The Miami Marlins are not going very many places in 2015, and even the typically out-of-touch front office realizes that now that Giancarlo Stanton will miss at least a month with a broken hamate bone in his hand. Usually, in a situation like this, a team would try out its young players and give them Major League reps in preparation for a larger role next season. The Marlins, however, are going in an opposite direction. They demoted Justin Nicolino and Jose Urena, though admittedly neither player impressed in their starts for the Fish. Now, even with Stanton on the shelf, the team has demoted outfielder Marcell Ozuna, expecting players like the returning Michael Morse or the soon-to-be promoted Jordany Valdespin to take his place.
The move is a curious one for a Marlins franchise that could be working Ozuna through the rigors of another full season in order to work out of his slump. There is no denying that Ozuna is struggling right now; he hit just .250/.292/.330 (.277 wOBA) last month with 31 strikeouts versus four walks to his name. His previous months were not all that impressive either, which has led to an overall batting line of .249/.301/.337 (.283 wOBA).
However, that is not some magical number that no other Marlin reached in June. In fact, the whole roster seemed to struggle offensively in that last month, aside from the now-sidelined Stanton. In fact, take a look at the numbers from 30 days back of June 24.
|PLAYER, 30 DAYS||PA||AVG||OBP||SLG||WRC|
Ozuna was hitting about as well as Dee Gordon was before he hit an 0-for-19 rut over the past week and change. That constitutes a two-week run of poor play above and beyond the mediocre performance he has put up this year. There have been other players who have had similarly terrible runs of play. Justin Bour just had a month of June in which he hit .138/.253/.262 (.236 wOBA), only to then homer four times in six games. Stranger things have happened.
So why demote Ozuna? One of the reasons the Marlins are probably using internally is that the team wants to fit both Morse and Bour in the lineup and may try playing Morse in one of the outfield spots. This would give Miami an extra "outfielder," which allows Ozuna to work out some kinks in the minors. However, this would also force Christian Yelich to center field and flank him with an aging Ichiro and one of the worst defenders of the past 15 years in the corner outfield. It would be a terrible look for Miami.
Another reason is that Miami thinks something is indeed mechanically wrong with Ozuna. This small slump is unlikely to reveal something true in his talent level; after all, it's a two-week stint with no known injury problems. It is possible Miami thinks something is wrong in a more macro level, owing to Ozuna's decreased power and poorer batting line. However, in terms of plate discipline, he appears to be retaining the majority of his approach from his successful 2014 season. He is swinging at about the same rate as he was last season, with very similar rates both in and out of the strike zone, and he is making more contact this season.
As far as the authority with which he is hitting the ball, it does superficially appear as though he is lagging compared to 2014. His ground ball rate is up and the fly ball rate is down, and his hard-hit ball rate is down from 38.2 percent to 33.3 percent. However, there is some evidence that this subjective data is lagging behind the real-time data. Available data from MLB Gameday shows that the average velocity on batted balls off of Ozuna's bat is still among the better in the league. Among players with at least 100 at-bats recorded for this type of data (not all stadiums have the technology installed yet), Ozuna has an average velocity off the bat of 92.51 mph, 15th in the league and next to good hitters like Alex Rodriguez and Yasmani Grandal.
The angle off the bat may be what is killing Ozuna's game at the moment, and it certainly can be argued that he needs to find more lift like he did last season rather than beating balls into the ground. However, when diving deeper into the data, it does not seem as though Ozuna is suffering significantly from something that would debilitate his game. If anything, the Marlins should have considered such a move for Christian Yelich, who took two months to recover to something akin to his usual form and is still swinging wildly out of the zone compared to what he had been doing for most of his career. Why did the Fish not approach Yelich with the same aggressive demotion?
It should be noted that Yelich put up a significantly better month of June and is off to a hot start in July, showing you that most players start working out of slumps at some point. It is intriguing to see that the Marlins are not patient enough to afford Ozuna the same luxury as they did to the outfielder whom they chose to pay $51 million over the next seven years. Hopefully this does not detract from Ozuna's development or his attitude with the team.