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Marcell Ozuna’s Rollercoaster Season

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Is there any explanation for Ozuna’s topsy-turvy 2018?

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

When Giancarlo Stanton vetoed a potential trade to St. Louis with his no-trade clause, the Cardinals immediately pivoted to their Plan B: Stanton’s former teammate Marcell Ozuna. Needless to say, Ozuna has failed to meet the expectations of a player who fans and management alike hoped would help anchor the Cardinals lineup in 2018. Through August 11, his 92 wRC+ is tied for 95th among the 120 batters who have recorded 400 plate appearances on the year. Ozuna was projected to easily lead all Cardinals position players with 3.4 WAR this season. As of this writing, he stands at 1.2 fWAR with roughly six weeks remaining in the regular season.

What’s perhaps more interesting than Ozuna’s cumulative struggles this year are the varying peaks and valleys within the disappointing encore to his 2017 breakout. Here is his rolling wRC+ over any 15-game span this season.

FanGraphs

There appear to be four distinct slumps and surges displayed within this graph.

  • March 29 to May 19: 61 wRC+, tied for second worst among 74 players with at least 180 plate appearances
  • May 20 to June 26: 176 wRC+, ninth best among 194 players with at least 100 plate appearances
  • June 27 to July 26: 10 wRC+, dead last among 56 players with at least 100 plate appearances
  • July 27 to August 11: 144 wRC+, 39th best among 145 players with at least 50 plate appearances

To sift through the numbers behind Ozuna’s fluctuation as one of the best and worst hitters in all of baseball, I combined the data from his two hot and cold streaks to see if I could identify any trends. Let’s begin by examining some general Statcast and batted ball data.

Marcell Ozuna: Hot vs. Cold Streaks Overview

Metric Cold Streaks Hot Streaks Difference
Metric Cold Streaks Hot Streaks Difference
PA 311 167 -144
wRC+ 43 165 122
ISO 0.060 0.220 0.160
BB% 5.3% 6.7% 1.4%
K% 21.1% 11.9% -9.3%
wOBA 0.232 0.416 0.184
xwOBA 0.315 0.410 0.095

Surprisingly enough, Ozuna’s average exit velocity has been a tick lower during his hot streaks. That said, he has done a considerably better job keeping the ball off the ground amidst his success, with especially pronounced numbers on inside pitches. (Pitches on the inside portion of the plate are considered any in Gameday zones 1, 4, 7, 11, and 13 on Baseball Savant.)

Marcell Ozuna: Overall Batted Ball Data Overview

Metric Cold Streaks Hot Streaks Difference
Metric Cold Streaks Hot Streaks Difference
Avg. Exit Velocity 91.7 90.7 -1.0
Avg. Launch Angle 9.9 11.1 1.2
GB/FB Ratio 1.7 1.2 -0.5

Marcell Ozuna: Batted Ball Data on Inside Pitches

Metric Cold Streaks Hot Streaks Difference
Metric Cold Streaks Hot Streaks Difference
Avg. Launch Angle 12.3 22.3 10.0
Pull% 59.3% 37.2% -22.1%
GB% 54.2% 37.2% -17.0%

Ozuna has been less aggressive in trying to pull inside pitches during his hot streaks, as it appears he has pounded the ball on the ground more frequently when his pull rate is elevated. This would seem to imply that Ozuna gets “jammed” by opposing pitchers when they run the ball inside and he overcompensates in his attempts to drive it. His better offensive stretches also coincide with improved plate discipline on inside pitches.

Marcell Ozuna: Plate Discipline on Inside Pitches

Metric Cold Streaks Hot Streaks Difference
Metric Cold Streaks Hot Streaks Difference
Pitch% 30.2 28.0 -2.3
Z-Swing% 71.8% 75.3% 3.6%
O-Swing% 39.9% 29.8% -10.2%

Pitchers aren’t attacking Ozuna inside at a significantly higher clip when he is slumping, but his swing rate on pitches that catch the inside edge of the strike zone slightly increases while he has been much more selective on inside pitches outside of the zone during his hot streaks.

I should note that these numbers could be influenced in some way by the nagging shoulder ailment that I would imagine has been detrimental to Ozuna’s overall season statline. However, an overzealous approach on inside pitches could also be contributing to many of the groundouts that have Cardinals fans pulling their collective hair out.