Pump the Brakes on Dylan Cozens

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Photo Courtesy: Emily Paine / The Morning Call

by: Ryan Waldis

Dylan Cozens is one of the best players at any level of the minor leagues this year. Well, according to some media analysts and fans that don’t know any better, anyway. It’s understandable that people are being caught up in the Cozens hype. After a three homer, seven RBI night on August 3rd, his 2016 stat-line is eye-popping. His triple slash line entering Thursday, August 4th is .282/.365/.597. He’s OPS’ing just over .960. He has 30 HR’s, which is second across all levels of the minors, just one behind his teammate Rhys Hoskins. Cozens is tied with Hoskins for the minor league lead in RBI’s, though, with 96. He’s even managed to swipe 18 bags (second most on the Reading Fightin Phils, behind Roman Quinn’s 25) while only being caught once.  Cozens has also catapulted up the Phillies top prospects list–he’s settled in at seven after starting the season at 23.

All-in-all, it’s been a very successful season for the 22 year old outfielder that the Phillies selected in the second round of the 2012 draft. He’s been so successful that many Phillies fans are clamoring for the organization to call him up to the big leagues. He can’t be any worse than Jimmy Paredes, they say. He’d instantly provide the power that this team desperately needs, they say. He’d help the team make a playoff push, they say. Allow me to utter a couple of three word phrases, if I may be afforded the opportunity to: pump the brakes. Temper your expectations. As Aaron Rodgers would say, R-E-L-A-X. I want to see some of the Phils prospects make the jump just as much as you do, just so long as they’re ready. Cozens isn’t ready.

People point out Cozens’ power, and for good reason. Raw power has always been Cozens’ calling card, and while it took a while to show up, we’ve finally seen it this season. Forget the 30 HR’s for a second. Cozens currently has an ISO of .314. To put that into perspective, the league average ISO in the majors in 2014 was .135. Cozens is almost 200 percentage points higher than that. Before I go any further, explaining what ISO is and what it tells us may be useful.

Compared to other sabermetric statistics, ISO is actually pretty simple to understand. A batter’s ISO, or isolated power, can be defined as:

“a statistic which communicates a hitter’s extra bases per at bat. ISO is used generally as a measure of power, as doubles, triples, and home runs are usually hit harder and further than singles.”

Essentially, a batter’s ISO is somewhat similar to a batter’s slugging percentage, as it tells us how often they will hit for extra bases. There are three different formulas for ISO, and they’re all very simple to understand:

  • ISO= SLG-AVG
  • ISO= ((2B) + (2*3B) + (3*HR))/AB
  • ISO= Extra Bases/At-Bats

Alright, back to Cozens and his .314 ISO. FanGraphs estimates an average ISO to be around .140. If you have an ISO of around .170, that’s considered above-average. If your ISO is .200, that’s considered great. An ISO of .250 or over? Excellent. So, if Cozens has an ISO of .314, he must be light-years better than almost everyone else in regards to power, right? Well, not exactly.

It’s important to note that ISO is, “not park or league adjusted which means a higher ISO in a pitcher’s park is more impressive than the same ISO in a hitter’s haven.” It’s well known that FirstEnergy Stadium is to the Eastern League what Coors Field is to the majors. In 2014, Reading’s Park Factor in regards to home runs was 124. That was the highest figure of any AA stadium. While Cozens’ ISO is indeed impressive, take into account where he’s playing half of his games.

Now, some people will point out that Citizens Bank Park is just as much of a hitter’s haven as FirstEnergy is, and Cozens’ power would play just as well there as it does at Reading. There is some truth to that; while CBP isn’t as much of a hitter’s park as it used to be (it’s been trending more neutral recently), you can’t really call it a pitcher’s park, either. In fact, the dimensions of both parks are eerily similar. The dimensions at FE are 330 feet down both foul lines, 370 feet to each power alley, and 400 feet to dead center. The dimensions at CBP are 330′ down the right field foul line, 329′ down the left field line, 369′ to the right field power alley, 374′ to the left field power alley, and 401′ to dead center. Still, FirstEnergy is definitely more hitter-friendly than CBP. That doesn’t mean that Cozens’ .314 ISO isn’t impressive (spoiler alert: it is), but because he plays his home games at FirstEnergy Stadium, that ISO value loses some of its luster.

Speaking of the stadium Cozens plays at, take a look at the mind-boggling home/road splits for Dylan.

