What a difference a month makes.
Marcell Ozuna was hitting .229/.297/.410, good for a .307 wOBA, in the month of April. The questions about whether the Miami Marlins outfielder had peaked in 2014 and was the same guy who struggled through last season arose again. However, one could tell from the underlying numbers that Ozuna was mostly the same things that brought him success a few years ago. Despite a decrease in exit velocity, Ozuna was showing decent power with an ISO of .181. He hit three homers in the month of April after having only 10 homers all year the previous season. His strikeout and walk rates were maintained, as nothing has changed in that regard since 2014. He was also hitting fewer ground balls, as his grounder rate was at 40 percent that month. The lack of batted ball velocity compared to last year, when he was averaging 92.5 mph was on the discouraging side, but it seemed unlikely that a career .336 BABIP hitter would settle in at a .286 BABIP as his true talent.
Flip the calendar month and just like that, Ozuna is a new man. He is tearing through the month of May, having posted a .426/.455/.734 month (.503 wOBA), one of the best months so far in Marlins history. To take that into context, even in Giancarlo Stanton's two best seasons, he does not own a single calendar month with a wOBA over .500. This is Ozuna with cheat codes on.
And yet, underneath it all, not a whole lot has changed. He is striking out and walking less, but the ratios are at about the same amount. In May, he has whiffed on 18.5 percent of chances with a 5.1 percent walk rate; he was posting a 26 percent strikeout rate and 8.5 percent walk rate the previous month. This might suggest that he is swinging and/or making more contact than he was in the previous month, and some of that holds true.
Ozuna's overall approach with the strike zone appears exactly the same as his career numbers thus far this season. There is a near-perfect match with almost everything down the board. This means that, while Ozuna has been different this month, it has led to about the same approach he always has. And that is reflected in his strikeout and walk rates, as he owns a 21.6 percent strikeout rate and 6.8 percent walk rate, very close to his career 23.4 and 6.1 percent marks respectively.
So what's different? How is Ozuna on such a fiery hot roll without any change in how he is approaching swings at the plate? Part of it is the plane at which Ozuna is swinging. He may be swinging at the same pitches, but when he makes contact, the ball is getting more launch. Last year, Ozuna's ground ball rate was up to 48 percent, and his average launch angle off the bat was at 5.7 degrees. As you will recall, batted balls with an average launch angle under 10 degrees are much more likely to be ground balls more than anything else. This season, Ozuna is launching batted balls at a nearly 10 degrees on average. For context, Stanton's average launch degree last season in his homer-rific run was at 12.3 degrees.
Hitting more fly balls is not a perfect solution for every player, but for Ozuna, it emphasizes what he does best. Hitting it in the air more often allows him to use his natural power, and while he may not have Stanton's monster strength, Ozuna's has more than just your typical gap power. He is showing it off this month, as he has hit six homers, seven doubles, and two triples to his name. He is, of course, hitting the ball harder this month, but his overall batted ball velocity remains unchanged from last year's ugly season. In many ways, Ozuna is the same player he has always been, but hitting the ball in the air and on a line more often has unlocked the use of his power.
In 2014, Ozuna posted a .186 ISO and put up a three-to-four win season. He is already at two wins this season thanks to his mega-hot streak, and if he racks up nine more hits in the next few games before the month ends, he can break the team's record-number of hits in a month, posted by Chris Coghlan back in 2009. Even if he does not reach that, however, Ozuna can still be one of the best players on this team, and it did not require him learning to be a different player at the plate. Just a few more swings on a line have turned his season, and perhaps his career, back around towards All-Star level play.