Marcell Ozuna singled to right field in the bottom of the 9th inning in yesterday's 3-2 loss to the Brewers, bringing his current hitting streak to ten games. He has not quite settled in with the slugging numbers that made him an All-Star in 2016 and 2017 - he only has three extra-base hits so far on the season - but he seems to be squaring the ball up pretty well, and he currently boasts a slash line of .308/.308/.404.
Slash lines after twelves games can be a funny, irregular thing. Mookie Betts, Robinson Cano, and Joe Mauer won't hit above .400 for the entire season but they certainly can on April 12. Asdrubal Cabrera won't be slugging above .600 for too much longer. And sooner or later, Ozuna will probably get a pitcher to throw him four balls during one trip to the plate.
If it went unnoticed the first time, take a look at Ozuna's slash line again. Through 52 plate appearances this season, he has a matching batting average and on-base percentage. Or, to put it another obvious way: He has not drawn a walk yet.
Fifty-two plate appearances is not a lot and Ozuna has never had a double-digit walk rate so I suppose this is not too unusual. The early season stats suggest that he's not chasing a lot of bad pitches (at least compared to his career numbers), but he is swinging more often - a 54.1 percent swing rate in 2018 versus 48.1 percent for his career. That might explain a lot.
And as for this walk-less streak, Ozuna is not even the current leader in this category. That would be Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies, who after yesterday's extra-inning affair with the Nationals, has 56 plate appearances this season without the free pass to first (although he has been hit by a pitch). To see where they rank with the rest of MLB, I searched Baseball Reference's Play Index (under the streak finders tab) for players in 2018 who have yet to draw a walk, as sorted by at-bats. Here are the other culprits.
If you were wondering if Ozuna (or Albies for that matter) has a chance to make modern history, he still has a long way to go. I did a further search on the Play Index for all players since the mound was lowered in 1969, who started any season with a lot of at-bats but without a single base on balls. Again, as sorted by at-bats, here are the top-25.
Rob Picciolo's 1980 season was pretty remarkable in that he did not draw a walk until game 160, on October 2, 1980. For good measure, he picked up his second and last walk three days later on the final game of the season. Picciolo finished the year with a 0.7 percent walk rate, and had a not-much-better 1.5 percent rate for his career, which spanned nine seasons and over 1,700 plate appearances. (He died at age-64 in January after serving as the longest-tenured coach in Padres history.) Mariano Duncan, a more contemporary example, is the only player to truly threaten Picciolo's numbers, and the rest of the list is filled with pedestrian position players, a few pitchers, and Steve Garvey and Tony Oliva.
Unless Ozuna's walk-less streak continues for another twelve games, he is not cracking this list. And with the next four games in Cincinnati, with the Cardinals missing the Reds' best pitcher, that walk might come pretty soon.
To briefly feed into a larger issue, I'm on record stating that this offense will be very good, and I still think that it will be very good, but as of this morning, Cardinals hitters rank in the bottom third in the National League in not only walk rate (8.4 percent - 11/15 in the NL), but strike out rate (25.1 percent 12/15) as well. Certainly that's a contributing factor as to why they've put up so few crooked numbers this season, and why their team wRC+ (92 - 9/15) is not where it should be. In a discussion on Twitter, a few weighed in that the pitchers they've faced (Syndergaard, DeGrom, Ray, etc.) and the weather probably come into play and I think that's valid. Also, aside from Ozuna not drawing a walk, the team's best hitters (Pham, Carpenter, Fowler) really have yet to hit their stride. (You can read Zach Gifford's excellent article from yesterday on what could be slowing down Carpenter.) And before long they probably (hopefully) will.
Ozuna is likely fine. The offense will likely be fine. This is all worth keeping an eye on though.
Credit to Baseball Reference's Play Index for the stats in this post. You can subscribe here.