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2016 Miami Marlins Season Preview: Marcell Ozuna

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The embattled Marlins center fielder Marcell Ozuna is looking to rebound from a difficult season on all fronts.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins were set to have the best outfield in baseball, but one player's performance in 2015 outright disagreed with this presumptive title. The Marlins did not get much out of Marcell Ozuna last season, and the continued struggles throughout the first half led to a contentious demotion to the minors motivated almost entirely by service time manipulation. This left Ozuna angry when he returned to the Marlins and left the Fish in turn angry with him for voicing his complaints. Speculation that he would dealt this past offseason came and went with Ozuna still here for 2016, on the final year of his cheap pre-arbitration career. Miami will look to get the most out of him, while Ozuna looks to bounce back his value to when he was an All-Star in the making in 2014.

Outfield Depth Chart

LF Christian Yeich
CF Marcell Ozuna
RF Giancarlo Stanton
OF Ichiro Suzuki
Corner OF Derek Dietrich

The Marlins were hoping for the return of a power-laden Ozuna to help a roster otherwise filled with ground ball hitters. Ozuna smacked 23 home runs in 2014 and impressed everyone with his good defense and cannon arm. That led many to believe that Ozuna had the high upside to become a star player, given his streaky potential, his established power, and Christian Yelich's relatively stable and low-ceiling hitting profile.

Ozuna faltered on many of these levels in 2015. His power dropped dramatically, leading to just 10 home runs and a .124 ISO that mirrored his first season in the big leagues. He came to camp relatively out of shape compared to before and struggled on defense, though he was still a fantastic arm from center field. The outfielder still brought his free-swinging ways to Miami, swinging at 35 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. That mark was matched or beaten only by Adeiny Hechavarria and Dee Gordon, two other free-swinging Marlins with better contact rates. As a result, Ozuna whiffed on 22.8 percent of plate appearances while not drawing a whole lot of walks to compensate.

All of those things make the markings of a bad player, except that Ozuna's upside remains high. For a guy with just a .124 ISO, Ozuna's power was still prevalent when he did make contact. His batted ball velocity of 92.8 mph was 13th in baseball among those with enough batted balls recorded; his company was among guys like Nelson Cruz, Mark Trumbo, and fellow Marlin Justin Bour. Given that he owns a history of hitting the ball hard before, you have to figure this is a positive sign for someone with all the power potential in the world. If he makes contact like he did in 2014, his homers and doubles should naturally bump back up.

And it is not as though Ozuna's contact profile was worse in 2015 than it was in his breakout year. His contact rate of 75 percent matched his first season and bested 2014 by five percent. If anything, it was better in his bad year at the plate, and it made the decreased strikeout rate make sense. Strikeouts are Ozuna's worst enemy at the plate, so any improvement in contact is a positive sign.

Source: Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports

The defensive changes may be harder to pinpoint. Ozuna will likely always be a positive with his arm, but his range in center field has been in question since his time in the minors. He may never have good range for the position, which limits his ability to squeeze positive defensive value. At the same time, that arm will keep his defensive floor a little higher, and his coming into camp in shape and ready to go is at least a positive indicator, albeit a questionable one.

Projection
Ozuna, 2016 PA AVG OBP SLG WOBA WAR
ZiPS 574 .263 .312 .421 .317 1.8
Steamer 544 .267 .318 .439 .327 2.6
PECOTA 571 .260 .308 .425 --- 0.8

Ozuna's numbers offensively vary a little in between projections. This time, it is Steamer that takes the upside pick for Ozuna, plugging him in for a batting line with just a little less power than the one he put up two seasons ago. ZiPS still sees a comeback more in line with his career .265/.311/.416 line, and it makes some sense. Ozuna has spent about a full season (2013 and the first half of 2015) being pop-less and the rest of his career having strong power numbers. If anything, Ozuna is streaky, but the overall line leaves his power as merely "decent" rather than elite. Still, all three systems see almost 30 doubles and about 17 home runs, which falls just short of the work he did in 2014.

Ozuna's average batting line from these three listed is at .263/.313/.428, or about what ZiPS is projecting for Ozuna. That translates to a .318 wOBA, which approaches league average. In 600 plate appearances and 140 games, that might translate to about two runs better than average.

Figuring out Ozuna's defensive contributions is a tougher challenge. Baseball Prospectus's FRAA values Ozuna poorly on defense, on the order of five runs below average for his career. That might make his center field numbers closer to eight to ten runs below average, as he was a major plus in either corner over his career. Meanwhile, UZR and DRS find him to be slightly above average at about three runs above average in total. In total, he measures up to just under league average for his career per 1000 innings. In 140 games and 1250 innings, he might be a run below average defensively.

Add these totals up over 600 plate appearances and you have a player worth 2.3 Wins Above Replacement. Even hacking off a few runs or so for adjusting the league average and you still have another league average player on the Marlins' contingency. Marlins fans may hope for more from Ozuna, but his vast uncertainty makes him an interesting but dangerous 2016 player.