9641 993 2326 101 950 321 .267 .322 88
BLarkin 86-04 2180 9057 1329 2340 198 960 379 .295 .371 116

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