  • HOME: 198 AB, .298/.386/.778/.1.164, 24 HR, 67 RBI, 63 SO, 29 BB
  • ROAD: 199 AB, .266/.344/.417/.761, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 71 SO, 24 BB

No, that .778 slugging percentage at home isn’t a typo. Despite that insanely high SLG, Cozens currently sits at 24th in the minors. Now, admittedly, that is quite an impressive feat anyway. He’s ahead of guys like David Dahl, Alex Bregman, Wilson Contreras, Byron Buxton, Joey Gallo, A.J. Reed, and Andrew Benintendi. Or, rather, he’s ahead of some top-tier prospects. Obviously playing at a very, very hitter-friendly park will do that to a lot of your statistics, but it will be interesting to see if Cozens can keep that up when he moves up to The Show at some point.

Perhaps the most concerning issue regarding Cozens, though, is his inability to hit lefties. This isn’t a problem that just began this season; lefties have always killed Cozens outside of a 16 AB AA stint last year where he hit them to a tune of .438/.471./.563. Here are his L/R splits dating back to 2012:

2012 (ROK)

  • vs. RHP – 121 AB, .273/.343/.446/.790, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 31 SO, 13 BB
  • vs. LHP – 40 AB, .200/.333/.425/.758, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 13 SO, 8 BB

2013 (A-)

  • vs. RHP – 172 AB, .273/.351/.500/.851, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 40 SO, 21 BB
  • vs. LHP – 73 AB, .247/.325/.397/.723, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 24 SO, 7 BB

2014 (A)

  • vs. RHP – 364 AB, .245/.303/.437/.740, 14 HR, 44 RBI, 97 SO, 30 BB
  • vs. LHP – 145 AB, .255/.301/.359/.660, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 50 SO, 10 BB

2015 (ROK, A+, AA; I’m not including his Rookie League stats because he was only there for four games)

A+

  • vs. RHP – 236 AB, .309/.350/.441/.791, 5 HR, 35 RBI, 43 SO, 15 BB
  • vs. LHP – 129 AB, .233/.308/.357/.664, 0 HR, 11 RBI, 36 SO, 11 BB

AA

  • vs. RHP – 24 AB, .292/.333/.667/1.000, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 3 SO, 2 BB
  • vs. LHP – 16 AB, .438/.471/.563/1.033, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 4 SO, 1 BB

2016 (AA)

  • vs. RHP – 304 AB, .306/.389/.661/.1.050, 26 HR, 77 RBI, 91 SO, 42 BB
  • vs. LHP – 93 AB, .204/.286/.387/.673, 4 HR, 19 RBI, 43 SO, 11 BB

For just a small amount of time late last year, it seemed as though Cozens had finally figured things out against lefties. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, and in 2016 he’s struggling against southpaws just as much as before. To be a good major league hitter, you need to be able to hit both righties and lefties, not just one or the other. We’ve seen this story before with Domonic Brown and Ryan Howard: left-handed hitters who can mash righties but struggle mightily against lefties. We saw the opposite with Darin Ruf. In any case, if the Phillies project Cozens to be a platoon corner-OF option that can come off the bench late in games that a lefty starts, that’s fine. If they envision him as a potential starting corner OF’er, Cozens needs to prove that he can hit southpaws and hit them consistently, which is something he hasn’t done over the course of his career.

Fielding may also prove to be an issue for Cozens at the big league level. While his struggles wouldn’t be as evident at home–Citizens Bank Park, is, apparently, “one of the least spacious venues, its area of fair territory calculated by some sources as the least in the majors“–but at places like Coors, Citi, and Busch, Cozens could struggle. His range is already below-average, and his size suggests that he’ll only become more troubled in the field as time goes on. His glove could be okay if he manages to stick in the OF, though. His arm also helps his case; it’s not an 80 grade arm by any means, but Cozens’ arm-strength could probably be above-average. Maybe he can move to 1st, but that’s a different scenario for a different day.

To summarize: Cozens definitely has potential. That much is obvious. But potential will only get you so far as we’ve seen so many times before and while he’s raking in AA this year, that doesn’t mean the Phillies have to bring him up right now. Keeping him down in AA for the rest of 2016 wouldn’t be a bad thing. Start him at AAA in 2017, see how he responds, and go from there. There’s no need to rush the kid; his time will come soon enough.

 

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