This Labor Day weekend I was doing what I do pretty much every weekend during the season, watching baseball. I was listening to Dan McLaughlin and Ricky Horton call a Cardinals/Pirates game, which oftentimes is a chore. Now I realize the play-by-play guys are not there to get too analytical about what’s right and wrong with the Cardinals. I understand they are there to entertain and help add something to the game for people who just want to watch baseball. If you are reading this article, or any article online that you had to search for because you have a longing to learn more about baseball, you probably do not find the broadcasters of any team to be particularly deep. So I’m not picking on them. I understand their role. But regardless, they kept repeating something about a certain player that I found to be especially appalling. The same player who I cringe at when I hear any defense for.
I don’t get Kozma. More so, I don’t get what St Louis feels it owes him. I was one who wanted The Cardinals to go after Stephen Drew in the off-season, as Rafael Furcal was aging and becoming too injury prone. After Drew signed with The Red Sox, and a few months later Furcal was reported to miss the entire ’13 season, the general consensus seemed to be that The Cardinals would be okay with Kozma at shortstop.
The season starts and the talking point with McLaughlin and co. was that he was going to surprise everyone, he was going to be better than we expect and any production we get from him will be a benefit (whatever sense that makes). Kozma started off relatively hot, and his defenders felt justified. But soon after, reality caught up. His numbers started plummeting. But, if you squinted, they at least weren’t completely horrible. Then the talking point from McLaughlin and co. was that he was a number 8 hitter and his numbers were in line with other number 8 hitters, so what do you expect? Stop complaining. They basically made it clear that if anyone complained about him, they were picking on the poor guy.
But of course his numbers kept getting even worse and worse. Writers such as Bernie Miklasz of The Post-Dispatch (who has anyone noticed he is going through a full transformation into a sabermetrician this last year?) decided they were done defending him. The die-hard Cardinal fans decided that he was slumping too much to defend. Everyone was done with the guy. What he did late last year and in the post-season was fine and all, but he has squandered all goodwill he earned. There finally was a universal consensus:
Pete Kozma is absolutely terrible.
Except for McLaughlin and group who decided they were going to still defend the guy with a hail mary pass of a defense. They decided that:
“Pete Kozma was Yadier Molina from a few years ago.”
They claim he is a high defense, low offense player who will get better. They compare Molina’s poor 2006 season to this year for Kozma. The implication is that if The Cardinals stick with Kozma and continue to start him, he will became what we have now with Molina.
My jaw dropped when I heard this. And every time they repeated it, my jaw dropped even further. After the game, I went online to see if anyone picked up on it. Viva El Birdos jumped on it before I did. I was originally going to not write about it after I saw they covered it, but decided I still wanted to because I want to add to what they said. And it’s such an egregious statement, it needs to be covered even further.
There are so many things wrong with comparing Kozma to Molina. For instance:
Kozma is not Molina defensively, no one really is.
Molina is just incredible at catcher. He is the best defensive catcher in baseball today, and makes an argument for the best of all time. Kozma is a decent defensive shortstop. Compared to his hitting, it’s his strength. But compared to other players in the league, he’s slightly above average. To even compare the two is a joke. In 2006, Molina’s Fielding Runs Above Average (based on UZR) was 6.3. And that was especially weak for him, as in 2005 it was 9.0 and in 2008 it was 10.0. But even in a weak year for Molina, it still trounces Kozma. This year his FRAA is 2.2. Comparatively, the best shortstop in baseball defensively, Brendan Ryan, posted a 13.8 last year (he’s only played 86 games this year).
In all honesty, I kind of wish we still had Ryan. As he is probably a much better comparison to Molina than Kozma is.
Molina was good prior to 2006, this is probably the real Kozma
In the Viva article, comparing both player’s minor league stats, points out:
In the majors, this year, Pete Kozma is hitting .215/.272/.272 in a league that’s hitting .251/.315/.390. In 2012, he hit .232/.292/.355 in a league that hit .278/.345/.430. 2011 was undoubtedly worse than 2013: .214/.279/.289 in Memphis while the Pacific Coast League hit .286/.359/.448
Yadier Molina, as a 20-year-old in the AA Southern League, hit .275/.327/.332. That’s not a .700 OPS, either, but it did come in a league that hit .255/.329/.374, and that struck out 19 percent of the time while he struck out 11 percent of the time. The year before that, as a 19-year-old in full season ball, he hit .280/.331/.384 in a league that hit .251/.325/.363, and that was, in aggregated, 21-and-a-half.
At 21-and-a-half, Molina was called up to the majors and hit .267/.329/.356 in 51 games.
Their article stops at that, but I would even extend it to his first full year on the team. In 2005, Molina hit a pretty bad .252/.295/.358 with a WAR of 1.2. But in comparison to Kozma this year who is hitting .212/.268/.268, Molina looks like a slugger. His slugging pct is still almost 100 points higher than Kozma’s. Even in 2006, Molina’s slugging is .321, much higher than Kozma’s.
Even when Molina hit rock bottom offensively, he was better than what Kozma seems to be as a player.
Molina was an anomaly, you should not count on that.
What Molina has done is incredible. He has gone from being a defensive ace with no speed and no bat to a hitter battling for the batting title. It’s unbelievable and rarely happens. So the idea that you should count on it at all is silly. Because how many players have come up and weren’t very good, worked endlessly with their hitting coach, never improved and left MLB forever? A majority of replacement level players. Even the aforementioned Brendan Ryan was a project of former hitting coach McGwire that didn’t produce the results of Molina. To say that anyone can do what Molina has done is both a logical stretch and a minimization of what Yadi has done.
At this point, The Cards are stuck with Kozma on the team for the rest of the year. Maybe Ryan Jackson comes up with the September call ups and takes over at short. Maybe Descalso. Maybe in the off-season, The Cardinals get another player. Maybe with Jose Iglesias playing so well for The Red Sox, Stephen Drew will be available again. Or maybe not. But whatever happens, we cannot physically stand another season of Kozma.
He is not a major league shortstop. I wish he was, but he’s not. And he definitely is not Yadier Molina.