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Exploring Marcell Ozuna’s statistical drop off

Digging into Ozuna’s offensive drop off, and why it has happened

MLB: NLDS-Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves
Ozuna has dropped off since 2020
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Off-the-field issues aside, Marcell Ozuna has been a disappointment for the Atlanta Braves statistically since his monster 2020 season.

Ozuna was in the top one percent of MLB in xwOBA in 2020, and top ten percent in 2019. During that span, he had a slash line of .272/.362/.525. He had a 110 wRC+ in 2019, and 178 wRC+ in 2020. This stretch is arguably the best of his career.

Since then, his offensive numbers have dropped off substantially. Ozuna’s slash has been .222/.278/.397 with a wRC+ peaking at 88 in 2022.

What has caused Ozuna’s drop off?

First, to be fair, his xwOBA has not been terrible in 2022 with it being in the top twenty-eight percent of MLB at .358. However, that xwOBA does not reflect a balanced approach at the plate. Ozuna’s xOBP dropped from top eleven percent in 2019 and top two percent in 2020, to bottom thirty-two percent in 2022. His strikeout rate of 24.1 percent in 2022 is the highest of his career. His 2022 rate was 1.6 percent higher than 2020, and 3.3 percent higher than his 2019.

Along with striking out more, his walk rate has been bad. His walk rate in 2022 tied for the lowest season of his career at 6.1 percent. In his monster 2019 and 2020, his walk rates were 11.3 and 14.2 percent respectively. His drop off in walk rate is partly due to him going back to his old habits of swinging more than the league average (47.1 percent from 2015-2022). In 2022, Ozuna swung 49.4 percent of the time, which is the highest of his career. For reference, in his 2019-2020 season, he was swinging at a rate of 44.9 and 46.3 percent respectively.

Not only did Ozuna swing more, his whiff rate in 2022 (28.7 percent) is the second highest of his career. Factor in that his chase rate of 33.3 percent, which is the highest of his career (4.9 percent higher than league average), and we can start to see part of the puzzle.

If we are being honest, Ozuna can be a bit of an enigma. Every year of his career, he has had red in his Statcast profile, meaning he is in the top percentage of MLB in one area or another, even in his down years. So, it makes sense break down what he is doing at a more granular level.

Let’s get more specific on what seem to be the “smoking guns” of his statistical drop off

Ozuna’s chase rate on pitches outside the strike zone against breaking pitches and off-speed pitches shot up since his 2019-20 seasons. During that span, Ozuna’s chase rate never went above 33.9 percent against off-speed, and never above 33.5 percent against breaking pitches. Since then, his chase rate against off-speed never went below 40.5. In 2022, his chase rate against breaking pitches shot up to 40.1 percent, which is the highest of his career.

Chase Rate

Specifically, he chased pitches 0-6 inches below the zone, that would be horizontally in the zone, well above league average. In this specific area on his heat map, Ozuna is also chasing at higher rates than when he was raking from 2019-2020.

Ozuna’s chase percentages below the zone vs league average

Another smoking gun is that Ozuna has seen a massive drop off in his hard hit rate. In 2019 he was top 4 percent of MLB with a 49.2 percent rate, in 2020 he was top 3 percent of MLB with a rate of 54.4. In 2022, Ozuna’s hard hit rate dropped to 34.3 percent. For reference, the league average hard hit rate was 38.3 percent in the 2022 regular season.

Hard hit rate

Specifically, his hard hit rate has dropped against fastballs and off-speed. Against fastballs Ozuna had a hard hit rate of 55.5 percent in 2019 and 60.0 percent in 2020, but it dropped down to 50.5 in 2022. Against off-speed, Ozuna had a hard hit rate of 48.1 percent in 2019 and a 57.1 percent rate in 2020. Since then, his hard hit rate against off-speed has not been higher than 34.3 percent.

If a player’s success rate drops off against a fastball, it is virtually guaranteed that their overall numbers will take a hit. One, because typically the league average xwOBA against fastballs is the highest among pitch types, but also fastballs are thrown more than any other pitch type as well.

Ozuna has also seen drop off in average exit velocity. In 2019 (his last previous full season not including the shortened 2020) he was ranked 22nd in MLB, in 2022 he is 104th. This is partly due to his 4.3 percent weak hit rate being the second highest of his career. His 2022 rate was almost double the rate of the 2.2 and 2.4 from his 2019 and 2020 seasons respectively. As far as against pitch types, we can see his EV on off-speed and breaking pitches has plummeted since 2020.

Exit Velocity

Ozuna’s solid contact percentage is by far the lowest of his career. Prior to 2022, his lowest solid contact percentage was 5.6 percent way back in 2016. In his monster 2019-2020 seasons, it was 6.7 and 8.3 respectively. In 2022, it is a measly 4.0 percent. Combine this with higher chase rates, and it points to part of the reason why his EV and hard hit rates are down. Lower solid contact on pitches he has to reach for typically means the ball is not being hit as hard as often (hence lower average EV).

Another area that does paint part of the picture is his batted ball profile. Ozuna’s line drive rate is way down and he has replaced it with fly balls. In 2022, his line rate is down to 20.7 percent, which is the lowest of his career. In his 2 best years as far as xwOBA goes (2019-2020), he ranged from 26.3 to 27.8 percent. His fly ball rate never went above 26.0 percent in his 2019-2020 seasons. Since then, his fly ball rate has not been below 29.6 percent. This in and of itself is not necessarily point to a statistical drop off. However, factor in the drop in exit velocity and hard hit rate, and it is definitely part of the puzzle.

In summary…

Ozuna’s xSTATS were not terrible in 2022 in some areas. xwOBA, xBA and xSLG are all well above average. However, his strikeout rate, walk rate, chase rate, and whiff rate have seriously hindered his overall output.

Along with the above, Ozuna has seen an overall drop in statistical output due to:

· Hard hit rate against fastballs and off-speed pitches dropping

· Exit velocity against off-speed and breaking pitches dropping

· Line drive rate dropping

· Chasing pitches 0-6 inches below the strike zone at a higher rate

· Weak hit rate has gone up

Understandably, fans were upset that he started a game against the Phillies in the NLDS. Here’s to hoping that if Ozuna’s salary does not get dumped, we will see Ozuna’s numbers get back to his 2019-2020 form.

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