Eugenio Suarez has done an admirable job filling in at shortstop for the injured Zack Cozart over the last three months. Cozart tore several ligaments and tendons in his knee in a June game against the Phillies in an attempt to beat out a play at first base. Since making his season debut, Suarez has hit .284/.321/.458 with 11 home runs and 44 RBI.
Cozart will resume his role as the Reds’ starting shortstop with full health in 2016. Manager Bryan Price feels that Suarez is a starting-caliber player, but the team would need to use Suarez at another position, perhaps left field. Suarez is willing to move to another position to fit the team’s needs, as MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reports.
Suarez said, “If they need me at another position, I would try to play there. For me, the important thing is to play in the big leagues.” He added, “I’m ready for anything. I want to play in the big leagues, any position.”
At what point does speed outweigh a lousy OBP?
Joe Morgan was fond of saying that speed was the No. 1 factor in searching for a leadoff hitter. Statheads used to believe that OBP was everything, that it made far more sense to put a slow guy with a big OBP in the leadoff spot than a fast guy who didn’t get on base.
Billy Hamilton pretty much sucks at getting on base. But he’s so ridiculously good when he does get on that he’s a viable leadoff hitter anyway.
Hamilton has hit leadoff for the Reds 36 times this year and scored 27 runs in those games. Brandon Phillips, though, has been leading off while healthy these last seven weeks. He’s scored 19 runs in 37 games leading off.
Of course, that’s not really a valid test of speed versus OBP. Oddly enough, both have .280 OBPs in their time batting leadoff. Both have also hit three homers as leadoff man, so that doesn’t really factor in. And while Phillips isn’t quite a burner these days, he’s actually gone 6-for-7 stealing bases from the leadoff spot.
The run totals, even if they’re a bit fluky, suggest that Hamilton should be leading off for the Reds. His .280 OBP is probably worth about the same there as a .330 mark from a merely decent runner. He wouldn’t continue scoring three runs every four games if returned to the spot, but then, who does? Mike Trout and Brian Dozier currently lead the majors in runs scored (largely because they have 27 and 20 homers, respectively) and they’re barely better than that (.775 runs scored per game).
And the Reds’ alternatives simply aren’t any good. Phillips has never been an on-base guy, and the other four guys to have opened a game in the leadoff spot for the Reds this year (Zack Cozart, Skip Schumaker, Ivan De Jesus Jr. and Kris Negron) have posted even worse OBPs. Plus, Joey Votto has thrived on those occasions in which he’s hit second behind Hamilton. Unless the Reds somehow come up with a viable option in one of their upcoming trades involving Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake or Jay Bruce, Hamilton is going to be their best option at the top the rest of the way.
Zack Cozart’s knee injury has unfortunately proven to be as bad as it looked at the time. He’ll miss the remainder of the season with torn ligaments and tendons suffered when his knee twisted as he stepped on first base Wednesday.
He’s scheduled to undergo surgery, which carries an expected recovery timetable of nine months and means his status for 2016 may be in jeopardy.
Cozart’s injury ends what had the potential to be a career-year for the 29-year-old, who had nine homers in 53 games after averaging 10 homers per 150 games prior to this season. In his absence the Reds figure to use Kristopher Negron and Eugenio Suarez at shortstop.
Cozart is making $2.35 million this season and is under the Reds’ team control for 2016 and 2017 via arbitration, but questions about his status for Opening Day and post-injury ability to remain a defense-first shortstop could make him a non-tender candidate this offseason.