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Cardinals: Marcell Ozuna Didn’t Breakout in 2017 (psst…he did in ’16)

Newest Cardinals Slugger Marcell Ozuna is primed for a big year.

There has been a common theme this offseason when the conversation turns to newly added Marcell Ozuna. It goes along the lines of, “He COULD be a force in the middle of the lineup, IF his 2017 was for real,” or “It all depends on whether we’re getting 2017 or 2016 Ozuna.” There is always a qualifier. There is always some doubt. Everyone is questioning the “breakout” that occurred in 2017. The consensus is that he will still be a good productive player even if he falls somewhere in between the two seasons. Okay.

But, what if I told that 2017 was not his breakout campaign? What if I told you he busted out in 2016, and 2017 was just a continuation of the new norm?

A Tale of Halves

Here is the deal. I remember Ozuna’s 2016. From late April to July, I had him on my Fantasy baseball roster. He was 1 of the 3 Top-10 Fantasy Outfielders I had on my roster during that time (humble brag). But by late July or early-August, his production had vanished to the point that he was no longer worth hanging on to. What went wrong? I’ll get to that later.

First, we’ll get to what went right. So I present to you Marcell Ozuna’s numbers over the last two seasons, split up in halves. As opposed to using the All-Star break as the divider, these halves are split symmetrically by 81 team games.

PA HR RBI AVG OBP SLG PA/HR K% BB%
2016 (1st Half) 324 17 47 0.316 0.367 0.559 19.06 20.10% 7.40%
2016 (2nd Half) 284 6 29 0.208 0.268 0.331 47.33 17.60% 6.70%
2017 (1st Half) 343 22 62 0.314 0.373 0.571 15.59 22.40% 8.70%
2017 (2nd Half) 336 15 62 0.309 0.378 0.528 22.4 19.94% 10.10%

Does the first half 2016 not seem to fall right in line with 2017? If you were to ask me, that’s where the breakout truly occurred. He gives some of the credit to Barry Bonds. He then had an abysmal 2nd half that caused his overall numbers to look very pedestrian (explanation shortly). Unfortunately, most casual observers only look at, or are only given, the final stat line. In his case, the splits tell a better story.

Like I said, I had seen (via my fantasy team) what Ozuna was capable of, so 2017 didn’t come as much of a shock. However, I was waiting for the second half drop-off to happen again. It didn’t, so I went looking for an answer.

What Happened in 2016’s 2nd Half?

This answer is easy. Injury happened.

In mid-to-late June, Ozuna began to deal with a sore wrist. He played through, missing just 2 games in late-June, but there is no doubt in my mind that it had a major effect on his season.

Wrists injuries are tough. I’m no big leaguer, but a couple summers back, while carrying mail, I slipped on a wet set of porch steps. I caught myself with my left arm. For several months there was a lingering pain in that wrist, which made swinging with authority in Slow-Pitch softball a challenge. And every swing re-aggravated it.

I was swinging 3-4 times, one night a week. Ozuna was taking 4 AB’s against big league pitching every night. To think that a sore wrist didn’t linger, affecting his swing and zapping his power, would be naive. And then to pile on to it, he injured the wrist again while making a diving play in the outfield on August 31st. The wrist was an issue the entire 2nd half.

Just look at the numbers. The K% and the BB% maintained similar levels, but the HR’s and the ability to get on base via hits tanked. To me, that means his approach didn’t deteriorate at all, but he couldn’t hit the ball with the same authority to result in hits.

He also hit into some incredibly bad luck. In the first half of 2016 his BABIP was .355 (high), but in the second half is plummeted to .251 (very low). He carried a .355 BABIP through 2017. So once again, that first half mirrors last season. (Whether he can sustain that ridiculous number is a topic for a different day.)

But more than anything, I simply can’t ignore a lingering wrist injury on a power hitter. It played a major role in the statistical collapse.

My Takeaway

I believe that what we will see in 2018 is a combination of 2016 and 2017, but only a combination of the 3 good halves.

Taking the worst numbers in each category and rating them out over 650 Plate Appearances, this is the baseline we get.

650 PA’s, 29 HR’s, 94 RBI’s, .309/.367/.528, with a K% around 20% and a BB% around 7%.

I’d say that’s a pretty good place to start, and we saw in 2017 what the ceiling looks like. And with all 3 batters (Fowler, Pham, and Carpenter) pegged to hit in front of him projected to boast OBP’s north of .360, the RBI total could be monstrous.

I think we are going to be very pleased with our new cleanup hitter.

Thanks for reading.

 

Rusty Groppel
I'm a diehard Cardinals fan that feels privileged to write about his favorite team in this corner of cyberspace. I'm also the bass player for the best damn band in the 618, Tanglefoot. Check us out some time.
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