Love is too strong of a word.
I like The Los Angeles Angels’ acquisition of shortstop Zack Cozart. As I write this column, it’s the Halos’ most recent power move. Subsequent to winning the lottery with Shohei Ohtani and trading for second baseman Ian Kinsler, while rumors pointed to Mike Moustakas, Billy Eppler zagged towards a more cost-effective option at third base. Rarely, however, is a cost-effective option also the better option. If Cozart ends up as a more productive player than Moustakas in 2018, I won’t be stunned. (Hot take level? Medium).
Think of it like this. You go to Whole Foods with a $20 budget. Instead of buying two pints of $10 ice cream, you purchase four pints of $5 ice cream. Then, you find out the $10 ice cream is actually worse for you than the $5 ice cream. Cozart is the $5 ice cream. Moustakas is the $10 ice cream. (Side note – Haagen Dazs is the best ice cream).
Well, that metaphor and my praise only work if we’re talking real-life value.
With fantasy value, I’m most interested in how much of a bargain, if at all, Cozart’s 160-overall average draft position is. Justin Mason’s mocks over on Fangraphs spit out 14th-round value in a 12-team league. This jived with an industry roto mock I joined at CBS a week ago with my fellow Razzball Prospect Podcast host, Sir Ralph Lifshitz.
For a player coming off a 5-fWAR season, it seems like Cozart is buried on boards. When I realized the shortstop-turned-third-baseman is the only player with a 5-plus-fWAR season in 2017 currently being drafted outside of the top 100, I started some digging. Sure, some of Cozart’s value is derived from his defense, which serves minimal purpose in fantasy, but Cozart’s offense has by certain standards equaled Corey Seager’s.
Cozart finished 134th overall according to our Player Rater, netting him the 15th-best shortstop slot in roto leagues. Relatively uninspiring given .295/.387/.548 slash line that I’ve mistaken for Paul Goldschmidt’s numerous times.
Built into the 30-spot drop from Cozart’s 2017 roto finish and his current ADP are two things…
- He hasn’t been a specimen of health.
- He probably can’t do that again.
Cozart’s Health is a viable complaint. 53 games in 2015 after major knee surgery. 121 in 2016 on a knee Cozart admitted he wasn’t 100% healthy on for the vast majority of his season. Two wasted seasons, and then poof, he puts together a career-altering 2017.
Sure he’s 32, and past injury is considered by some an indicator of future injury, but what stands out is a simple line from Jim Day’s interview that I linked above (here too).
“I knew I would wear down eventually because I couldn’t have a full offseason of workouts.” – Cozart
Cozart was talking about the offseason between 2015 and 2016, which he seems to admit was a culprit for his struggles post-surgery. As with so many players who are hampered by injuries, a future season’s struggles don’t stem from the in-season grind, they stem from the prep work during the offseason that lead to the in-season struggle.
Eppler’s new third baseman battled a quad injury last year at times, only amassing 120 games, but I’m optimistic about his prospects for putting together north of that number in 2018. With a second consecutive offseason of, what I hope, are training-wheels-off workouts that aren’t focused on resting his knee, health shouldn’t play as large of a factor if he fails to return viable middle-infield value to your fantasy team.
The second component of Cozart’s 30-spot drop between 2017’s finish and 2018’s ADP: his actual production.
After finally tossing his knee brace to the side, Spring Training this past March saw Cozart adjust the placement of his hands. It’s not too hard to pick out in the gif below. Keep an eye on the motion of Cozart’s hands prior to the pitch. The frame on the right is from 2017, where you can see he eliminates almost all his pre-load motion above his head, resting his bat squarely on his shoulder. If you stop the GIF right at the height of Cozart’s leg kick, you’ll notice his bat is slightly more parallel than perpendicular to the ground, shortening the distance his barrel has to travel to get into the zone.
The result has been unbelievable. It’s not all due a mechanical adjustment this simple, but it’s a component – along with health – that allowed Cozart to piece together a productive season.
It’s also one reason why I don’t mind saying the production won’t tail off substantially.
If you’ve looked at early Steamer projections for Cozart, my claim deviates substantially from their’s. Here is a quick look at Steamer’s 2018 projection for Cozart compared to his 2017 and 2016 production.
Steamer is assuming reversion to an injury-riddled 2016, with little assumption of sustained improvement off Cozart’s mechanical tweak. Even though I tend to be more optimistic than Steamer in a variety of scenarios, this case feels like Steamer is doubting much of Cozart’s improvements. To revert back to minimal improvement over 2016 – which Steamer is effectively doing – you’d be tossing aside the conscious effort Cozart made to become a more selective hitter inside and outside of the zone. Cozart’s swinging-strike rate fell nearly two percent from 2016 to 2017, with his contact rate improving over two percent, and his outside-of-zone contact rate falling over four percent. It’s important to consider prior season for the sake of sample size, but Steamer feels like it’s weighting everything prior to 2017 slightly too much given stable trends that can emerge after one season. For that reason, along with believing in his adjustments and health, I see the following as a reasonable line for 2018.
140 games (please!), .275/.370/.480, 24 HR, 80 R, 70 RBI, 11% BB, 15.5% K
Ian Kinsler leading off may be due to seniority and other intangibles, but if you consider a variety of tangible metrics, Cozart’s case to hit in front of Trout is convincing. I hope, for the sake of Cozart’s fantasy value, The Scosciopath (Mike Scoscia) considers how much of an on-base threat Cozart will be at the top of the Angels’ lineup, over Kinsler. If not, my projection and general praise for Cozart will sour.
With all this said, it’s important to understand that Cozart’s torrid 2017 only resulted in 12th-round value in roto leagues. Even if 2018 is a carbon copy of 2017, the results won’t breed immense return on your investment. All this is to say, Cozart going around 160 overall is reasonable considering we don’t know the Angels’ lineup construction and want to factor in some regression from 2017 along with health concerns. If you feel confident in your mind reading of The Scosciopath, and the results are promising, it’s not crazy to nab the third baseman around 150 overall, but keep in mind the uncertainty we’re dealing with on a variety of fronts.
Verdict: a whole lot of words to say Cozart at 160 overall is the rare occurrence of proper industry valuation for his upside and faults.
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