FACTS/FLUKES: Ozuna, Aguilar, Strahm, W. Ramos, Mahle

Ozuna flashing elite power … Marcell Ozuna (OF, STL) enjoyed a tremendous 2017 season, batting .312 with 37 HR in 613 AB, but failed to duplicate that success in 2018, batting .280 with 23 HR in 582 AB. While his power has returned with 12 HR through his first 156 AB of 2019, his .231 batting average leaves a lot to be desired. What can we expect going forward?

Year   AB  HR    BA   xBA   vR   bb%  ct%  GB/LD/FB  h%  HctX   PX  xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ==  ====  ====  ====  ===  ===  ========  ==  ====  ===  ===  ====
2014  565  23  .269  .252  .783    7   71  49/18/34  34   117  140  133   17%
2015* 579  14  .263  .255  .646    6   77  48/21/31  32   115  102  106    9%
2016  557  23  .266  .262  .732    7   79  44/20/37  30   120  105  121   14%
2017  613  37  .312  .275  .924    9   77  47/19/34  36   121  130  106   23%
2018  582  23  .280  .248  .716    6   81  47/18/35  31   135   81  112   14%
2019  156  12  .231  .283  .862   10   77  39/19/42  22   133  150  148   24%
*Includes MLEs

There’s a lot to like in these early 2019 skills:

  • As we wrote back in May 2018, significant gains vs. right-handed pitching played a huge role in his 2017 explosion (34 HR and 148 PX in 485 AB vs. RHP). His pre-2017 struggles vs. RHP returned in 2018, but he has once again crushed right-handers so far in 2019 (10 HR and 155 PX in 133 AB).
  • Ozuna’s quality of contact has been elite, as evidenced by HctX, xPX and Statcast-measured 17.5% Barrel%, 92.2 mph average exit velocity and 51% HH%. Ozuna ranks in the top 5% of MLB in Barrel% and in the top 7% in HH% in 2019.
  • The increase in FB% should only bolster his HR upside, if it sticks.
  • The current batting average would be the worst of his career by a fairly wide margin, but xBA implies it won’t last as his puny h% figures to regress.

Ozuna was bothered by right shoulder inflammation in 2018 that required offseason arthroscopic surgery, so it’s reasonable to assume that it played a part in his performance. Heading into 2019, that terrific 2017 season looked like the clear outlier, but his skills thus far in 2019 bear a strong resemblance to those he owned in 2017. If the 28-year-old can stay healthy, he appears to be a good bet to top the 30-HR plateau for the second time, and his batting average is a good bet to rise over the remainder of 2019.

 

Aguilar off to rough start … Jesus Aguilar (1B, MIL) broke out in 2018 to the tune of a .274 batting average and 35 HR in 492 AB, but 2019 has greeted him rather rudely. Through 115 AB, he has a pitiful .209 batting average and just 3 HR. What’s going on here?

Year   AB  HR    BA   xBA  OPSvR  bb%  ct%  GB/LD/FB  h%  HctX   PX  xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ==  ====  ====  =====  ===  ===  ========  ==  ====  ===  ===  ====
2015* 529  16  .244   N/A    N/A    7   75     N/A    30   N/A  107  N/A   N/A
2016* 521  25  .218   N/A    N/A    8   78     N/A    23   N/A  113  N/A   N/A
2017* 279  16  .265  .252   .806    8   66  41/21/38  34   121  154  165   23%
2018  492  35  .274  .269   .876   10   71  35/24/41  32   115  163  158   24%
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2H-18 272  16  .246  .253   .797   12   71  40/23/38  29   110  136  138   22%
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2019  115   3  .209  .227   .664   14   74  41/23/36  26   102   67   97   10%
*Includes MLEs

It’s a mixed bag:

  • Plate skills have ticked up a tad and low h% hasn’t helped, but xBA suggests he has mostly earned his 2019 BA.
  • The quality of his contact has declined. In addition to decreases in HctX and xPX, Statcast has his HH% down from 43% in 2017 and 2018 to 36% in 2019 (MLB average: 34%).
  • Given his history vs. RHP, it’s too soon to panic over his 2019 struggles against them, but it is something to monitor. Though he has reduced strikeouts a bit, his power has waned (PX down from 163 in 2018 to 53 in 72 AB this year).
  • After putting up an incredible first half 2018, he came back down to Earth in the second half. That second half line x2 probably a more accurate representation of his ceiling.

