The Miami Marlins are not trading Marcell Ozuna after signing Wei-Yin Chen to a free agent deal and bolstering their starting rotation. This is for the best, as the team does not have a good ready replacement in the outfield for him, despite their interest in trying Derek Dietrich in left field.
The team had strong interest in trading Ozuna and had several teams actively involved in trade talks, including the Texas Rangers and, surprisingly, the Cincinnati Reds. However, none of those teams met the high prices Miami demanded for Ozuna, and the option turned towards keeping him after they made an improvement on the rotation.
This is a smart move for the Marlins, as Ozuna still holds a lot of promise. He put up a season between three and four wins depending on how you judge his defensive performance in 2014, but he did follow it up with a terrible 2015 season. However, on the offensive end, things did not seem to change a whole lot. His strikeout and walk rates were similar to the previous year, and he actually made more contact in 2015 than he did in his breakout 2014 year.
The one obvious difference was in power. Ozuna hit just 10 home runs in 494 plate appearances after launching 23 homers in 612 chances the previous season. On that cursory glance, one would think he was not hitting the ball as hard as he did in the previous year. However, there are markers to say that he was and markers that point to him not hitting it as hard. On the one hand, he upped his line drive rate from 17 percent to 21 percent last season. On the other hand, his hard-hit ball rate did drop, and it was replaced primarily with soft-hit balls instead.
One marker for how hard balls were hit last season was the early StatCast data that displayed exit velocity for batted balls. Taking a look at Ozuna's rates, they were decent. The average (measured) batted ball for Ozuna had an exit velocity 114 mph, which was tied for 21st in the league with a slew of other players. A sampling of those players included David Ortiz, David Freese, Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Canha, Logan Morrison, and Justin Upton. It is a diverse set of names, but the overall performance of guys hitting the ball this hard is decent.
Somehow, despite numbers that were at least equal to that of the sample of players with the same exit velocity, Ozuna managed the worst ISO among all of these players. It is not as Ozuna is a worm-burner ike Tomas, Ramos, or Freese either, though he will need to generate more lift to take advantage of what should be his prodigious strength. Ozuna's 48.1 percent ground ball rate would have ranked 11th on the list of 18 total names. The most important aspect of this, however, is that the average ISO for players hitting the ball this hard was .184, which is about the same as Ozuna's 2015 mark. Given that we know Ozuna has power from the minors and that he seems to match the power profile of other players with similar strength off the bat, it is not unreasonable to believe that Ozuna should be able to return to the power levels from 2015.
Which of these players does Ozuna profile the most like? Last year, Ozuna's soft-hit percentage dropped to around 14 percent with an ISO of .180 and similar ground ball rates. His profile from 2014 more closely matches Josh Donaldson's soft- and hard-hit ball rates. In fact, in 2014, Donaldson posted a similar profile of hard- and soft-hit rates, and his ISO in cavernous Oakland was .201, which is what Ozuna might do if he hit fewer ground balls. A more pessimistic profile may look like Eric Hosmer's. Hosmer has a high ground ball rate for his career (52 percent) but he has had steady soft- and hard-hit rates of 18 and 32 percent respectively over the course of his career. If Ozuna stays at the rates he posted in 2015, Hosmer's career .163 ISO is a possibility, and while that might be disappointing, it still would be worthwhile.
Ozuna's bat does not appear to be significantly changed since his breakout 2014. With a little more fortune on his side, it is easy to see a bounceback effort in 2016. The key will be to see whether his conditioning improves enough to return his defense to positive values after a down 2015 both by the numbers and eyes. Ozuna still has questions to answer, but the bat is less concerning than it initially appears on paper.