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What is the cause of Marcell Ozuna’s recent decline?

Ozuna has been in a massive slump of late. What seems to be the reason?

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Tampa Bay Rays
Ozuna is slumping hard
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves have a comfortable lead in their division with their eyes set on the post-season. June saw one of the best offensive outputs in franchise history, but the team has cooled off a bit in July.

One of the players that has really seen his output cool off is Marcell Ozuna. In fact, he started cooling down during June. His OPS peaked at .850 with a slash of .238/.327/.523 on the season on May 26th and has not reached that point again.

Now, Ozuna sits at a wRC+ of ninety-seven (3.0 percent below average), and a 0.1 fWAR on the season. This is not exactly the type of output we were hoping for when we saw a glimpse of his former self early in June.

So, what happened since June?

There are almost always multiple variables in play when we see either a drop off in production, or an increase, but let’s attempt to dive in and see what is going on with Ozuna.

Right off the bat (pun intended) we can see that he is back to swinging at bad pitches at a high clip. Over a fifteen game rolling percentage we see that he is swinging at 36.4 percent of pitches outside the zone. For reference, on June 20th, he was only swinging at 25.0 percent.

Ozuna’s swing rate outside of the zone

This has seemed to result in a spike in strikeout rate and decrease in walk rate. As of this writing Ozuna has the largest gap between walk rate and strikeout rate all season long.

Rolling strikeout and walk rate

Striking out more and walking less will obviously hurt any player’s output. Ozuna’s OBP has dropped from .330 at the end of June to .302 now. Obviously hits play a factor in his OBP as well, but his lack of patience has really hurt him. As far as just purely getting hits, his batting average has dropped from .247 at the end of June to .228.

As we know by now, batting average and OBP in and of themselves do not tell enough of the story, so let’s look at how he is hitting the ball when he does put it in play.

Over the last fifteen games we see the biggest difference all season between fly balls and line drives.

Rolling line drive and fly ball rates

He is hitting fly balls at a very high rate of 47.2 percent of the time and his line drive rate is his lowest of the season at 5.6 percent of the time.

Hitting more fly balls is not necessarily a bad thing. However, in this particular situation, it appears to be the case due to a few factors. First, although he has a hard hit rate that is top 25.0 percent of MLB, his hard hit rate has dropped from an average of 50.05 percent from May-June to 39.0 percent in July.

So, he is not hitting the ball as hard, but he is also hitting the ball opposite field at a much higher rate while pulling the ball at a much lower rate. Over the past fifteen games he has a opposite field rate of 44.4 percent of the time to a pull percentage of 30.6 percent.

Rolling hitting location profile

Hitting the ball hard at a lower rate, while seeing a massive decrease in crash in his line drive rate while hitting the ball to the opposite field almost half of the time is not ideal for a player of Ozuna’s profile and we see it in his xwOBA over the last month.

xwOBA by month

We can see how these batted balls combined with his loss of plate discipline has not only hurt his surface numbers, but his XSTATS as well. Ozuna had an excellent xwOBA of .428 in the month of June following a very good .403 in May. In July so far it has been a .275.

Just by looking at his Statcast page we can see that his .361 xwOBA on the year as a whole is good for top 14.0 percent of MLB, which speaks to how good his May-June is. However, July has been really bad. For reference, his .275 in July is a full .077 below league average this season.

In Summery

It is no secret Ozuna is struggling with the bat. His surface numbers and XSTATS are suffering mightily over the past month.

Ozuna is swinging at bad pitches at a high rate, but also not hitting the ball well when he does make contact. He is not hitting the ball hard as often, but when he is, he is hitting routine fly balls to the opposite field far too often. This has led to his wRC+ and xwOBA to take a nose dive.

Here is to hoping he can get back to his May-June form and start producing at an elite level again.

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