One of the most surprising factors in what turned out to be a surprisingly good season for the Miami Marlins in 2014 was the rise of Marcell Ozuna as a reliable offensive contributor.
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Ozuna in 2014, slugged 23 HR, 54 XBH and compiled an ISO of .188 all on the basis of what was a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate. Ozuna was making good contact and it showed in the form of his results.
So far in 2015 Ozuna hasn’t had nearly as good a year and its resulted in him getting sent down to AAA to work on his issues. Halfway through this year Ozuna has only hit 4 homers and has only 18 XBH to his name, all on a .088 ISO and a .337 slugging percentage.
But how does a guy that hit 23 homers last year lose all of his power?
The answer is simple: location, location, location.
Pitchers in 2014 were cautious with Ozuna working largely away on him, but still often venturing inside with fastballs, as the heat map and the chart below show.
Ozuna in 2014 was able to take pitches throw inside and turn them around with power to the pull side. Ozuna was thinking inside and pitchers were largely fine with this approach and pitched with hard stuff inside. He punished them though hitting a lot of pitches with authority to left field. Ozuna hit one of third of his hard hit balls (XBH and LD) to left field in 2014.
While there are some hitters who have legitimate power to all fields, more specifically to the opposite field, Ozuna is not that kind of hitter. He needs pitches on the inside half of the plate to do damage with and the league seems to have learned that and have made the adjustment.
The hardest thing that a Major League player must do is to learn how to make adjustments as the league figures out their approach and tries to counteract it with a an approach that makes it hard for the player to keep doing what he was doing to begin with.
That is the story of Ozuna’s 2015 so far, his inability to make the necessary adjustments to make his power translate to all fields. Pitchers so far in 2015 have pitched Ozuna away and that really limited his ability to do as much damage as he did in 2014.
As the heatmap below shows.
It is hard to make good contact, that is to say contact good enough to hit an XBH on pitches on the outside of half of the plate. Right-handed pitchers will usually throw their sliders on the outside half of the plate while left-handed pitchers throw their changeups or cutters to righties on the outside half. All of these pitches, sliders, changeups, cutters are very hard to take from the outside half of the plate and hit them “inside out” for power. The old maxim is to hit to pitch where it’s thrown and that is what Ozuna has done so far in 2015 as the hit chart shows
Ozuna has hit 34% of his hard hit balls to right field and has focused on hitting the ball to the opposite field but he unfortunately doesn’t seem to have any power to right field.
If pitchers continue pitching Ozuna down and away he will likely never be able to become the power hitter that he was in the minor leagues and his first couple of years with the Miami Marlins.
I don’t know enough about hitting to make any recommendations to Ozuna or the Marlins coaching staff on what kind of adjustments he could make, in order to have a resurgence in his power stats.
Another factor that could make pitchers more likely to challenge Ozuna is his lack of plate discipline.
Ozuna in 2015 has nearly a 34% chase rate and a relatively bad 86.9% zone contact rate. That means that Ozuna is a player that is both willing to chase pitches out of the zone, and he also swings and misses too often on pitches inside the strike zone.
Pitchers will always exploit this aggressiveness and makes pitches to a guy like Ozuna that they wouldn’t to other more patient hitters.
One solution could be for Ozuna to take more pitches and become a much more selective hitter.
Plate approach, discipline and pitch recognition are often the skills that make a baseball player what he is.
Ozuna, who obviously has a lot of raw power, can’t harness it because pitchers are exploiting his aggressiveness. If he somehow shifted approach and showed that he wasn’t going to poke those pitches to the opposite field pitchers would be forced to pitch him inside where he could do real damage.
This is easier said than done and I don’t ultimately know of what to make of Ozuna’s sudden decline and if he will ever become the player that he was in 2014.
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