What can the LA Angels do about Zack Cozart in 2019?

DENVER, CO - MAY 09: Zack Cozart #7 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim scores on a Mike Trout single in the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on May 9, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - MAY 09: Zack Cozart #7 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim scores on a Mike Trout single in the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on May 9, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

Last year the LA Angels signed free agent shortstop Zack Cozart after a breakout season with the Cincinatti Reds in which he hit .297 with an OPS of .933, all career highs by far. The problem with those numbers was the fact that Cozart was playing in his age 31 season after experiencing injury and performance struggles all throughout his career.

These factors didn’t shy away from Cozarts 2018 season with the LA Angels, which saw him put up career low numbers in another season shortened by injury. Zack Cozart is one of the biggest question marks coming into the 2019; will he stay injury free, can he replicate his 2017 performance at the age of 33, or will we see him relegated to splitting time with an up-and-coming rookie?

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Zack Cozart came to the Angels after a career year in 2017 which saw him hit .297 and smack 24 HR’s while taking 62 BB’s to 78 K’s. If there was ever a third baseman that seemed perfect for the Angels it was Zack Cozart; offensively minded with a solid glove to boot. He didn’t strike out much and got on base at a heavy clip (.385), both being tools the Angels required in their lineup. Cozart seemed like a perfect fit after his final Cincinatti Reds season, yet the numbers didn’t quite add up to what the Angels were expecting in 2018. After coming to the Angels and being moved to third Cozart experienced a disaster of a season, posting negative Defensive Runs Saved for the first time in his career while batting .219 before going down with a torn labrum after 224 at-bats.

This really isn’t a surprise given his 2017 was the only stellar season in what is a serviceable to disappointing career. Cozart’s career high batting average prior to 2017 (excluding his 2011 rookie season) was his .258 BA in 2015, a serviceable average complemented by a .459 slugging percentage. To be clear neither of these are bad numbers, but they don’t support the idea that Cozart could build off his fantastic 2017 and ride into a second wind for his career. In fact those are probably the most serviceable numbers he’s offered, for much of his career he’s gotten on base at a sub-.300 clip which really begs the question as to why Angels GM Billy Eppler threw 38 million dollars at him.

Before Cozart had his breakout in 2017 his 2016 season was a lot of the same serviceability. Cozart has had an awkward career up to date; his 2015 career was shortened due to injury yet he hit 9 HR’s in 124 at-bats compared to 2014’s 4 HR’s in 506 at-bats. Following his 9 HR season there was seemingly a big jump to 16 HR’s, which started people wondering if he was growing into form. However, looking through his career you can see he hit 15 HR’s in 2012 and 12 HR’s in 2013, which shows that Cozart was actually returning to an early form, likely the truer form of himself, rather than growing into something greater.

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It’s hard to think that Cozart will have any kind of return to his All-Star 2017 season, we’re talking about a guy who didn’t post an OPS outside of the .600’s until his age 29 season (.769). It’s not even that Cozart is some kind of late bloomer because his age 30 season was just about the same as his seasons at age 26 and 27. Even with Cozart playing a full 2018, if he continued at the same pace before his injury, he would have only logged about 10-12 HR’s. exactly in line with his career average.

There are seemingly too many questions surrounding Cozart going into 2019. Exactly how big of a fluke was his 2017 season? Will he avoid the injury bug in 2019? Can he bounce back from his poor 2018? Is there any way he’ll earn the 25+ million due to him in 2019 and 2020?

The fact of the matter is, based purely on numbers and previous performances, there is little offering confidence regarding him returning to 2017 form. His 2017 season was a fluke in many ways, from his sudden explosion of power to his ability to hit for average and even his durability. It would be unwise to expect Cozart to bounce back into reliable form, not even All-Star form but reliable form. Therefore it is in the Angels best interest to ready a platoon-mate for Cozart.

Naturally this would mean Taylor Ward would be in line to split time with Cozart. After Ward showed great promise in his 2018 MLB debut, in which he hit 6 HR’s in 135 at-bats, you would think Ward for an easy shoe-in for playing time. With that same logic you’d think Cozart is a shoe-in for splitting his play time to Ward. Even though Ward only hit .171 he was only getting his first Major League looks, a transitional period in which many prospects struggle in this same regard.

What offers confidence in Ward was his power translating from the Minors to the Majors, even through his batting average woes. You would have to think that Ward would qualify for increased playing time should he up his average and clobber homers at the same rate. If Ward can hit 6 HR’s while batting .171 just image what he could do hitting near .250 or higher.

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All in all it seems that Cozart is set up for another disappointing season, a season which can only be allayed by making preparations should he have a mediocre start to the season. With how much money Cozart is making the Angels are going to be inclined to play him, but at some point he’ll have to play up to his 12+ million dollar salary next season or else lose his job to someone who may very well hit home runs like they’re trying to make 12 million plus.

It’s going to be a long season for Cozart, we can only hope he doesn’t make his season longer than it needs to be with continued struggles.