What to Make of Marcell Ozuna's Terrible Start

When Marcell Ozuna signed, most of us (myself included) thought that the Cardinals had added an impact bat to the the lineup which could turn Fowler and Carp's good OBP skills into a lot of RBIs. Virtually none of that has panned out. Fowler and Carpenter are struggling, and Ozuna has been....well....terrible.

Through 119 plate appearences Ozuna has slashed a /243/.261/.330; good for a paultry wRC+ of 61. This isn't a product of poor luck, as his BABIP is a healthy .302. So is it time to be worried?

A closer look at Ozuna's peripherals reveals that he has virtually stopped drawing walks all together. His BB% of 2.5 is not in line with his career mark of 6.9%. So clearly he's pressing. The question to me is whether he's pressing becuase he's with a new team, or whether he's pressing because something is not right.

We know, via Derrick Goold that Ozuna began recieving treatment on his throwing shoulder around the time the games started counting for real. Goold later clarified that Ozuna, did not feel as though his ability to hit was affected by this injury.But if Ozuna isn't injured--what are we to make of his slow start? One could shrug their shoulders and say "small sample size' and probably be applauded for being wise. But is there something more serious going on?

Ozuna's batted ball profile is quite interesting. If you look at his Hard% he's actually hitting the ball harder than he hit it last year (47.7% hard hit in 2018 compared to 39.1 % hard hit in 2017). Additionally, he's not hitting the ball on the ground at an alarming rate or anything. He's hit 21.6% of pitches on the ground compared to 19.3% on the ground last year. So the groundballs are up, but given we are only 119 ABs in it would be silly to draw any conclusions. Similarly, his LD% and his FB% are not glaringly inconsistent with last year's performance. What is glaringly inconsistent is his HR/FB of 7.7, which is significantly below last year's 23.4 and nearly half of his career mark of 14.8.

Thus, Ozuna continues to hit the ball hard and in the air at roughly the same rates as last year--however his hits in the air have not been hard hits. What could explain this?

The most logical explanation, to me, why one's overall percentage of hard hit balls, and balls in the air would remain the same, but fewer of the fly balls in particular being hit hard would be luck. Due to his small sample size of 119 plate appearances, perhaps the pitches he has gotten which he has been able to hit hard just haven't also happened to be the type he was able to launch into the air. If this is the reason, we would expect to see some normalization over time/reversion tot he mean.

It's not hard to imagine that Ozuna's approach might be playing a part here. Perhaps he's eager to hit the ball hard and is not waiting for pitches he's able to launch. This would appear to be supported by his depressed walk rate--suggesting he's not working counts and waiting for his pitch. It's also supported by the fact he's swinging at 53 percent of pitches this year, as opposed to his career mark of 48.2.

The most damaging explanation would be some sort of mechanical problem--perhaps due to a lingering shoulder problem--that is draining Ozuna's power when he tries to launch the ball into the air. The lengthiest analysis of shoulder injuries and hitting that I've come across ultimately decided that the effect of shoulder injuries on hitting is still relatively unknown.

In any case, the question I'd like to raise is why hasn't Ozuna been able to hit the ball hard when he launches the ball into the air this year? Hopefully it's just luck/small sample size.