Marcell Ozuna: Top-30 Fantasy Outfielder

I felt very strongly about Marcell Ozuna coming into the season, writing a lengthy piece in which I wondered if a balky wrist was to blame for his 2013 power outage. I also used one of my “Bold Predictions” to claim that the 23-year-old would hit more than 20 homers, one year removed from hitting just three long balls in 291 plate appearances.

I’ve already had the opportunity to pat myself on the back for getting this one right, so let’s dig into how Ozuna transformed from our preseason No. 85 fantasy outfielder into the season’s No. 27 player at the position. (As I noted in my Bold Predictions recap column, his average fly-ball distance increased by a ridiculous 36 feet, from 255.5 feet last year to 291.5 feet in 2014, which is a pretty darn good place to start.)

Whether injury-related or not, Ozuna had two ugly trends in his 2013 data. The first was a troublesome inability to hit right-handers:

  • 2013 vs L (68 PA) – .318/.338/.500, .838 OPS, 1 HR
  • 2013 vs R (223 PA) – .249/.293/.354, .647 OPS, 2 HR

While Ozuna’s struggles against same-handed pitching certainly weren’t a positive sign, it all felt a bit flukish, simply because it had never been an issue in the minors whatsoever:

  • MiLB vs L (414 PA) – .259/.318/.507, .825 OPS, 23 HR
  • MiLB vs R (739 PA) – .274/.337/.481, .818 OPS, 29 HR

This year, he pretty loudly answered the question about his ability to hit righties at the major-league level:

  • 2014 vs L (120 PA) – .245/.292/.436, .728 OPS, 6 HR
  • 2014 vs R (492 PA) – .275/.323/.459, .783 OPS, 17 HR

Looking through his data over at Brooks Baseball, it quickly becomes clear that a big part of his 2014 success against righties was driven by a much-increased ability to hit breaking balls:

2013 (vs R):

Pitch Category Count AB K BB HBP 1B 2B 3B HR BAA SLG ISO BABIP
Hard 468 110 13 7 1 17 9 2 1 .264 .409 .146 .292
Breaking 280 70 19 3 1 11 0 1 1 .186 .257 .071 .240
Offspeed 81 25 8 1 0 8 1 0 0 .360 .400 .040 .529

2014 (vs R):

Pitch Category Count AB K BB HBP 1B 2B 3B HR BAA SLG ISO BABIP
Hard 1133 255 56 23 1 49 12 4 11 .298 .506 .208 .346
Breaking 622 152 53 6 0 26 10 1 4 .270 .428 .158 .390
Offspeed 161 48 21 3 0 5 1 0 2 .167 .313 .146 .240

Ozuna’s heat maps speak even louder than tabular data, and seem to support my original thesis of his 2013 power outage being injury-related. Behold, Ozuna’s slugging percentage heat maps against same-handed pitching, first in 2013, then in 2014:

What I’m looking at here — other than the fact that he was about a million times better across the board — is his success on inside pitches. I’m no doctor, but I do know that a wrist injury is a wholly plausible explanation for Ozuna’s inability to pull — or hell, even swing at — inside pitches with authority in 2013.

Whatever the reason, Ozuna put to rest any doubts about ending up on the short end of a platoon. The second weakness he showed in his rookie year was the fact that he couldn’t get anything going at Marlins Park. Sure, it’s a cavernous pitchers’ haven, but still…

  • 2013 Home (133 PA) – .252/.280/.339, .619 OPS, 0 HR
  • 2013 Away (158 PA) – .277/.323/.432, .755 OPS, 3 HR

In this area as well, he did just about everything he could to prove the doubters wrong:

  • 2014 Home (301 PA) – .288/.336/.511, .846 OPS, 12 HR
  • 2014 Away (311 PA) – .251/.299/.401, .700 OPS, 11 HR

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns with Ozuna, of course. The spike in his strikeout rate from 19.6% to 26.8% is a red flag, and his 13.7% swinging-strike rate was the 13th-highest in the majors. However, it’s always nice to remind ourselves that a high swinging-strike rate is far from a surefire harbinger of doom. Take a look at the list of league-leaders in SwStr% from 2014. There’s a ton of really good players on that list.

Still, I’d obviously like to see Ozuna cut down on the whiffs a bit, but whiffs are often a necessary evil in the quest for home-run glory. There is some room for regression in his batting average on balls in play, seeing as his .333 major-league BABIP remains considerably higher than his career .306 minor-league BABIP. Paired with his swing-and-miss tendencies, I think that’s a recipe for a guy who’s going to have a couple seasons with a .240ish batting average over the course of his career.

I see no reason to doubt his ability to be a 25-homer guy on an annual basis. After all, he hit 74 bombs in 348 games from Low-A to Double-A. He’ll likely have a season here and there where the batting average dips, but barring injury, he’s going to get his in the power department.

Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.

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RIP Oderous Urungus
RIP Oderous Urungus

As a dynasty Ozuna owner, I want to believe you, but that 26.8% K rate makes me queasy.