Marcell Ozuna's red-hot start highlights why the Braves didn't give up on him

The 2023 Braves broke a lot of records, headlined by Ronald Acuña Jr, Matt Olson, and Austin Riley. However, their lights shined so brightly that one of the league’s best run producers went unnoticed.

Atlanta Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna is healthy, focused, and once again one of the league's best run producers.
Atlanta Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna is healthy, focused, and once again one of the league's best run producers. / Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
2 of 3

Marcell Ozuna was once one of the game's most sought-after bats, but injuries and bad decisions derailed his career. Now he's back, and opposing pitchers have the challenge of facing a player who's healthy, focused, and more dangerous than ever.

Last Sunday, the Atlanta Braves recognized hitting coach Kevin Seitzer's Coach of the Year Award, Acuña Jr.’s Hank Aaron Award, along with his third Silver Slugger Award, Riley’s Second Sliver Slugger Award, and Matt Olson’s First Silver Slugger. Acuña and Riley were also recognized for their selection to the 2023 All-MLB Team First Team and Ozzie Albies’ selection to the 2023 All-MLB Team Second Team.

Voters forgot about Ozuna from the Braves

The NL had five players with over 100 games and 440 PA as a DH; the best of those was the Braves Marcell Ozuna, who hit 40 homers and batted .279/.352/.569/.921 in 520 PA as DH.

Bryce Harper came to the plate 394 times as a DH, hit only 11 homers, and batted .297/.398/.471 with a .870 OPS and136 wRC+. He ended up winning the Silver Slugger as DH, and the post announcing the winners referenced his season line total (at first base and DH) of 21 homers and .293/.401/.499 with a .900 OPS and 142 wRC+. It doesn’t mention any other contender, but it does give a subtle hint of why Harper won.

“Despite not debuting until May … and enduring a career-long power outage, Harper still socked 21 homers and had 51 extra-base… went homerless for 37 games …but once he snapped that streak on July 15, he looked like the player we all know...” (My emphasis added)

Harper wasn’t the best DH in 2023; he won because he’s Bryce Harper, and “…he looked like the player we all know.

I understand Harper is one of the game’s elite hitters, and the game’s elite always win these awards when it’s a close run without restrictions, but Ozuna’s season was just as good as Harper’s.

Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna is underappreciated

In 2023, Marcell Ozuna:

  • Hit 40 homers, good for sixth most in baseball and third on the Braves.
  • Slugged .558, good for seventh among all qualified hitters in baseball.
  • Posted a .381 wOBA, good for tenth among all qualified hitters in baseball.
  • Ended the season with 139 wRC+, eleventh among all qualified hitters in baseball.

Ozuna has started the 2024 season healthy and hot. He’s currently batting .326/.367/.696 with a 1.063 OPS, five homers, and 13 RBI through 11 games. Fans love him when he’s hot, but don't cut him slack when he strikes out…well, not as much as they have for others.

He’s a flawed hitter, and he can look terrible swinging at those disappearing sliders, but that’s part of the reason he’s so dangerous.

Misunderstanding Marcell Ozuna

I’ve often been less than inspired by watching Ozuna at the plate. He can’t seem to lay off of a low and away slider, and sometimes his backside heads to the dugout when he’s still in the process of swinging. That’s improved these days but those slider swings are still…annoying. I digress.

I believed he struck out too much but I was wrong (I’m saying that a lot in this post). His 22.6% K-rate is almost exactly league-average and lower than that of Matt Olson (23.2%) and Austin Riley (24.1%).

In the past, I said that his 32.6% O-Swing rate was awful and that he’d be a better hitter. I was, at least partially, wrong. I stumbled over a few things I didn’t know last week. That‘s not unusual of course, but one of the most interesting convinced that his success, the success we’re seeing now, comes not despite his chase rate but because of it

A post by Robert Orr for Baseball Prospectus last November discussed how Cory Seager managed to bat .327/.390/.623/1.013, hit 33 homers, drove in 96 runs, and despite posting a 40% chase rate, “has arguably the purest approach in the game for a hitter."

