How to Attack Marcell Ozuna


Since becoming a St. Louis Cardinal until the time of this research, Marcell Ozuna had seen 361 sliders, curveballs, or knuckle curveballs that have been what I would consider truly low and away. To get technical, I'm talking about Sl/Cv/KnCv in the following zones shown below (and yes, I realize 23 and 33 are not "low"):


23, 26, 28, 29, 33, 36, 38, and 39

Attack zone from catcher's perspective (Ozuna RHP on left side of plate) with strike zone as a dotted line

Pitchers have only utilized those specific pitches in those specific locations 11% of the time against Ozuna since the beginning of 2018, despite allowing a batting average of just .058 against those pitches and a slugging percentage of just .058 as well. Ozuna's wOBA on those pitches is just .179, compared with his .333 overall wOBA as a Cardinal.


Here is a fairly typical example of one of those swings that actually makes contact, a line drive out off of RHP Jake Arrieta of the Philadelphia Phillies:

Pitchers have also thrown other pitches in those locations of course. In fact, pitchers have thrown 674 total pitches to those red, circled locations on the zone above. I was initially talking only about those specific pitches that were sliders, curves, and knuckle curves, remember. On fastballs and offspeed pitches, Ozuna has a .455 wOBA on pitches in those spots. So obviously, attacking him with fastballs and offspeed pitches in those specific locations has NOT worked.


But the interesting thing to me is this: Let's look at the same image of the attack zones again, but instead red, circled zones there are now blue, circled zones.

Marcell Ozuna's wOBA is only .250 on fastballs and offspeed pitches just on the corners compared to the previously mentioned .455 wOBA on fastballs and offspeed pitches in the red, circled zones. By "just on the corners," I mean only zones 13, 16, 18, and 19 circled in blue above.


Oftentimes on these fastballs, when he gets pull happy, he will roll over them to the left side of the infield, as he does here to Dansby Swanson (left) and to Josh Donaldson (right), both of the Braves:

And when he stays back on the offspeed pitches even, you can see him still stepping in the bucket and not hitting them well:


So why look at the fastballs and offspeed pitches on the black and the breaking pitches just off of the black? Well, those are going to be the pitches that tunnel the best, those pitches that look like each other until the last moment. If the fastball is just on the corner, a slider will be just off the corner. If a change is just on the corner, the curve will be just off the corner.


Now here's the problem with this, and any, approach for most pitchers. Most pitchers do not have pinpoint accuracy. They can't just throw the ball wherever they want every single time out there or even every inning or most of the time in one single inning.


What happens when they miss over the heart of the plate to Marcell Ozuna? Well, Ozuna can flat out turn on a GOOD fastball due to that same step in the bucket swing that he has quite often. Here's a Luis Castillo 96 mph fastball middle-middle to him that he turns around with a 110 EV that goes 435 feet out of the park to center field (left) and a 97 mph fastball from Noah Syndergaard that is middle in that Ozuna can still turn around for a 100 mph EV double to left (right). The one on the left is a much better swing, with no step in the bucket. The one on the right he turns on slightly more with the more open stance after stepping out.


If you miss location over the middle of the plate with him and don't get that outside corner, he can also single up the middle on the change up (first), wait back on a slow knuckle curve and drive a gap (second), or take even a decent slider and absolutely crush it (third).


Marcell Ozuna's hot streak in the past 2 weeks or so has coincided with him seeing over 20% of pitches over the heart of the plate (as shown above in zones 1-9 in dark pink) and he is not missing them.


Thank you for reading!


(Also, as always, mad love to baseball savant for all the videos that cardinalsgifs (the best in the biz) turns into absolute art above. These are especially tasty ones. Love it!)