The regular season is over and the Atlanta Braves has a historic offensive output. Their 947 runs are the most in team history since the 1897 Beaneaters, they are the most in the NL since the 2000 Rockies, and if you are one to put an asterisk next to an offense that plays half their games at Coors Field, 947 would be the most in the NL since the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers.
There are many variables that went into the Braves scoring so many runs. The ones that are making headlines are obviously what Olson and Acuña Jr. did. But, there are other variables as well, and a big one is the turnaround that Marcell Ozuna has made.
It is pretty bizarre to think in May fans were calling for him to be DFA’d when you look at his final output. Of course there were off-field issues as well, but he was not performing on the field for quite some time.
If you include his injury/suspension shortened 2021, Ozuna had a measly .222/.278/.397, which equated to neither 2021 nor 2022 being better than 11.0 percent below league average in terms of wRC+. During that span, which consisted of 172 games (715 plate appearances), he had 30 HRs and 146 hits with a 0.29 walk to strikeout ratio.
This season, in 592 plate appearances, he only had one fewer hit than what he had from 2021-2022 with 145, ten more home runs with 40, and a slash line of .274/.346/.558. His slash line equated to a wRC+ of 139, and he also had a much more palatable walk to strikeout ratio of 0.42. What is even more crazy is that his batting average and slugging percentage are actually lower than his xBA and xSLG, meaning he was a bit unfortunate.
What changed for Marcell Ozuna?
It is safe to say that Ozuna will be a front-runner for comeback player of the year (just kidding, that normally goes to players coming back from injury). So, what changed to where he has seen such a massive improvement?
Right away we can see that he had a much better walk rate than in the past two seasons. His 9.6 percent walk rate was his best since when he had a 14.2 during the COVID shortened 2020 season. The only other season in which he had higher was when he had an 11.3 percent walk rate in 2019.
More walks was a large factor in his on base percentage seeing an increase from .274 in 2022 to .346 this season.
At first, it is easy to assume that he is swinging and missing at bad pitches less frequently, which would result in more balls, which over time would result in more walks. However, that actually is not the case. He swung and missed at bad pitches more often this season than he did last year.
As can be seen, every pitch type saw an increase in swinging and missing at pitches outside of the zone. Now, to be fair, he did see a significant decrease in chasing breaking pitches outside of the zone in general. In 2022 he was chasing breaking pitches at a career high 40.6 percent rate. This season was down to the second lowest of his career at 30.8 percent. So, even though he was chasing and missing breaking pitches at a higher rate this season, he still was not chasing them as often. Considering 37.0 percent of the pitches he saw were of the breaking ball type, this decrease in chase rate is significant.
Ultimately though, the area that sticks out more than anything else is his elite barrel percentage. For the most part, Ozuna generally has had a very good barrel percentage throughout his career. But, this season he took it to a new level. His barrel parentage of 16.6 was easily the highest of his career, and saw a 3.5 percent increase from last season. Only 2.0 percent of MLB players had a better barrel percentage than him this season. To put this in better perspective, Ozuna’s Barrel/PA was 11.1 this season. No other season, even including his insane 2020 season, saw higher than 9.7.
Part of the reason we have seen an increase in barrels is due to his hard hit percentage seeing significant improvement over the past few years. Hard hit percentage is Ozuna’s bread and butter, and when it is down, so is his output. 2021-2022 were down years. This year was not one of those down years.
Ozuna saw an increase across the board in hard hit percentage in terms of pitch types, but he saw the largest among off-speed. Although he only saw off-speed pitches 11.2 percent of the time, he made them pay when they threw them. His hard hit rate jumped from 34.4 percent last season to 48.8 percent of the time this season. This was the highest rate since his monster 2020 season.
Of the 67 plate appearances in which he saw an off-speed pitch, he had a batted ball event in 43 of them. Hitting the ball hard almost half of the time when seeing off-speed, and making contact to a point of it being a batted ball event 64.2 percent of the time resulted in his slugging on off-speed jumping from .245 in 2022 to .475 this season.
It is almost the same story against fastballs. He had a hard hit rate of 53.7 percent, which was his highest since, you guessed it, 2020. 74.3 percent of the plate appearances in which he saw a fastball, he had a batted ball event. For reference, his batted ball event rate against fastballs in 2022 was 70.9 percent. It is no shock that we saw a jump from a slugging percentage against fastballs of .444 in 2022 to .639. What is even more interesting is his xSLG on the pitch type was even higher this season at .691.
With the amount of barrels that Ozuna was getting (mostly due to high exit velocity and hard hit rate) across all pitch types, it explains why his expected weighted on base percentage on contact was elite. His xwOBA on contact was top 3.0 percent in the league at .491 overall.
The one pitch that sticks out among all other pitches is the sinker. This past season he had a Run Value added of 8.0 on the pitch with a .325 batting average and .590 slugging percentage. Last season it was his worst pitch he faced in terms of Run Value at -7.0. He had a batting average of .211 and a slugging of .368. This was a massive swing of 15.0 Run Value. For reference, if a player had a Run Value of 15 on a sinker this season, it would rank them first in MLB by a full 2.0.
More specifically, he hit the sinker vs RHP the best of his career.
His xSLG of .661 vs RHP throwing a sinker is easily the best of his career (as well as his xwOBA of .461). This is largely due to what the common theme is. His average exit velocity was a career high 93.2 MPH, which was 5.1 MPH higher than last season. He also had the second most batted ball events of his career against the pitch despite having the second highest whiff percentage of his career on the pitch (16.3).
Seeing how well he did against the sinker vs RHP, it should be no shock that his 134 wRC+ vs RHP is the third best output vs righties of his eleven year career.
There are many variables in play as to why Ozuna saw such a massive turnaround. However, there is a common theme. He hit the ball harder, and hit it more often across the board. He also took his worse pitch from last season (sinker) and made it one of his best.