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Has the Big Bear Been A Big Disappointment?

First of all, I gotta get this out of the way. This is one of my favorite reaction gifs of all time.

Now that's I put that out there, let's talk about Marcell Ozuna. After receiving a cortisone injection, he's started to hit the ball with more authority than he has since June, which was the last time he felt like a useful hitter.

The Big Bear was supposed to be a big addition to the Cardinals lineup. He was Plan B when Giancarlo Stanton decided he was too cool for the Midwest, or whatever his reasons where. (I wondered back then if Stanton didn't want to play for Matheny) Ozuna was a 5 WAR player last year, a silver slugger and won a Gold Glove.

This year he's been a groundball machine and mostly a singles hitter up until recently. Needless to say, he's been a bit of a disappointment and not the middle of the order thumper that the fans have hoped for.

So clearly Ozuna's skillset must have deteriorated, right? I mean, he's clearly not the same player he was last year, is he? I'd argue that if you look at his underlying numbers, Ozuna is still a disappointment but he's not really a far cry from what we reasonably should have expected. His 5 WAR season is looking more like an outlier than a breakout. And it shouldn't really come as such a shock.

First of all, take a look at his HR/FB rate. Last year 23% of his fly balls went over the fence, 9% above the league average.

This season he is closer to league average. Yet his launch angle, exit velocity and % of barrelled balls is not really different at all compared to last season.

Barrel %: 9.3% - 9.6%

Exit Velo: 90.7% - 91.5%

Launch Angle 10.1 - 10.2

So based on his batted balls, the Big Bear's expected wOBA is .366 this season. Wanna take a guess at what his expected wOBA was last season? .366. Queue the twilight zone music and the finger-pointing Spider-Man memes.

His actual wOBA was 20 points higher than what his expected wOBA was this year, this year it's 40 points lower. Yikes. That HR/FB rate just wasn't gonna hold up.

Now you might say that Ozuna's been a grounders machine. And you'd be right, he has. But his groundball rate isn't really that much higher than his career average:

Yet - believe or not - he's actually hitting the ball harder than any time in his career:

I tried to look at what gives and honestly, Ozuna's a real head-scratcher. He's not getting shifted on more than usual. I didn't see anything weird in his spray charts. He's pulling the ball slightly less, but other than that nothing glaring sticks out. The only thing that really stood out is that Ozuna has a weirdly low ISO on line drives at .056. I in the world do you hit an ISO that low on liners? Last year he had a .253 and his career low previously was .172.

So what gives? I hate playing the "luck" card, but I'm throwing it down on the table in disgust. If you have some ideas, throw them out there. But please no anecdotes. As the saying goes "In God we trust, all others must provide data."

For right now, I'm content in paraphrasing the immortal Denny Green when I say "the (Big) Bear is who we thought he was". His 2017 campaign might be as good as he ever gets, barring him making some major changes to his approach.

The way he's hit the ball and the results are two different things, and it seems like his luck is finally turning around. I wish I could say there's something weird going on that he's fixed, but for the moment I'm gonna just be content to say "baseball" ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ .

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Ben Cerutti
Ben Cerutti
10 sept. 2018

Here is what I wrote about Ozuna in my projections before the season over at Flyover Country Baseball:

638 plate appearances
80 runs, 29 doubles, 3 triples, 27 homers, 91 RBI
2 SB, 3 CS, 7.8% BB rate, 21.0% K rate

This is where I really hope my projection system just hasn’t caught up to the player. Ooof.

I also have a "How/If things go wrong:" section and a " What can be pointed out to show that things CAN be better than that?!?" section. The prior was MUCH longer than the latter due to his track record.

That section said this:

I’ll again state: Regression is a cruel mistress. Ozuna had, by far, a career year. Look at…
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