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A closer look at Marcell Ozuna's disappointing 2015 season

Digging into Ozuna's 2015 season shows us that his struggles result from a pitcher adjustment, and his own inability to perform in difficult situations.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Many had high expectations for Marcell Ozuna going into the 2015 Miami Marlins season.  He had just come off a promising 2014 season, his first full year in the majors, batting .269/.317/.455 over 153 games.  He showed a lot of power, hitting 23 homers despite playing half of his games in Marlins Park.  Ozuna seemed destined for an even stronger 2015 season, but ultimately disappointed.  What went wrong?  Digging into his 2014 and 2015 seasons shows that his struggles were a result of a pitcher adjustment and his own inability to perform in difficult situations.

In 2014 and 2015, Ozuna was extremely successful against the fastball.   He batted .315/.409/.539, hitting 16 of his 33 homers off this pitch.  Those are excellent numbers, but unfortunately for Ozuna, he struggled as much against the slider as he was successful against the fastball.  This caused pitchers to adjust, as the percentage of sliders he faced increased from 19% in 2014 to 23% in 2015. Unfortunately, Ozuna only hit .144/.165/.259 in 2015 against the slider when an outcome was produced.

Diving into some simple sabermetrics, Ozuna's results versus the slider look even worse.  In 2015, his foul per swing percentage against the slider was 21.74 percent, and his whiff per swing percentage was 52.17 percent.  That means Ozuna whiffed on over half the sliders he swung at.  Not so good.  For comparison, let's look at the whiff per swing percentage of three other Marlins against the slider.  J.T. Realmuto?  28.87 percent.  Dee Gordon? 15.53 percent  Justin Bour?  39.18 percent.  So what is the problem?  Could it simply be that Ozuna struggles to read the break on the pitch?  Lets look at two graphs from Brooks Baseball that give us more information.

First, let's look at a zone profile that shows his percentage of swings per slider faced:

Swing % Slider Ozuna

What do we notice?  Let's focus on the bottom 5 boxes: low and outside the zone.  Overall, Ozuna is swinging at 46 percent of pitches located in this area.  Swinging at such pitches usually results in minimal success, and we can see this in the next zone profile which shows the percentage of whiffs per swing against the slider:

Whiff% Slider

Again, the first thing I notice about this zone profile is Ozuna's struggles with sliders low and outside the zone.  He is missing 87 percent of pitches swung on across this location.  Now, it is typical for a pitcher to locate his slider low to attempt and get a batter to chase.  However, a whiff per swing percentage of 87 percent combined with his high swing percentage, 46%, on pitches in this location is a red flag.  It makes sense that pitchers are beginning to throw him the slider more often, and that he is struggling to adjust.

Even more interesting, is that pitchers began using the slider against Ozuna as an opening pitch with great success. Ozuna faced a first-pitch slider 24 percent of the time he stepped up to the plate in 2015, which is up from 17 percent in 2014.  Forty-nine percent of the time a first pitch slider led to an 0-1 count.  While a 49 percent first strike rate on the slider doesn't seem terrible, a single strike in the first two pitches against Ozuna in 2015 was deadly.  When Ozuna fell behind 0-1, his triple slash line for the ultimate outcome of the at bat was .225/.252/.333.  Even when facing a 1-1 count, Ozuna's triple slash line fell to .188/.245/.245.

Herein lies what I consider Ozuna's biggest problem.  In 2015, Ozuna fell behind 0-1 55% of the time.  This is not a terrible number.  However, after two pitches, Ozuna faced a 1-1 or 0-2 count 83 percent of the time.  For a player that is merely hitting .188/.245/.245 when facing a 1-1 count, this does not bode well.  As all hitters do, Ozuna struggles if he is not put in favorable situations.  The problem, however, is that Ozuna struggles even more than the average player, and has extreme difficulties performing even after he is faced with an even 1-1 count.  That does not bode well for his future, and with pitchers adjusting, he could continue to have a difficult time in 2016.