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Monday, July 22, 2013 / 11:09 AM

Nitpicking the Cardinals: The Problem With Pete Kozma

Nitpicking the Cardinals: The Problem With Pete Kozma

At this point, any criticisms of the Cardinals must come with a caveat. The birds boast the best winning percentage in baseball, so pointing out flaws can feel like needless nitpicking. Any critique has to begin with, "Yes, the Cardinals are totally awesome, but…"

This weekend, the Cardinals took two of three games from the Padres, yesterday's 3-2 win saved by a game-ending leaping catch at the wall by Allen Craig. On the season, the team has now scored 129 more runs than it has given up, the best figure in baseball. While the Reds and Pirates promise to put up a fight for the division crown, the Cards have to considered World Series favorites.

So yes, the Cardinals are totally awesome, but… Pete Kozma can't hit.

Coming into the season, the plan at shortstop was to pray that the oft-broken Rafael Furcal could play through elbow pain. Instead, he had Tommy John surgery, ending his season before it even started. Plan B was Kozma. The thought among fans, sportswriters, and presumably team officials was that, since the lineup is otherwise loaded with offensive talent, all Pete needed to do was play solid defense and hold his own at the plate.

He's pulled off half of that combination. His defense has been excellent. He's committed just four errors all year, good for a .990 fielding percentage. (If you're into advanced stats, he ranks well in things like range factor, too.) But at the plate, Kozma is a disaster. His batting average of .237 is bad. His on-base percentage of .281 is laughable (he's worked just 19 walks all season). And his slugging percentage of .295 is simply pathetic (he has just 15 extra-base hits). Add them together, and Kozma's OPS is .576. That's the third-worst figure in all of the Major Leagues, ahead of only Jeff Keppinger and B.J. Upton, both at .565. Objectively, Kozma is one of the worst hitters in baseball.

Which leaves us with this question: Does it matter? If the Cardinals are scoring runs—and they've scored 477, most in the National League—does it matter if their No. 8 hitter can't hit? From an analytical perspective, no, probably not. Pete seems like a nice guy. He's playing good defense. The team is winning. Kumbaya.

Then again, on a more emotional level, it's frustrating to watch him hack away helplessly. This is the franchise of Ozzie Smith, and only half of Kozma's game is worthy of the Wizard.

There's no need for anything drastic. A splashy trade for a shortstop seems unnecessary—the team is winning, so why rock the boat? There's no savior waiting in the minors, since of the Cardinals' many big-time prospects, none happen to be shortstops. Utilityman extraordinaire Daniel Descalso has been taking some of Kozma's playing time recently, which is fair.

So no, I'm not suggesting that Kozma's impotent bat is a problem of serious significance. I'm just putting words to frustration. That can be a valuable exercise, as we learned earlier this year with Mitchell Boggs.

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