I know... sacrilege. Mentioning the Cardinals' rookie shortstop in the same breath as the Cardinals' Hall-of-Fame shortstop. I can hear the screams now....
But hear me out.
- Pete Kozma's current fielding percentage? .994.
- Ozzie Smith's best year for fielding percentage.... .987.
- Pete Kozma's current pace for errors for the season... 4.
- Ozzie Smith's fewest errors in a season... 8.
- Pete Kozma's current pace for double plays for the season... 112.
- Ozzie Smith's best year for double plays in a season... 111.
To be sure, Ozzie had better range. Or so we think. And the "range factor" numbers bear that out... he had a career range factor of 5.2, meaning he had 5.2 total chances per game, where Kozma only has 4.6 per game this year. So some might argue that Ozzie was getting to an extra ball every other game or so and turning it into an out.
Well, maybe. But remember... you can only field what the batter hits. Against the Cardinals pitching staff of the mid-1980s, a lot more balls were getting put in play. The 1985 Cards, for instance, with the likes of John Tudor and Joaquin Andujar as their aces, averaged only a little under 5 strikeouts per nine innings. The current staff is averaging over 8 strikeouts per nine innings. That's three fewer chances per game for the fielders to make plays. Does that artificially lower Kozma's supposed "range factor"? You bet it does. Right now Kozma's range factor is sixth in the majors among qualified shortstops. In a strikeout happy era of baseball, he's got plenty of "range."
Now, I'm not saying that Kozma is the second coming of Ozzie Smith. I'm just saying that, through the first month and a half of the season he is easily fielding well enough that his lack of hitting so far doesn't really matter. And I think Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak know that.
Would I like to see Troy Tulowitzki in the Birds on the Bat jersey? Sure. Would I trade Carlos Martinez and Oscar Tavarez for him and then pay him $20 million a year until he's 37? Not a chance.