There’s been a lot of discussion over the past few days about Alexei Ramirez and Pete Kozma since a Chicago Tribune article indicated that the Cardinals have attempted to pry Ramirez away from the White Sox. Bernie Miklasz, Derrick Goold, and other writers have weighed in on their opinions. Most call Kozma the better defensive shortstop and Ramirez only slightly less worse than Kozma at the plate. And sure, I’ll admit that when you look at the numbers on the surface, Kozma does appear to be the better fielder.
Kozma has committed just 4 errors and an 11.0 UZR/150. Ramirez has 17 errors and an 8.5 UZR/150.
So yeah, when you look at the numbers, Kozma has better statistics than Ramirez. But what do those statistics really mean?
UZR stands for Ultimate Zone Rating. On Fangraphs, where we find that statistic, it is comprised of three pieces for an infielder: Double Play Runs Above Average, Range Runs Above Average, and Error Runs Above Average.
When we look at Ramirez we find that he has a 1.9 on double plays, 6.7 on range, and -2.6 on errors. Combined that equals a 6.0 UZR over his 872 innings at shortstop and that extrapolates to his UZR/150, which normalizes that number over 150 games since it is a cumulative stat, to 8.5.
Turn around and look at Kozma. We find he has a 0.2 on double plays, 2.0 on range, and a 4.2 on errors. Combined that equals a 6.4 UZR over his 750 innings at shortstop which brings his UZR/150 to 11.0.
What you see is that Kozma has accumulated a 6.4 UZR, 4.2 of which is based on the fact he has only been nailed with four errors by the official scorer.
So the question becomes, can Kozma, a career .949 fielding shortstop, maintain that .990 fielding percentage?
Probably not. And the fact the Cardinals have reportedly checked in on pretty much every potentially available shortstop from Troy Tulowitzki to Asdrubal Cabrera to now Alexei Ramirez would seem to indicate that they don’t think so either. So for all the talk that John Mozeliak does about still being bullish on Kozma, he appears to be actively searching for an alternative.
Last September Kozma posted in just 197 shortstop innings a higher double play number (0.4) and range number (2.4) than he has all of this season so far. The one component of UZR that wasn’t? Errors. He had a -0.4 error component last season. In fact he committed 3 errors in the month of September last year, and has committed just 4 in the first four months of this season. Considering his minor league career, I wholly believe that this season is the aberration.
When you look at the skill numbers, double plays and range, Ramirez ends up light years ahead of Kozma. Ramirez totals to an 8.6 while Kozma sits at a 2.2. When you remove the official scorer out of the equation, Ramirez becomes a much better shortstop than Kozma. So the overall UZR number is a bit deceiving because of that. While Kozma has been the better shortstop so far this season, the track records indicate that Ramirez can keep up his performance while Kozma won’t.
Ramirez and Kozma are two different types of shortstops. Kozma gets to fewer balls, makes fewer errors. Ramirez gets to more balls and will obviously make more errors because of it. As the saying goes, “It’s hard to make an error on a ball you can’t get to.” It was the same argument that came up when Derek Jeter won the 2010 AL Gold Glove over Ramirez. That year Jeter posted an overall -5.1 UZR/150 with a -11.4 in range and a 6.4 in errors (a career high in that number for the years covered) thanks to committing just 6 errors all season. Ramirez had 20 errors but he also got to 215 more balls over just 73 more innings.
If it was clear cut Kozma being the better shortstop, there would be no need for the Cardinals to even consider exploring other options. Kozma would be the guy. The fact that they are, tell you that they feel like there is a Kozma bubble and eventually it’s going to pop and we’re going to see the guy that’s been around the last six years in the minor leagues.
I’m not saying we need to go get Ramirez at all costs, though I would pursue the opportunity if it was there for the right price. I’m just saying that the idea that Kozma is a better shortstop than Ramirez is false. Though I will admit that Kozma has performed better so far this season. Eventually Kozma’s clock will strike midnight and his glove will once again turn into a pumpkin.
If we want an average shortstop, we have it in Kozma. But since when have Cardinals fans ever settled for average?