Inside the Numbers of Zack Cozart’s Hot Start in 2015


Every year for every team, there’s always a player or two that surprises everyone with their performance. It’s only a month into the 2015 season, but the Cincinnati Reds have already had several surprising performances. I don’t think many people expected Anthony DeSclafani to come over from the Marlins and pitch as well as he has. On the flip side of that, many expected Jay Bruce to rebound this season and he has struggled mightily so far. But I think if you ask any Reds fan to pinpoint the one player who’s off to the most surprising start in 2015, the answer would unanimously be Zack Cozart.

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After a terrible 2014 season at the plate and mediocre numbers in his career before that, Cozart has been one of the best offensive players for the Reds this season. He currently trails only Brayan Pena for the team lead in batting average (.321), is first in doubles (7), second in fWAR (1.3), and third in OPS (.908) and runs scored (17). On top of that, he already has more home runs (5) than he had all of last season (4). So, what changed this year? How has Cozart become such a formidable force with the bat?

Obviously, Cozart has made a change in his approach that has made a huge difference. But what exactly was that change? From an April 19 article by the Cincinnati Enquirer’s C. Trent Rosecrans:

"“So as soon as the season ended, he went to the video to see what was successful for him in the past and what he was doing differently. What he noticed was a change in where his hands were and how he loaded his weight. He also looked at other hitters he admired, and saw something similar. He found that change pretty early in the offseason and worked on it through the winter and into spring.”"

Also in the article (which I would definitely recommend reading), Cozart said that advice from Hall of Famer and former Reds’ shortstop Barry Larkin helped him change his mindset at the plate.

Cozart’s new approach has resulted in him having a career-high line drive rate of 20.9 percent and a hard-contact percentage of 31.9 percent. Considering his career hard-contact rate is 24.4 percent, that’s a sizable jump.

Additionally, Cozart’ soft contact rate is at a career-low of 16.0 percent, meaning even the balls he’s not hitting hard aren’t exactly weak infield pop-ups either. Speaking of weak pop-ups, he has also never had an infield fly ball percentage of less than 13.8 percent. This year, Cozart has dropped that number to 9.1 percent.

While the numbers certainly show that Cozart is making harder contact with pitches this season, they also show that he’s also making contact more often, as his swing-and-miss percentage is at a career-low of 5.0 percent against a 7.1 percentage for his career.

Cozart’s numbers will probably come down a bit (his .341 batting average on balls in play is well above his .280 career mark), but the fact that he’s making better, harder contact more frequently means we shouldn’t see a return to his numbers from a year ago either. The offseason adjustments at the plate have him hitting the ball better than he ever has and paired with his elite defensive skills, it’s made him one of the best shortstops in baseball in the in the early part of this season.

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