The post isn’t behind a paywall, so I won’t delve too deeply into the statistics provided or how he developed a new metric he calls SElective AGgression Engagement Rate (SEAGER) - I’ll cut to the bullet points. His research shows that:

  • Plate discipline is more than just drawing walks. 
  • What you swing at—hittable pitches—is more important than what you don’t—balls outside the zone—when the goal is improving quality of contact. 
  • Balancing both is the best thing a hitter can do: that’s what the SEAGER measures.

A player’s SEAGER score shows how often he chose to swing at hittable non-strike pitches and how often they did damage with those swings.

The SEAGER is named after Cory Seager because his 25.8% is the highest score on the list. Harper is second with 24.9%, and Acuña is tied with Mike Trout in 3rd with a 24.1% score. Two more Braves check in with at least 20%; Matt Olson is 19th with 21.1%, and Marcell Ozuna at 28th with 20.7%. Austin Riley’s 19.9% just missed the magic 20% cutoff and put him at 39th.

What does this mean for Marcell Ozuna?

SEAGER recognizes that sometimes it’s a good idea to swing at a hittable non-strike to create runs - In the dark ages, we called this expanding the zone – and a way of measuring success. Orr’s data also tells us how often batters do damage when they swing at these pitches.

In 2023, players with a SEAGER of at least 19.9% - yes, I fudged one-tenth of a percent to include Riley – and 250 PA are paired with their damage per BBE, four Braves appear in the top ten. Data come from the spreadsheet linked in Orr’s post.

  • Aaron Judge – SEAGER 23.4% - Damage/BBE 49%
  • Matt Wallner – SEAGER 21% - Damage/BBE 39%
  • Matt Olson - SEAGER 21.0% - Damage/BBE 38%
  • Mike Trout - SEAGER 24.1% - Damage/BBE 36%
  • Yordan Alvarez- SEAGER 21.2% - Damage/BBE 36%
  • Ronald Acuña Jr. - SEAGER 24.1% - Damage/BBE 35%
  • Marcell Ozuna - SEAGER 20.7% - Damage/BBE 35%
  • Corey Seager - SEAGER 25.8% - Damage/BBE 34%
  • Austin Riley - SEAGER 19.9% - Damage/BBE 34%

It’s not surprising that MLB’s 2023 home run champ is third in this group, that the league’s first 40/70 player is sixth, or that Riley checks in at ninth. It may surprise you to find Marcell Ozuna just behind Acuña in seventh.

Keyed in to watch for this after reading the post, I saw Ozuna do it successfully seven times over the last five days. Here’s one of them.

I underestimated Ozuna because I didn’t look deep enough into his history. I didn’t realize that 2020 aside, 2023 was his first completely healthy season since 2017. He damaged his shoulder in 2018, lost the last two months of the season, and had shoulder surgery that October.

He came back in 2019, injured the fingers on his right hand in August, and fought his way through the season, but as I’ve written in the past, it takes at least a year before a shoulder returns to anything resembling its pre-surgery strength.

Last season, quietly because everyone was watching Olson, Acuña, Riley, and Strider, he once again looked like the sought-after offensive player he was projected to become back in 2013.

All I'm saying is that regardless of your opinion of the man, it’s time to understand that a healthy Marcell Ozuna is one of the game’s most dangerous hitters. And, if you watch closely, you’ll see how he can look so bad and still be that good.

In a later post, Orr ranked the teams with the best SEAGER score, and the Atlanta Braves ranked second on the list with a 15.9 team SEAGER but first in Damage/BBE with 27%. The ranking isn’t a shock because of the way the lineup performed in 2023.

Atlanta Braves Fans are keenly aware of pitch location when a batter strikes out and are quick to groan and complain about it; I do it all the time. Occasionally, you’ll hear one say, “That pitch wasn’t even a strike,” or “How did he hit that?”

Marcell Ozuna is one of the best run producers in the game, and it’s time for Braves’ fans to understand that and recognize how important he is to the team’s success.

More Braves News from House That Hank Built