Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Marcell Ozuna’s Outlook as an Atlanta Brave

Friday evening the Atlanta Braves finally got the big bat they desperately needed for the 2021 season by bringing back 2020 Silver Slugger Award winner Marcell Ozuna.

Robert Murray of FanSided confirmed that the deal would be $65M over four years, and Craig Mish of SportsGrid confirmed the 5th year option, breaking down the pay structure of the contract:

After a shortened season that saw no gate revenue for teams during the regular season and the assumption of no DH in the NL for the upcoming season, many had been wondering how that would affect the market for free-agents, particularly free agents who lack strong defensive skills that would benefit from an extra 15 teams being able to implement the DH. This had led many to question the chances of the Braves bringing back Marcell Ozuna, as his defense has deteriorated greatly since his younger days with the Marlins.

Ozuna being willing to take a back-loaded pay structure for his contract definitely helps the Braves in their efforts to field a contending team for 2021. In November the Braves picked up starting pitcher Drew Smyly and added another starter in Charlie Morton just eight days later. Many thought the Braves may have jumped the gun too early and did not have the funds remaining to sign Ozuna, but with the Ozuna signing and the way his contract is structured, Braves GM Alex Anthopolous says they still have money to spend to make the team better in 2021.

In the shortened 2020 season, Ozuna had a career year. While on a one-year contract, he played all 60 games, logged the most plate appearances in MLB with 267, and placed third among qualified hitters in Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) with 179. The chances of Ozuna repeating the year he had in 2020 is not very likely, but that’s mostly due to the fact that his 2020 hitters profile was elite:

Graphic via https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/

Ranking in the top 94 percentile in six batted ball metrics is almost certain to bring a player to the top of the field in hitter production, but repeating this level of success will be anything but easy. However, even if Ozuna can’t replicate what he did in 2020, he is still poised to be quite productive for the Braves in the approaching 2021 season.

Our site creator, the talented Max Goldstein (@MaxSportsStudio on Twitter), has created a user-friendly leaderboard of MLB predictive statistics. Access to these leaderboards can be purchased here, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in the predictive metric side of professional baseball. Using this resource, let’s look over how Ozuna predicts to perform in 2021. A link to our Advanced Statistics Glossary can be found at the bottom of every article.

Among hitters with at least 110 plate appearances in 2020, Ozuna ranks 7th in Predictive Weighted On-Base Average Plus (pwOBA+) with 114, tied with Angel Mike Trout and Dodger Will Smith. When 2020 pwOBA+ is compared with Barrel Rate Plus, Ozuna is predicted to be one of the top hitters in the league, along with teammates Ronald Acuña Jr. and reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman.

Graph via Max’s Sporting Studio Leaderboards

Should Ozuna play at the level his pwOBA+ predicts him at, he should again be a top ten hitter in the league. But what is predicted and what actually happens can often be very different. So how has Ozuna fared in years past when comparing his pwOBA+ to his actual wOBA+?

Graph via Max’s Sporting Studio Leaderboards

Since 2015, Ozuna has generally performed right around his pwOBA+. The only times he outperformed his predictions were 2017 and 2020, but his decrease of production from 2017 to 2018 could be attributed to the fact that he dealt with shoulder issues all during 2018, and underwent shoulder surgery immediately following the season. Between dealing with pain in 2018 and facing recovery in 2019, it is possible that 2020 was the first time Ozuna felt at 100%.

Looking at his Expected Slugging Percentage (xSLG) and Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) by season, we see that Ozuna increased his performance every year since 2015, except 2018, furthering the case that his shoulder may have been the issue. And while his wOBA+ was lower in 2019 than in 2017, his xSLG and xwOBA in 2019 both outperformed his 2017 totals.

Graph via https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/
Graph via https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/

Overall, it seems as though the Braves got the security of a consistent bat behind Freeman locked up for the next four to five years, and Ozuna in turn has found his home and financial security. And with the DH expected to inevitably come to the NL in the next year or so, Ozuna’s declining defense shouldn’t be too much of a concern for the Braves.

If you’re interested in how Ozuna’s contract compares to other top free agents in this class, Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs has a great article detailing the comparison in production to dollars, which you can find here.

Photo courtesy of the CBS Sports

Garrett Allen

Garrett Allen is a recent college graduate from Valdosta State University and is now pursuing a Masters of Science in Strategic Sports Analytics at the California University of Pennsylvania. Born and raised in Georgia, he is an avid Braves fan and has a particular interest in prospect development.