Aguilar stepped in for an injured Eric Thames in April 2018 and went on to have a career year. However, there was some slippage in the second half, especially in terms of batting average. While his hr/f figures to eventually move toward his career 21% mark, his batting average from this point forward is likely to settle around .250, and if the early troubles against right-handed pitching persist, he could stand to lose additional playing time.

 

Strahm settling into new role … It was an outstanding 2018 for Matt Strahm (LHP, SD) as he boasted a shiny 2.05 ERA in 61 IP. The 27-year-old then earned a spot in the 2019 starting rotation with a strong spring and has compiled a 3.07 ERA through 44 IP. How are his skills?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl   Dom  Cmd  FpK  SwK  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  BPV   vL
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ====  ===  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===  ====
2016* 124  4.49  5.24  2.7   8.3  3.1  53%  13%  47/24/29  35/73    0%   72  .641  
2017   35  5.45  4.99  5.7   9.6  1.7  59%  11%  37/19/44  28/67   15%   34  .728 
2018   61  2.05  3.73  3.1  10.1  3.3  66%  13%  35/21/44  24/85    9%  112  .773
2019   44  3.07  4.17  1.6   8.0  4.9  64%  10%  35/22/42  32/77    7%  112  .898
*Includes MLEs

They have held up pretty well, but things aren’t quite as great as they seem:

  • As is typically the case when a pitcher moves from the bullpen to the starting rotation, Strahm’s velocity (93.5 mph to 91 mph) and Dom have dipped. However, his SwK is essentially average and fully supports his current Dom.
  • He has been extremely stingy with the free passes. That comes as no surprise considering his ability to get ahead in the count and pound the strike zone (31.4% Ball% in 2019).
  • A wide gap between ERA/xERA indicates that he has received some good fortune with regard to hr/f and S%.
  • Interestingly, he is again displaying reverse splits. A 43% H% has no doubt impacted his 2019 numbers against lefties, but his subpar 2.0 Cmd vL is right in line with his career level (2.2 Cmd in 191 lifetime PA). Meanwhile, he owns a 3.1 Cmd and has allowed a .585 OPS in 479 lifetime PA vs. right-handed batters.

Strahm was a popular sleeper heading into 2019 and those who rostered him have to be pleased with the early returns. There will probably be some regression forthcoming, so don’t count on him maintaining a 3.00 ERA the rest of the way, but he should continue to be an asset, even as his ERA seems destined to rise into the mid-high 3s. Also, keep in mind that the 27-year-old’s workload is expected to be capped somewhere around 130-140 innings.

 

Ramos off to poor start with new team … Wilson Ramos (C, NYM) signed a two-year, $19 million contract with the Mets following a strong 2018 campaign with the Rays that included a .306 batting average and 15 HR in 382 AB. However, Ramos has mustered a measly .231 batting average and 2 HR through 121 AB in 2019. Can Ramos right the ship?

Year   AB  HR    BA   xBA  bb%  ct%  GB/LD/FB  h%  HctX   PX  xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ==  ====  ====  ===  ===  ========  ==  ====  ===  ===  ====
2014  341  11  .267  .263   5    83  55/22/23  29    99   86   88   17%
2015  475  15  .229  .240   4    79  55/20/25  26    93   81   84   16%
2016  482  22  .307  .280   7    84  54/20/25  33   120  105   97   21%
2017* 236  13  .252  .258   5    84  52/18/30  25   113   94  106   21%
2018  382  15  .306  .266   8    79  55/20/25  36   114  107   90   20%
2019  121   2  .231  .237   8    80  62/18/19  27    98   42   60   11%
*Includes MLEs

