Miami Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill spoke with Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald and discussed several aspects of the team’s intriguing early start to the season. One of the biggest reasons why Miami is succeeding this season is the resurgence of Marcell Ozuna, who has catapulted himself into the list of best position player performances so far in 2016. He is a sure-fire All-Star candidate with him showing off a .319/.372/.564 batting line good for 11th-best in the league and 3.3 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), good for 13th in the league among position players.
Michael Hill said good things about Ozuna and maintained that the team always had confidence he could return to peak form.
• Glad you kept Ozuna, huh? "Ozuna’s talent was unquestioned. We really felt like last year was just part of his growth and he would learn from adversity that he faced."
That seems obvious now when he has been on a two-month tear through the big leagues, but you had to figure Miami would be smart to keep Ozuna rather than trade him at his lowest value imaginable after last year, especially since the team went through the trouble of manipulating his service time to keep him an extra season. Still, it is good that the team figured it out, and it is clearly paying dividends.
As to the cause for Ozuna’s breakout, Hill thinks it is his newfound plate discipline.
So what's the difference with him?
"His discipline. He’s narrowed his strike zone. In this league, if they can get you out without throwing you a strike, they won’t throw you a strike. He has really tightened things up and they have to pitch to him now and he’s an unbelievably talented young man. You make mistakes, he’s going to make you pay for it."
That is an easy first thought for a player who is striking out less and playing better than he was last season. But we looked a month ago and did not find a difference in his approach. Has this month changed anything?
These are nearly identical numbers to the ones he posted last year and the ones he has played out all throughout his career. The irony was that during his "breakout" 2014 year, the one in which Marlins fans first started thinking of Ozuna as a rising star, he made less contact! In his last two seasons, it seems as though Ozuna has found a stable approach at the plate. He swings at a decent, but not unspectacular amount. He makes good contact in the strike zone, with rates at around 87 percent of his swings in the zone.
Where does Ozuna swing in the strike zone? Is that any different? Here are his swings in 2015.
Here are his swings so far in 2016 in comparison.
He has perhaps laid off a little bit up and out of the zone and has swung a little more on pitches on the outer third, where he can really extend the hands for decent contact, but otherwise his swings do not look a whole lot different. Ozuna still loves the ball up in the strike zone or on the inner third, where his wheelhouse mostly is. Otherwise, it does not appear as though Ozuna has done some overhaul of his strike zone, though perhaps he has redistributed a small amount of the location of his swings.
Could that be the difference? We pointed out that the biggest difference so far in Ozuna's game is that he has generated a different plane in his swing, leading to fewer ground balls. So far this year, Ozuna has hit grounders on only 42 percent of batted balls. One would suspect that, if Ozuna were swinging at fewer pitches lower in the zone, that would make sense. However, this is not that different; he has actually swung at more pitches in the lower third of the strike zone in 2016 (66 percent) than in 2015 (62 percent). Laying off higher in the zone should not cause this either.
The other thing Ozuna has done is swing a little more on the outer third. One would think that would cause more balls up the middle or to the opposite field, and while he has shot 40 percent of his batted balls down the chute as compared to 35 percent last year, he is also going the other way a lot less. In fact, he is pulling the ball more than he did in all seasons but his rookie 2013 campaign. For a power hitter, that is actually a good thing, as it means he can probably drive a little more. This is especially important with his decrease in grounders, as that likely means that he is hitting fewer low-impact rolled over grounders and more actual liners and power flies by pulling more often.
It does not look like Ozuna really changed his approach at the plate. This is far more likely to be a change in the way he swings the bat rather than where/what he swings it at. Either way, it's a good thing for the Marlins.