A Trio of Rebound Candidates by Steven Shumansky September 17, 2015 Marcell Ozuna Marcell Ozuna’s breakout 2014 season offered the promise of another young slugging outfielder to pair with the prodigious bat of Giancarlo Stanton. Ozuna smacked 23 HRs in 612 PAs and the power that he had shown in the early Minors, where he eclipsed 20 HRs on 3 occasions, seemed to have returned. Best of all, as Mike Podhorzer pointed out in his 1/15/2015 article in RotoGraphs about 2014 Batted Ball Distance Surgers, Ozuna was prominently highlighted based upon a gain in batted ball distance of almost 34 feet from 255.51 feet in 2013 to 289.03 feet in 2014. Everything seemed be in place for another strong season for the 24 year old slugger. Except it didn’t happen. In fact, Ozuna was sent down to the Minors for 33 games. His 2015 season has produced a .249/.296/368 slash line with only 8 HRs in 423 PAs. His ISO dropped to an anemic .119 down from last seasons .186 mark. The first place to look to see if we could uncover the problem was his Batted Ball Distance numbers which seemed to fuel his HR gains in 2014. While he has not sustained all of his 34 feet gain from 2013, his 279.65 feet mark calculated by Baseballheatmaps is still very good. By way of comparison, this is Hanley Ramirez and Prince Fielder territory. Next I checked the ESPN Distance Tracker to see if there were any significant changes. Year Average Bat Speed Distance on HRs 2015 105.4 412.3 2014 104.4 403.9 If anything, his numbers are actually better. I dug a little deeper into his 23 HRs in 2014 to see if there was any indication that he did not hit these HRs with authority. ESPN Home Run tracker categorizes all Home Runs by ND (No Doubt), PL (Plenty), and JE (Just Enough). In addition, I compared his numbers to Giancarlo Stanton and Matt Holliday who were the leaders in the 2014 Golden Sledgehammer award which is based on the hitters who had the longest Average True Distance on their HRs hit in 2014. Player HRs in 2014 Average True Distance JE ( Just Enough) % of JE HRs Giancarlo Stanton 37 415.3 11 29.2% Matt Holliday 20 417.9 6 30% Marcel Ozuna 23 403.9 8 35% While Ozuna had the highest JE% of the group, there was nothing to indicate that he did not smack his HRs with authority last season. And remember he is in very elite company in this comparison. If you factor in the increased distance and bat speed on his HRs this season, and the fact that only 2 of his 8 (25%) HRs in 2015 were of the JE category, in my opinion this is not the issue. Let’s look at some other numbers…. Year Contact% Chase% LD% FB% IFFB% Sw Str% Hard Hit% HR/FB% 2015 75.3% 34.1% 20.1% 29.1% 10.3% 11.7% 34.8% 9.2% 2014 70.6% 32.4% 17.5% 33.8% 7.3% 13.7% 38.2% 16.8% Easily the most dramatic change is in his HR/FB%. Sure he is chasing the ball a bit more, and his hard hit rate is down, and you can make the case that his IFFB% is elevated so he might not always be squaring up the ball like he should, but given these underlying indicators I don’t see anything that would predict a 70 point drop in his ISO. You could just as easily make the opposite case that he is making better overall contact, missing less pitches, and hitting more line drives. In situations like this where the results achieved by the player are confusing, and the indicators are somewhat contradictory, I will always err on the side of ability. Ozuna’s bat speed is well above average and his distance on HRs is comparable to the best HR hitters in the game. And most important, he has already proven it on the field with a 23 HR performance in 2014. I would look for Ozuna to rebound in the power department next season especially in an improved Marlins lineup with Stanton back in the fold. Stephen Strasburg This has been a very difficult injury plagued season for Strasburg and the Nationals. With the end of the year just two weeks away, Strasburg has only logged 106 innings and made 20 starts. The numbers are certainly not satisfying to his owners who endured his horrid first two months of the season and are the recipients of his 9-7 record and 3.98 ERA. Strasburg has always been a puzzling pitcher in that his obvious gifts seem to sometimes produce less than stellar results. But putting that aside for the moment, the various injuries from a suspected foot issue in Spring Training to his neck and oblique problems have clearly unraveled his season. One only has to look at his line over the last two games to start September to see what his potential is when he is healthy. Compare this performance to his first two starts of the year in April… Starts IP Ks Walks ER K/9 BB/9 ERA April 10.2 10 3 8 8.44 2.53 6.75 Sept 15 27 2 3 15.85 1.17 1.76 Some notable observations about this season. His velocity is actually up over last year and is in line with his career numbers. Batters have produced a 61.5% 0-contact rate this year against him which is higher than we have seen off Strasburg in past seasons and it is well above his career numbers. Part of the issue may be a less effective change which he has used less this season. How much of this performance is the result of injury, pitch selection, or just bad mechanics is very hard to determine. In a year with many injury problems a pitchers mechanics will always lack consistency. Mix in a little bad luck with a low 67.7% LOB rate and voila you have a recipe for a decline. Strasburg has been a 4.0 WAR pitcher over the last 3 seasons and his 2.4 WAR this season is not who he is. A 2.94 xFIP and .294 SIERA are clear indicators of his ability to produce top of the rotation numbers and these marks are still significantly above his career 2.79 SIERA and 2.76 xFIP. If he can stay healthy, a rebound in 2016 is almost assured. Wilson Ramos A lot was expected from Wilson Ramos this year as he entered the prime of his career. Streamer projected 16 HRs in 428 PAs with .269 BA which would make him a top 10 Catcher. His numbers this season have not lived up to the expectations. Currently, he is batting only .237 with 13 HRs in his 456 PAs. Many had predicted that Ramos had the potential to hit 20-25 HRs which would have vaulted him into the top 5 at the position. There were several issues at play here that I believe make him a candidate for a rebound next season. He has always been a very good hitter against lefties with a career .290 average. This season he has batted only .230 against them which seems to be an outlier. Ramos has not been helped by a .266 BABIP which is almost 20 points lower than his career average. He has always been a good fast ball hitter yet this season he has had some trouble there for the very first time. There is nothing wrong with his bat speed or distance on HRs hit which remain well above average this season. A look at his spray charts, contact rate, hard hit rate do not seem indicate that much is out of the ordinary for him. It would seem reasonable to expect that he regains his stroke against the fastball and he returns to hitting lefties with his usual aplomb. If these two things happen he will bring his average back up closer to his career .269 mark and the power that he displayed in 2011 and 2013 could return. I think there is a 20 HR season in his future and it could be next season.