Going Deep: Mar-Sell Marcell Ozuna?

Why is Marcell Ozuna hitting like Pablo Ozuna? Has he gotten unlucky or is there something more sinister afoot?

(Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire)

You may feel like you’ve been setting your lineups, sending out unrequited trade offers, and scouring your waiver wire for eons already, but believe it or not, the season has barely started. There is still plenty of time to have countless nervous breakdowns over the performance of one of my five teams (whom I love all equally.) Freddie Freeman will be dodging cowardly attempts on his wrist for another four plus months (I’m watching you, Aaron Loup; I know where you live, Holby Milner). And shudder to think, Luis Castillo can still theoretically wreck your weekly ERA like, fifteen more times. But, we’ve gotta talk about something, right? Sample sizes are getting larger and we can start to rethink our opinions on certain players.

There are three types of players from a fantasy baseball writing perspective: guys who are written up for doing something good (Hooray!), guys who are written up for doing something bad (do not pass go, do not collect $200), and guys who don’t get written up at all. The guys who don’t get written up are usually the ones who are performing most in line with our expectations of them: bad players performing poorly, or studs doing their thang. You don’t feel compelled to dig in to WHY Max Scherzer is flaying opposing hitters alive, because it’s what he has been doing since the dawn of time. You don’t question him, you just accept him as a gift from heaven and move on to more pressing matters.

Sometimes, however, guys can fly under the radar by doing juuuuust enough to evade scrutiny. It’s often prudent to just ignore slow starts from your more established guys as more often than not it’s just statistical noise. This is a skill any good fantasy player needs to have: patience. But when is a slow start more than a slow start? Identifying a brand name stud headed for a less than stellar season and shipping him off at full value can distinguish the good players from the GREAT ones. That being said, I want to discuss Marcell Ozuna, as the title of this article suggests.

Ozuna is coming off a great season, and was generally a pretty sought after commodity in drafts this spring. He usually went anywhere between the 4th and 6th rounds, depending on your league size. And why not? He was a monster for the fish last year. He may have been somewhat overshadowed by teammate Giancarlo Stanton, but his .312/.376/.548 triple-slash, 37 homers, and 124 RBI would’ve made him the bona-fide alpha dog of many other major league teams. 2018, so far, has been rather pedestrian for the slugging outfielder. After getting shipped to the Cardinals in the off-season, I was expecting a repeat but I’ve been pretty disappointed in his April. Ozuna’s .250 batting average, 9 runs and 17 RBI certainly aren’t horrible, but they aren’t special either. On top of that, he’s only left the yard TWICE! If this pace holds (which I don’t think it will), he’d struggle to crack 20 bombs after challenging forty just one season ago. I’m bummed. But for whatever reason, I’ve barely seen any digital ink spilled on Ozuna so far. He rarely gets mentioned in the PitcherList Community Slack. Is it because other players have struggled more? Is he getting a pass off last year and his name reputation? Am I just lurking around in Pro-Ozuna chat rooms, local watering holes and discotechs? Possibly. But maybe there is something more sinister at play. Did we overrate Ozuna coming into the year? Is there a smoking gun behind his early malaise? Could he be hurt? The answer, to all of these questions, is a resounding possibly. Hmmmmm….

First off, let’s take a look at Ozuna’s 2017. It was superficially fantastic, but let’s pop the hood and see how Ozuna got there. He made a few nice improvements, including posting a 9.4% BB rate that represented his best mark as a pro. He also hit the ball fairly hard, with a 90.6 MPH average exit velocity that was about four ticks better than league average. Below is a fuller complement of his batted ball profile against league average:

BIP Exit Velo(MPH) Angle DB(%) GB(%) (LD%) (HD%) (FB%) PU(%)
Marcell Ozuna 471 90.6 10.1 26.3 20.2 17.4 13.2 7.0 15.9
2017 League 129,471 86.7 11.1 26.4 18.9 16.7 10.1 10.3 17.7

We already mentioned that Ozuna hits the ball hard, which is objectively good. Looking at his batted ball profile, I see some things that I like and some things that surprise me. He is pretty much right in line with league average in terms of hitting the ball on the ground, and actually beneath league average in terms of his pure fly-balls. He did his damage by being above league average on drives, both liners and high/hard drives. He was better than league average on his popups as well. This is a nice profile but ideally I’d want to see a slugger of his ilk getting just a bit more consistent loft on the ball. Let’s take a look at some more xStats showing Ozuna’s production vs. his EXPECTED production.

