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Friday, May 3, 2013

St. Louis Cardinals: Grading Pete Kozma's performance through the first month of 2013

The loss of Rafael Furcal in 2012 put the St. Louis Cardinals in a tenuous position. He'd been a classic lead off hitter, especially in the first half of 2012, and a solid shortstop. The Cardinals had no one on the bench who was ready to step in at his level of performance, so they looked to the farm system and specifically Pete Kozma. At this point, it's fair to start grading Kozma's performance in 2013.

Kozma has stepped in and got the job done. He finished 2012 with an unsustainable .333 average. His 51 plate appearances in the postseason were far less stunning, statistically  He hit for a .214 average, but the only thing fans will really remember was his critical hit in game five of the NLDS against the Nationals. His hit late in that game bailed out Adam Wainwright, and allowed the Cardinals a chance to play in the NLCS.

Unfortunately, he may have set his own bar too high.

2013 has been a more typical year for Kozma. His .259 average and .309 on-base percentage are tolerable, if not stellar. Kozma isn't the type of hitter that sparks an offense, but then again, the Cards already have a bunch of guys who can do that. His offense, and occasional lack thereof, is not the main concern with Kozma. The concern most fans have is a perceived lack of defense skill.

Would you believe Pete's only got one error? In the same number of games in 2012, he had three. So in at least one stat, he's significantly improved. Would you also believe his range is better this year? From an RF/9 of 3.75 last year, he's up to 4.53 this year.

In case you're wondering, Furcal finished 2012 at 4.54 with 15 errors. Range factor is only going to take into account putouts, so there is still room to criticize him for not getting to some grounders. Kozma may not do acrobatics and get to everything in the field, but he does field the position at about the league average of 4.38.

He could be better, though, offensively and defensively.  For reference, Troy Tulowitzki's RF/9 is 5.69 and he bats a healthy .317.

For this reason, and due to his increased performance in 2013, I'll give Pete a B.

There's room for improvement, especially at the plate. His ability to get to grounders, especially dribblers, could use improvement, too. He's doing better than in the past, especially defensively, and he's still the best option the Cardinals have both in their farm system and a very thin trade market.

Wes Keene writes about the St. Louis Cardinals for StlSportsMinute.com and also runs his own website, Keene on MLB. You can also follow Wes on Twitter (@KeeneMLB).