An extraordinarily high GB% has wreaked havoc:

  • Steady plate skills and track record provide optimism for BA improvement.
  • Ramos has always hit lots of balls on the ground, but he has taken it to a whole new level in 2019, as he is currently leading all qualified MLB hitters in GB% while also hitting fewer flyballs than any qualified batter. That stifles his HR potential.
  • He is still making plenty of hard contact, as evidenced by Statcast measured exit velocity (90.7 mph) and HH% (45%) readings that are well above-average and similar to those he amassed in 2018.

This certainly isn’t the type of start Ramos or the Mets wanted, but there is reason for optimism. The combination of solid plate skills and plenty of hard contact suggest better days probably lie ahead, provided he can make at least a small adjustment to his batted ball mix and stay healthy (“D” health grade in the 2019 Baseball Forecaster). However, his h% and hr/f figured to regress from the lofty heights of 2018 anyway, so don’t expect anything close to that level of production over the rest of 2019.

 

Mahle making strides … Tyler Mahle (RHP, CIN) sported a 3.83 ERA in 92 IP in the first half of 2018, but was shellacked to the tune of a 10.18 ERA in 20 second half IP before being shut down with shoulder tenderness. An injury to Alex Wood opened the door for Mahle to begin 2019 in the starting rotation and through 45 IP, he owns a 3.97 ERA and 49 strikeouts. How are the underlying metrics?

Year   IP   ERA/xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  FpK  Ball%  SwK  BPV 
====  ===  =========  ===  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===  =====  ===  === 
2016#  71  6.70/ N/A  2.8  7.4  2.6     N/A    36/64   N/A  N/A   N/A   N/A   31 
2017^ 144  2.90/ N/A  2.1  7.6  3.6     N/A    30/78   N/A  N/A   N/A   N/A  102 
17MLB  20  2.70/5.34  5.0  6.3  1.3  52/15/33  31/80    0%  61%  39.0%   7%   10
2018  112  4.98/4.65  4.3  8.8  2.1  39/25/36  33/74   18%  62%  35.5%  10%   61
2019   45  3.97/3.22  1.8  9.7  5.4  44/27/29  33/72   19%  68%  33.1%  10%  149
#Double-A MLEs
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs

These are his best skills to date:

  • He showed good control in the minors, but walks were extremely problematic through his first 132 IP in the majors. His Ctl sub-indicators have been excellent in 2019 and fully support the Ctl gains.
  • His current Dom would be the highest of his professional career, but a merely average SwK warns of impending pullback (xDom: 8.2).
  • Home runs were a big problem in 2018, so the 2019 uptick in GB% is a welcomed sight, as it should help him keep the ball in the yard. His hr/f would appear to be ripe for regression, but maybe not as much as one might think given the amount of hard contact he has allowed thus far, including a Statcast measured 91.5 mph exit velocity which ranks in the bottom 6% of MLB, a 10.4 barrel% (MLB average: 6.2%) and a whopping 47% HH% (MLB average: 34%).
  • On a related note, Mahle hasn’t been able to get hitters to chase pitches outside the zone, as illustrated by Statcast’s Chase% metric, where his 24% mark is well below the 28% MLB average.

Opposing batters posted a .291 BA, .518 SLG and 7 HR against Mahle’s slider in 2018, so he replaced it with a curve that he only threw about 1% of the time in 2017-18. Mahle spoke this spring about working on his offspeed pitches during the offseason, but he is still heavily reliant on his four-seam fastball, throwing it 62% of the time and mixing in the curve (23%), change-up (13%) and cutter (1%) with just one of his offerings yielding a SwK% above 10% (split/change-up: 12%). While the improved Ctl and increased GB% are positive developments, the strikeouts aren’t likely to continue at quite his current rate. The 24-year-old will need to upgrade those secondary pitches and refine his command in order to truly take another step forward.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.