Marcell Ozuna Avg. BABIP BACON (mmm, yummy) Homers
2017 xFigure .285 .324 .371 33.9
2017 Figure (Actual) .312 .355 .406 39

We can see now that Ozuna may have gotten a tad bit lucky, outperforming his Avg., BABIP, and BACON by about 30 points apiece and bagging a few extra homers that he maybe didn’t deserve. Below is a table of Ozuna’s career HR/FB, and we can see that 2017 may have been a bit of an outlier:

 Marcell Ozuna  2013 2014  2015  2016   2017 2018 
 Plate Appearances  291 612 494  608 679  112
 HR/FB %  4.2 16.8  9.3  14.1  23.4 8.7

If his 2018 number for HR/FB were to hold, it’d be lower than any figure since his abbreviated 2013. Expect that to go up to at least the mid-teens, giving him some power improvement as the season goes on. But his 23.4% figure from 2017 is the other clear outlier. Ozuna hit the ball hard last year, but he’s ALWAYS hit the ball hard. That 23.4 looks a bit flukey and was likely the driving factor behind his career high 39 bombs. I think we have a really good hitter here in Ozuna, but 2017 looks like it could’ve been a career year as well. Not entirely a fluke, per se, but on the high end of the spectrum for Ozuna’s expected outcomes. If he’s really a .280 hitting 25/30 homer guy, that’s an excellent hitter but one that was likely a tad over-drafted this this Spring.

But, Ozuna HASN’T been a .280 hitting 25/30 homer guy. He’s been a punch-less, soggy blanket. So, has he gotten UN-lucky so far or has there been some sort of appreciable change? Has his batted ball profile changed? Let’s throw down another chart, because I know you’re dying for one:

 Marcell Ozuna  BIP Exit Velo   Angle DB (%)   GB (%) LD (%)   HD (%)  FB (%)  PU (%)
 2017  471 90.6  10.1 26.3 20.2  17.4  13.2  7.0  15.9
 2018  83  92.3  10.3  18.1  28.9  16.9  12.1 8.4  14.5

Nothing too alarming here. We do see a sharp increase in grounders, but much of that has come at the expense of his dribblers so that’s not the reason for the power outage. Fly balls are up slightly, liners and hard drivers are DOWN slightly, but nothing is so out of whack to suggest that we have found the catalyst for Ozuna’s lack of thump thus far. He’s even hitting the ball HARDER than he did last year.

Let’s keep digging. Upon further examination, there are two main issues I have found. For one, Ozuna has almost completely stopped walking. He has given back his plate discipline gains from last year and then some. Ozuna posted a 6.1% BB rate in 2015, bumped it up to 7.1% the following year, and then continued to make strides in posting a 9.4% in 2017. So far in ’18, that plate discipline has cratered. His 2.7% BB rate and 24.1% K rate would represent his worst and 2nd worst marks at the MLB level, respectively. Ozuna is falling behind in the count frequently (67% first pitch strike rate after 63.2 and 62.9 marks last two years) and whiffing more often (13.4% SwStrk would be worst mark since 2014.) His chase rate is up as well, up at 36.1% after posting marks around 33% the last two years. Perhaps Ozuna is pressing a little, trying to do to much and impress new teammates and fans in St. Louis. If this is just a plate discipline issue, he may be able to turn it around with just some time in the video room.

There’s another issue at hand as well: Ozuna’s performance against fastballs. He has been a veritable fastball hunter over the past several seasons, generating double-digit pVal scores against four-seamers in 3 of the past four seasons including a career high 17.0 in 2017. So far in ’18, that figure is -1.5. Ozuna has never hit beneath .300 against four-seamers in his MLB career through 2017, so his current .261 mark stands out – especially when compared to his .354 mark from a year ago. Pitchers are taking notice, serving him more fastballs than ever (37.5% of pitches seen are four-seamers, per Fangraphs.)

