We all know how Marcell Ozuna came to be a St. Louis Cardinal. After the very interesting, frustrating, and, ultimately, futile pursuit of Giancarlo Stanton, the Cardinals had to pivot to another of the Marlins’ outfielders. Though it has been speculated that Christian Yelich was the preferred target, the Cardinals pounced on the opportunity to acquire Ozuna. The Cardinals took the one they knew they could get, as there was uncertainty around whether the Marlins would trade Yelich at all as well as the risk that another team would push too many chips on the table to outbid them, leaving them empty-handed. And so they grabbed the Big Bear. Coming off of an MVP-type season, it was anticipated that he would be a force in the heart of the Cardinals lineup, even if there was some regression. His 2018 season has not come close to expectations. Despite it all, he has been a consistent presence, even if it hasn’t been as advertised.
His offensive profile this season has not quite been cleanup hitter quality, as he hovers below league average with a 94 wRC+. His 14 HR’s have come in bursts, and he has just 13 2B’s after hitting 30 a year ago. His 29 total extra-base hits in 2018 are a far cry from the 69 he had during a very nice 2017 campaign. A singles hitter was not at all what Cardinals fans had hoped to see, but there is something to be said for a guy that is consistently on the bases night-in and night-out.
This season, overall, Ozuna has been on base in 93 of his 117 games played. For Comparison, Matt Carpenter has been on base in 98 of his 116 games (and all of his last 33). While not touching the MVP-level performance of Carpenter, Ozuna has been nearly as consistent as far as being a nightly presence on the bases. Since the managerial change on July 15th, Ozuna has reached base in 24 of 28 games. During the Cardinals’ red hot August, he has been on base in 12 of 14 games.
Lately, this ever-present style has been working well. The team’s collective offense approach that “passes the baton” and “keeps the line moving” has been very productive. In the middle of all that is Marcell Ozuna. Compared to early in the season when he felt like he needed to hit a 5-run HR — and every hitter in the lineup seemed to exist on an island — Ozuna has been more relaxed, as even a single can help further a rally for this cohesive unit.
As Ozuna told Rick Hummel after a July 28th win over the Cubs:
“Sometimes, I’ve been trying to do too much … and that’s made me go into a hole. I wasn’t getting down every day. I was getting one hit. Yesterday, I got two hits. Today, I got three hits. Day by day, I’m going to be successful and help my team.”
That essentially sums up what I’m saying. Even when the slugging success hasn’t been there, he has managed to maintain a consistent floor, even if it’s just one single per game.
And the extra base hits are starting to come as well. In 14 games this month he has 5 XBH’s, which already matches his output for all of July. He has had 5 XBH’s or less in 3 of the 4 full months of 2018, so the August numbers are significant. For the month he has a slash line of .322/.355/.458 with 6 runs and 6 RBIs in 62 PA’s.
When the offense can create scoring chances from top to bottom, having a true masher in the 4-spot isn’t as big of a deal. I’m not saying it’s ideal, but it can work. The example I look at is Ben Zobrist. Specifically in 2016, he spent 100 games as the Cubs 4th or 5th place hitter. In those games he hit 20 2B’s, 13 HR’s, and .282/.397./.465. Obviously, he had a much better walk rate/OBP — it’s really not a great comparison — but his ability to keep the line moving in that offensive attack was very successful, despite not being a “slugger”. And that’s my point. Ozuna doing something similar in front of a re-discovered Paul DeJong can make for a very productive 4/5 combo.
Now, if Ozuna can continue to have his slugging trend upwards — as it has in the first two weeks of August — to go along with his night-to-night consistency, he would become the force we were hoping for. We have seen it before and we saw the potential again with the laser-beam he sent into the LF seats on Wednesday. This guy is built to mash.
Regardless, he has been quietly consistent all year — in his own way — and that has value. Especially when the knock on the Cardinals lineup for most of the season has been their feast or famine nature. That narrative has changed, and Marcell is a contributing factor for the new look Cardinals.
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Thanks to Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference for the stats!