(BaseballStL) -- It’s easy to want to label Pete Kozma as “no good” or “unproductive” as his struggles at the plate are at a new low.
There are only a few borderline logical arguments to cast Kozma to the bench. For starters, he is currently hitless in his last 19 at-bats. His struggles at the plate aren’t happening only in July, but he batted a gross .209 in 91 at-bats in June.
Those stats make it easy to take jabs at a player who is spiraling downwards rather than climbing through the ranks of the league’s elites.
On a team that ranks first in batting average (.274) in the National League, Kozma looks like a misfit with a .234 batting average.
Is that worrisome? It can be -- only if you look at that stat alone.
Kozma couldn’t hit in the minor leagues which is proven by a .236 batting average in 2,429 plate appearances over 671 career games at the farm. So what makes the doubters think he would hit .300 at the major league level?
Prior to this season, Kozma played only 42 games over two separate stints in the majors. In those games, he recorded only 89 plate appearances. Factor those small major league stints into his career and he has a .251 batting average, which is 15 points higher than his minor league average.
Kozma isn’t a leadoff hitter. He isn’t a cleanup hitter. He isn’t even a sixth place hitter. And with the likes of Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran, he doesn’t have to be. That’s why he has found a home as the eighth man in the lineup.
He has started 66 games from the eighth slot in the order. He leads the league in at-bats (228), runs (25), hits (57) and is currently second in doubles (13) and runs batted in (23) while batting from that second-to-last spot. Of the 17 players who have more than 100 plate appearances while batting eighth, Kozma is sixth with a .250 batting average and a .301 on-base percentage.
It could be a lot worse, folks.
Still think Kozma belongs on the bench? Keep reading.
There has been a comparison of Kozma to Brendan Ryan, a slick fielding former shortstop of the Cardinals who couldn’t do squat at the plate. Ryan was eventually traded because the .223 batting average in 2010 after a .292 average in 2009 was not what was expected. Ryan batted .194 in 141 games last season and .199 through 70 games this year with the Seattle Mariners.
That’s an unfair comparison to make.
A better comparison would be to Ryan’s defense. Only Troy Tulowitzki, who has played 22 fewer games at shortstop this season, has a better fielding percentage than Kozma, who has a .989 percentage through 80 games played. He has also been a part of 58 double plays turned, which ranks third in the majors. His replacement, Daniel Descalso, has committed three errors for a .930 fielding percentage, 59 points lower than Kozma, in 11 games played at the position this season.
Has Kozma been great for the Cardinals? No, but he has been far from miserable. Every player goes through slumps like Kozma is currently battling through. Sometimes time, patience and a bigger picture will help ease the frustration for the time being. It has been a lot easier to give Kozma the time and patience needed when the team is winning and the offense is taking care of itself -- even though Ryan Jackson, who is batting .302 through 79 games at Triple-A Memphis, is waiting for his chance.
For now, Kozma will have to do.