So, Ozuna’s plate discipline is faltering, he’s struggling against what used to be his bread and butter pitch and he’s getting more of them than ever before. This could be an issue that corrects itself with time, but I would be remiss if I didn’t raise the question: Could Ozuna be injured? Sometimes players are good enough to take the field even when they are far less than 100% – playing through injuries is just a part of the game. And I can’t help but remember this incident from the season’s first series:

[gfycat data_id=”ShorttermPastelIndianelephant”]

I mean, really! What the hell is Pham doing over there? Here were some of Pham’s comments from after the game:

“I remembered Marcell had told me earlier that he had Luis Castillo in his fantasy lineup. He’s my boy, so I was just rushing over to tell him to make sure to not start Castillo. Like ever. Literally. Against any team. Man, my grandma could smack Castillo around. I remember reading PitcherList before the season started and thinking what a joke it was how much they love Castillo. He garbage! For real, dude couldn’t strike out to sea. His stuff is flat! And what’s with that velocity dip? Homie needs to hang ’em up. Get a new hobby, Castillo! Stamp collecting can be fun. Hit me up I’ve got a guy who can get you started.”

Just kidding. He didn’t say that. He said something more along the lines of (and I’m paraphrasing), “With Marcell’s arm the way it is, I thought I had a better chance to make the throw. If he’s healthy, no way do I do that.”

Yeesh. That spooked me. We hadn’t heard much about an injury before then, and we haven’t heard much since, but if Ozuna is having shoulder troubles, that could help explain some of his early struggles. I asked our injury guru Jeff Davis to weigh in:

“It’s not inconceivable that if he’s dealing with some sort of inflammation injury, similar to a mild bursitis or tendinitis, that he’d be conscious of that during a swing, which could be causing him to start slow or just miss his target. For the most part, during a swing, the back arm works similar to the guiding hand when shooting a basketball – it’s not applying a lot of force, but the joint is still moving through a range of motion, and helping to guide the swing through the point of contact.

We just don’t have anything definitive to talk about with that shoulder – you’d think if it was an inflammation-based condition that the Cards would opt to rest him this early in the year.”

This is all speculative, since we’ve barely heard anything about Ozuna’s shoulder since that odd incident back on March 31st. But it’s definitely worth mentioning.

So, in summation, here are my thoughts. We have a good player coming off an AMAZING year in which he may have slightly over-performed. He’s struggling with a pitch that he normally clobbers. His numbers aren’t so awful as to go into a full blown panic, but he’s well beneath prior year’s pace in almost every discernible way, and some of last year’s concrete improvements in plate discipline have gone in completely the wrong direction. We have also heard grumblings of an injury that have manifested themselves on the field but have yet to really be mentioned in any sort of detail on paper. I think Ozuna should bounce back to some extent but if you could sell a potential trade partner on a FULL bounce-back to last year’s numbers and get draft day value, that’s something I’d strongly, strongly consider.

Stephen Honovich

Steve is a contributing writer for Pitcherlist and QBlist. A grizzled fantasy sports veteran, he is still waiting for Rich Harden's Cy Young to come in.

32 responses to “Going Deep: Mar-Sell Marcell Ozuna?”

  1. griff says:

    This article reinforces my exact thoughts with stats! Sold ozuna and reynaldo for tbau and paxton a few weeks ago, replaced ozuna with odubel

  2. Adam H says:

    Thanks Steve, interesting read! If I’m looking for a pitcher would it be ok to offer up Ozuna for a guy in the Lester, Happ, Taillon part of the list (upper 40s) or is that selling too short? Thanks!

    • Stephen Honovich says:

      Hi Adam,
      I think that’s selling too short. You should be able to get full or close to full draft day value for him at this point, selling him as just a slow starter rather than acknowledging something could be off. He could very well still have a great season, I’m just pointing out some signs showing that he MAY not. I’d be looking for an arm more like Paxton, Nola, Carlos Martinez Etc.

    • Stephen Honovich says:

      Be sure to point out his great Exit Velocity and low HR/FB that should positively regress, but mums the word on his fastball struggles!

