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How Marcell Ozuna got his groove back - A Hunt and Peck

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Since his return from the DL Marcell Ozuna has been mashing.

Pittsburgh Pirates v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

On December 14, 2017 the Cardinals traded with the Miami Marlins for outfielder Marcell Ozuna, giving up right-hander Sandy Alcantara, outfielder Magneuris Sierra, right-hander Zac Gallen and lefty Daniel Castano. The presence of Ozuna immediately bolstered the Cardinals outfield, defensively and at the plate. Many called him the Cardinals new best player before he even donned the Birds on the Bat.

But then the season started and Marcell struggled, both at the plate and in the field.

Ozuna made 521 plate appearances from the beginning of the season until he hit the Disabled List on August 22 with right shoulder impingement. During that time he hit for a slash line of .275/.319/.409 with 16 homers, striking out 17.3% of the time and walking 6%, all adding up to a 98 wRC+. Defensively, things did not look much better. Per Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com:

Four years after averaging 92.1 mph on the top 10 percent of his throws, Ozuna has seen that average drop to 77.7 mph this year. According to Statcast™ data, his arm strength ranks last among all outfielders with a minimum 75 throws this season.

It was not exactly what the Cardinals had hoped for.

With the emergence of young players such as Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader, plus the trade for Matt Adams, the Cardinals found an opportunity to give Ozuna the medical attention he needed. On August 22 Marcell Ozuna went on the Disabled List and received a cortisone shot in his bum shoulder. He returned to the lineup September 2. In the 74 plate appearances since, Ozuna is hitting with a slash line of .324/.365/.632, walking 5.4%,striking out 20.3% of the time, and smacking 6 home runs for a wRC+ of 166.

So what is the difference? Well for one thing, Ozuna is trading groundballs and infield flyballs for flyballs. For another, he is pulling the ball much more. Here are his batted ball stats before and after his DL trip (per Fangraphs):

data via Fangraphs
(note that difference is straight-up difference, NOT percentage change)

It is only a few weeks of data, so a lot can still change, but what leaves me hopeful is this: in 2017 Marcell Ozuna’s home run per flyball rate was 23.4%. During his struggles in 2018 it had dropped to 11.9%, but after the cortisone shot it is at 25%. We do not know what impact the shoulder injury had on him, but we do know that after treating it, balls are leaving the yard at rate closer to what Ozuna is used to.

Seems like something.

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