I’m still waiting for the Ozuna Train. The famous locomotive left Miami a long time ago, its powerful engine bound for St. Louis, slugging a path to glory, big wheels rolling, carrying a load of extra-base hits, homers, and a prodigious volume of offensive production.
A passenger list that includes several dozen players, coaches, a manager, and the front-office staff of the St. Louis Cardinals are waiting to board the Ozuna Train. Where is the Ozuna Train? It’s late to the station, and folks are getting restless. They have their tickets. They packed a suitcase. They brought enough clothes to dress for October, to stay warm while attending postseason baseball games at Busch Stadium. If the Ozuna Train would just get here, the STL baseball fans would go old-school, play some classic O’Jays, and dance to “Love Train.”
So what’s wrong? The Ozuna Train isn’t derailed. Maybe the Ozuna Train is just slow to get going … slow to get moving …can’t seem to get started … I just checked; still not here. Is the Ozuna Train close? It might be getting close. But I can’t feel the rumbling of the tracks, can’t hear the thunderous sound.
Going into Thursday’s opener of the Cardinals’ four-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium, Ozuna was batting .250, had and had a .284 onbase percentage. Ozuna’s park-adjusted runs created (71 wRC+) put him 29 percent below league average offensively. Ozuna’s hitting profile is sparse, and the most glaring omission is power.
In his first 40 games with his new team, Ozuna has 3 homers in 160 at-bats.
Brandon Belt (Giants) has 3 homers since Monday.
Ozuna’s slugging percentage, .338, ranks 148th among 168 qualifying MLB hitters. Jon Jay (Royals) has a higher slug pct. (.354) than Ozuna.
What about the purest measure of power? That would be Isolated Power, or ISO. Ozuna’s .088 ISO is No. 151 on that list of 168 hitters. Billy Hamilton has a more rugged ISO (.098) than Ozuna.
(Yes, I said Billy Hamilton.)
Last season for Miami, the smashingly good Ozuna launched 37 homers, slugged .548, posted a .237 ISO, and was 42 percent above the league average in park-adjusted runs created. (Which means Ozune has gone from being 42 percent above league average offensively last season, to slumping to 29 percent below league average so far this year.) But sizing up a talented left fielder — winner of the gold glove, and the silver slugger — the Cardinals made a move for Ozuna’s power, taking advantage of Miami’s payroll slashing to acquire Ozuna for an assortment of four minor-league prospects.
The Cardinals found their coveted cleanup hitter. And now they are waiting, patiently, for Ozuna to find his power. Adjustment periods are expected; this one is dragging on.
“Anytime you go into a new environment, you know the expectations are high,” said former Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday, a guest on my 101ESPN radio show Thursday. “They traded a bunch of players to get you. They’re asking you to step in and be the middle of the order bat, the so-called missing piece the last couple of years. I do think he’s probably putting some extra pressure on himself.
“I think the cold weather … obviously, playing for the Marlins, he played in a controlled environment and I think that maybe has something to do with it. It’s harder to hit when you’re cold.
“There’s probably some early-season mechanical stuff that maybe isn’t right. And maybe it’s a combination of all three things. But I think the main thing is, you start to try and put a little extra on yourself. You want to go out there and prove your worth and and prove to the fans that you were worth the trade.”
Holliday didn’t have that problem when he was traded from Oakland to St. Louis on July 24 of the 2009 season. Holliday had four hits in his first game as a Cardinal and the barrage continued. In 63 regular-season games after the trade, Holliday batted .353 with a .419 OBP, .604 slug and 1.023 OPS. He homered 13 times and knocked in 55 runs.
Instant impact. The Cardinals will have to settle for delayed impact from Ozuna.
“Until he really settles in and relaxes and goes out and does the things we’ve seen him do for the Marlins the last couple of years, it can be tough,” Holliday said. “But I think when you look up at the end of the year the numbers will be there. He’s too talented not to get it going.”
Now, please allow me to interrupt myself and say this: the Ozuna Train will arrive. But just as Ozuna is still in various stages of learning about a new franchise, city, fan base, teammates and living arrangements, we’re still making discoveries about him.
Ozuna will hit, and he will be a menacing presence. But here’s my question: will Ozuna unpack as much power as he delivered in 2017? Or even 2016, when he homered 23 times and slugged a respectable (but not intimidating) .456?
Holliday’s opinion about the elements — specifically, Ozuna’s history of hitting in the controlled environment of Marlins Park — prompted me to take a look at something.
Here’s what I found. I’m going to list two sets of numbers. To the left, I will show you Ozuna’s career hitting performance in “open” stadiums. The numbers to the right will show his career hitting performance in controlled environments (domed stadiums, or ballparks with retractable roofs.)
Plate appearances: 1,508 … 1,332
Home Run Ratio: One every 33.2 at-bats … one every 21.8 at-bats.
Batting average: .264 … .287
Onbase percentage: .315 … .341
Slugging percentage: .414 … .490
OPS: .728 … .831
Well, it seems that the Big Bear likes hitting in controlled settings. In fact, here are Ozunas top five “road” ballparks for highest OPS in his career:
Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay, dome, 1.129
Minute Maid Park, Houston, retractable, 1.125
Miller Park, Milwaukee, retractable, .984
Chase Field, Arizona, retractable, .965
Rogers Centre, Toronto, retractable, .917
Ozuna has put up robust numbers at some open ballparks including AT&T Park in San Francisco, and (Texas) Rangers Park in Arlington.
In 2015, Ozuna had a below-average offensive performance overall, so it didn’t matter where he hit … open stadium, controlled environment.
But what about Ozuna’s three above-average seasons?
I’ll just go with the slugging percentages to save time.
2014: slugged .345 in open stadiums, .561 in controlled settings.
2016: slugged .441 (open), and .465 (controlled.)
2017: slugged .484 (open), and .615 (controlled.)
The past two seasons are the most relevant, so let’s just combine 2016-2017, and look at the slash line of batting average, OBP and slugging:
Ozuna, Outdoors: .277 / .336 / .463 … for a .799 OPS
Ozuna, Indoors: .304 / .364 / .547 … for a .911 OPS
OK, now that we’ve seen the difference between the Outside Ozuna and the Inside Ozuna, we must come up with a solution to the problem.
This: The Cardinals should put retractable roof on Busch Stadium.
Um, not simple. At all.
Just hope that the Ozuna Train can adapt to the St. Louis heat and make it thunder.
Thanks for reading …