  3. Chester says:

    Yeah Ozuna probably had a career year last year. I think 90 percent of baseball savvy people knew that before you said anything. Sell right now, though? You’d be giving him away at his career low. That’s a dumb move. And nobody is going to give you draft day value for him at this point. Still, one month into the season, you’re ready to dump him despite your introduction that states this season has a long long way to go with few things determined by such a small sample size. I think I’ll skip your advice and your column from now on. Rookie.

    • Stephen Honovich says:

      I advised to sell only if getting close to draft day value, I think there are still a fair amount of people out there who’d pay for about 90% of last year’s production, writing off the slow start as a fluke. Don’t give him away for a can of beans.
      The point is to realize that maybe he was a little overdrafted this year, and sell at close to that expectation while realizing that other problems may mean that he is headed for a career WORST year. Getting out ahead of the curve. You seem confident in him based on the SSS so far, and I’m sure others are as well. I’m saying there are NEW (fastball performance, strange injury) reasons for concern that others may not have picked up on yet.

    • J says:

      He said he’d strongly consider a trade if he’d get full value back if you would have read more carefully. Come up with something more constructive next time instead of throwing out an insult at the end of a useless post that clearly demonstrates you struggle with reading comprehension.

      @Stephen, nice piece man, don’t let that clown discourage you.

      • Stephen Honovich says:

        Thanks J! Always welcome criticism, keeps you sharp as a writer! Glad you enjoyed the article.

  4. Kevin says:

    Great article! What are your thoughts on trading Ozuna in exchange for dylan bundy or tanaka?

    • Stephen Honovich says:

      I like the idea but I think you should still get one of those pitchers + something else for Ozuna at this point. Remember, we are trying to proposition our trade partner as though this is just an unlucky slow start so if you aren’t getting close to draft day value, I’d hold for now. Hope it works for you!

  5. James says:

    I was thinking trading Ozuna and Samardzija for Nola and Acuna. probably a fair trade?

    • Stephen Honovich says:

      Perfect trade in this situation, selling on Ozuna but still getting probably fair value even if he performs how we thought he would from here on out. Hope it goes through for you!

  6. Swfcdan says:

    Thank you for finally someone taking a look at what’s going wrong with him! That injury news is a bit worrysome especially if it’s affecting his ability to hit heaters- what have his throws been like does that tell us anything?

    I actually traded Manaea for him after his no-no, so think I need to hold him and hope he improves at this point. Don’t see any of my leaguemates offering fair value at this point. Might be able to get Cespedes though?

    • Stephen Honovich says:

      Apparently he was throwing poorly at the beginning of the season, but I haven’t seen or heard anything more recently. It’s kind of strange that there has been so little info on this, usually you either wouldn’t hear ANYTHING about it or it’d be covered incessantly. All we really have are Pham’s comments and what we can see.

      I’d hold, that’s actually not a terrible deal for you though I do like Manaea. Cespedes brings his own set of headaches. I think for you given you’ve just acquired him you just have to hope these little red flags turn out to be nothing.

  7. FLIBWP says:

    What abou Ozuna for Godley and Margot? Feel like Godley was overrated due to the humidor. Chances of him finishing in the top 35 pitchers seems 50% from my viewpoint.

    • Stephen Honovich says:

      Not terrible, but probably a little bit on the lower side for what you should be getting back. Love Godley’s skills but they haven’t translated to dominance thus far this year as his control seems to have temporarily regressed. If you need pitching, though, I can see it.

      • FLIBWP says:

        Thanks for the quick reply and article. Could also receive L Castillo instead.

        I just can’t figure out Ozuna or Castillo or Godley.

        • Stephen Honovich says:

          You got it! Castillo has been maddening so far, I bought in heavily as did many other PL staffers. We are all concerned at his diminished velocity and poor early results possibly being indicative of an injury, but his last start was somewhat encouraging. If I had Castillo I’d be holding but I certainly wouldn’t be out trying to acquire him either. Think I like Godley more ROS.

  8. Cody S says:

    Hey Stephen! Late question, but your in-depth analysis is too good to pass. Great work by the way. I have the opportunity to move Cespedes and Berrios for Ozuna, Cano, and Soroka. I want to move Cespedes because he will inevitably end up on the DL in my opinion. Also, without a change up developed, I’m open to moving Berrios. Would you take the consistency of Cano and upside of Ozuna over Cespedes and Berrios? Roto Category league, wRC, OBP, Slug, QS included.

