A lot is being said about the Cardinals defense in that they make the routine plays and make up for a lack of range by good positioning on defense. That’s fine, but it’s selling Pete Kozma a bit short. When talking about the Cardinals on defense, the general consensus is that only Yadier Molina is a plus defender. Molina is in another world at his position defensively, and we all know it by watching him routinely. What the stats are saying here at the halfway point in the season is that the Cards have another very good defender, and that’s Kozma. Matt Carpenter is doing more than holding his own at 2B, but that’s a subject for another day.
Last week, I thought the things I said about Jon Jay were spot on. The stats and the eye test both tell us that Jay is a below average CF’er. In 2013, he’s been especially awful, both with the bat and the glove. Jay is at the bottom of every list, and watching him day in and day out only confirms what the stats say. Having a good defensive club up the middle (C, SS, 2B, CF) is going to win teams a lot of games if they have the good pitching to go with it. The Cardinals have most of that covered, but because of Kozma’s recent struggles with the bat, fans are calling for the wrong player to be upgraded.
Here’s how Kozma ranks among NL shortstops in 2013 so far:
UZR: 5.7—3rd (Simmons is 1st at 9.9)
UZR/150: 11.9—3rd (Simmons is 1st at 19.4)
RngR: 2.4—4th (Simmons is 1st at 7.6)
Out Of Zone (OOZ): 45—2nd (Segura is first at 55)
Revised Zone Rating (RZR): .869—2nd (Tulowitzki is first at .888)
Most of the advanced defensive metrics put Kozma right there with Andrelton Simmons of the Braves and Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies. Kozma has about the same numbers across the board as Yunel Escobar of the Rays, and it’s a tossup between Escobar and Stephen Drew for the best defensive SS in the AL right now.
I know many fans are calling for Ryan Jackson because of Kozma’s struggles at the plate. I guess I’m in the minority, but I want to see the Cards ride out the rest of the year with Kozma and see how he responds and what his numbers look like at the end. Having a good glove up the middle isn’t something that’s easy to trade for and I hope the folks that wanted John Mozeliak to trade for Jed Lowrie or Asdrubal Cabrera know that they are among worst defensive SS’s in the game. Lowrie is dead last by the numbers.
If the Cards are going to make an upgrade, I would again suggest that the player to try and upgrade is Jay. You may not like Kozma’s bat, but Jay isn’t doing any better on offense and with his below average defense he’s the one player hurting the Cards more than any other right now.
The Cards must know something about Jackson that we don’t. If they really thought he could handle SS better than Kozma, he would have been here by now. As long as the Cards SP’s keep getting weak grounders, I want Kozma in there and I’ll take whatever he can give from the 8 hole. When he’s hitting .190, it may be time to try something….maybe. Until then, there’s no need to make a move. The Cardinals should view Kozma the same way the Giants do Brandon Crawford. Kozma’s numbers on offense right now are almost identical to what Crawford did for the Giants in 2012. The only difference is that Kozma is actually a better defender. The Giants aren’t making a change with the 26 year old Crawford who won them a championship behind their dominant pitching, and the Cards should stick with the 25 year old Kozma and play it the same way.