    • Stephen Honovich says:

      Interesting trade with lots of different moving pieces! And so much has changed, even since you posed the question! I think the long track record of Cano is the x Factor for me here, and tilts me towards the side of Ozuna/Cano/Soroka. Cespedes already had an injury scare but he’s in the lineup tonight, to be fair (5/7.) His injury concerns kind of square with Ozuna’s injury concerns and since they have similar upside, this part of the trade is a wash for me. We’re essentially then flipping Berrios for Cano and Soroka which is a nice deal given Cano’s history of production, Soroka’s grasp on a starting role getting firmer with Anibal Sanchez moving to the pen, and Berrios’ recent struggles. If the deal is still sitting out there for you, I think you take it.

  9. Max says:

    What about Gallo for Ozuna? By the way, nice article.

    • Stephen Honovich says:

      Thanks Max! I really am a big fan of Gallo, but I think league format matters here. Any sort of OBP format I might give the edge to Gallo because he looks likely to walk a lot while hitting 40 bombs. Standard 5×5 Ozuna looks a little safer given his lineup and position in it, but if you need homers I could see making the swap there, as well.

  10. Stu says:

    Nice article, I’m considering Ozuna for Archer, who’s also off to a slow start. They were drafted in the Someone dropped McCutcheon to the wire as a free replacement I picked up. Not quite as good, but I like the balance more than keeping Gausman or Juinio Guerra at pitcher overall. I’m also sitting on Betts, Haniger, Eaton, Myers, and DeShields and I think I need to diversify my value a bit. They were drafted 11 spots apart in a 12 team league, so Archer went around the same time. Thoughts?

    • Stephen Honovich says:

      Hmm, that’s an interesting one. Pretty similar in value RN, depends on your need. I’ll say do it given your outfield looks pretty strong. Be careful not to take draft position into consideration when evaluating players, that’s an easy way to get burnt. A Players future value to each team should be pretty much the only thing considered when trading – what you paid for a player is irrelevant at this point. Hope it works out for you!

  11. Eric says:

    Ozuna for Sean Manaea?

    • Stephen Honovich says:

      I think that’s fair. Manaea will regress some and has his own durability concerns but if you need pitching you can do it. Ozuna still doesn’t look right – I like that he’s been walking a bit more but still completely lacking thump. Maybe he turns it on and has a big second half but man has he been disappointing.

  12. Dustin says:

    I traded Ozuna/Bogaerts for Benintendi/ Carrasco today to a Cards fan. I felt pretty good about it. I have Trea Turner so could spare with Bogaerts. What are your thoughts?

    • Stephen Honovich says:

      Excellent trade, it’s very possible at end of year that you’ll look back and see that you got the best two players in the deal.

      I have seen a lot of digital ink referencing Ozuna’s hard hit rate/EV as an indicator that he is fine and due for a breakout, but as the season has gone on I’m more convinced than ever that he is hurt and you should divest ASAP. It is true his EV is great, but if we look at the split by BIP type, we can see all of his positive EV production is on his ground balls. His flies are all weak cans of corn. Those groundballs are also now approaching 30% of his balls in play. He’s having trouble getting the ball in the air and as long as that continues owners waiting for his power breakout are going to be disappointed.

  13. Bjorn says:

    Thoughts on Ozuna for Gio Gonzalez? I’m thinking of buying Ozuna and crossing my fingers,. Categories league, my dominance is intended to be with hitting and I’ve got 1-2 fluctuating hitter rotation spots (Zimmerman, Domingo Santana, waiting for Vlad Jr, Marwin G). Trying to decide whether Ozuna is worth the potential differential in batting stats to get rid of Gio who is looking pretty good. On draft day would have 110% done this trade which makes me so tempted.

  14. Samuel says:

    Thought’s on my dropping Ozuna and stashing Britton in my DL slot? My other relievers are Familia and Strickland, so I’m a bit concerned going ahead with those two. OF is fairly deep, with Schwarber, Gallo, Inciarte, Jose Martinez, A. Jones, and the man Mike Trout. Thanks in advance!

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