The Cincinnati Reds are reportedly among several teams that are pursuing outfielder Marcell Ozuna as they gear up for free agency that will follow the World Series. Maybe. The information initially caught my attention when it was retweeted be Hector Gomez who is the sports director at Z101 Digital in the Dominican Republic. Here’s the tweet he sent out:

The contract numbers are what caught my eye, even more so than the inclusion of the Reds being mentioned. What gets interesting here, and does make me a bit skeptical of what’s going on here is that as far as I can tell, Adan Lesther isn’t a sports journalist. I had to use google translate for his twitter profile, but it notes “Event animator and Masters of Ceremony. Marcell Ozuna PR,” and that doesn’t exactly tell me that he’s a journalist. That doesn’t mean he’s not right on the teams that could be interested in Marcell Ozuna, though. But that he literally listed Marcell Ozuna PR in his bio, and nearly all of his tweets in the last week are talking about Ozuna and why he’s underrated certainly is something.

But let’s ignore that whole 6-years and $170M contract for now. That’s just one that doesn’t seem to hold up in today’s unfortunate standard of not paying players anything like they used to. Instead, let’s look at Marcell Ozuna and see if he’s a good fit for the Cincinnati Reds at a contract that seems far more likely to be offered (and we’ll not really get into what that is, because honestly who knows at this point?).

It’s fair to say that everyone believes that the Cincinnati Reds will be exploring outfield options this offseason. As noted on these pages multiple times already since the season ended, the Reds need to add offense, and plenty of it if they plan to contend for the playoffs. On that front, Marcell Ozuna fits. He’s not a difference maker in the middle of the lineup, and shot of an outlier 2017 season, he’s never been that. But he has been an above-average hitter in five of the last six years, with the one year he wasn’t coming back in 2015. In the last two seasons since being traded to St. Louis he’s posted a 106 and 107 OPS+.

This season with the juiced baseball he hit .241/.328/.472. That’s the lowest average of his career, and it’s not really close. But it also came with an also career low and it’s not close BABIP of just .259. For his career his BABIP has been .315 – so he was very likely very unlucky during the season and should rebound quite well from that, assuming his other numbers and peripherals start the same.

We mention the juiced baseball because it matters. There’s no information out there about which baseball we’re going to see in 2020. The one used in the regular season in 2019 was very different than an already juiced baseball that was used in 2017 and 2018. But in the playoffs the 2019 baseball isn’t acting at all like the same one that was used in the regular season. That’s being brought up because Marcell Ozuna posted a .231 Isolated Power in 2019 – the second best mark he’s ever had, and nearly 50 points better than his third best season. He missed some time this season, playing in 130 games but still had 23 doubles, a triple, and hit 29 home runs.

There were two areas in 2019 where Marcell Ozuna was clearly better than he’d ever been before. On the bases he stole 12 bases in 14 attempts. He entered the 2019 season with 14 career stolen bases. With that said, his “baserunning” stat at Fangraphs was just 1.6 – tied for the second best of his career, but far below the 4.4 he posted in 2018.

The other area, and a far more important one that Marcell Ozuna stood out in 2019 was his walk rate. Entering the 2019 season his career walk rate was just 6.9%, with a career best rate of 9.4% coming back in 2017. But in the most recent season that rate jumped to 11.3%, making his on-base percentage far less reliant on his ability to hit for a solid or high average. Despite the lowest average of his career, thanks to a big increase in walks, his on-base percentage of .330 was still the second best mark of his career.

The Reds had a problem getting on base in 2019. That was one of the larger issues at play when it came to scoring runs – they simply lacked opportunities. On one hand, Marcell Ozuna’s increased walk rate is good to see. But if it’s a blip on the radar rather than a true improvement, and his BABIP doesn’t quite rebound like expected, that could be a problem. Diving into his plate discipline stats at Fangraphs we do see some small improvements in many areas. He swung a little less out of the zone. His swing rate in the zone was down from the previous two seasons, but right in line with his career mark. He did see the lowest rate of pitches in the zone during 2019 for his career. Overall, he was swinging less at both strikes and non-strikes than the last two seasons. There may actually be a small improvement in skillset here, rather than just randomness in how pitchers were attacking him.

Another interesting thing to note is that for most of the season, Marcell Ozuna was a very good, well above-average hitter. At the end of August he was hitting .265/.343/.509. And then he went into a huge slump. In the final 29 games of the year he hit an abysmal .135/.256/.297, going 15-111 with 5 home runs and 18 walks. His BABIP in that span was somehow .130. It tanked the strong season he was having, leaving him as simply an above-average hitter on the year.

All of that to say, that yes, Marcell Ozuna would help the Reds offense improve. But there are some questions about just how much improvement that would be. There are multiple reasons to think that the 2020 season for Ozuna should be an improvement over the one he had in both 2018 and 2019. Between the low BABIP and the improvement in his plate discipline numbers, the reasonable expectation would be that the offensive output would go up. And at 29-years-old in 2020, there’s no reason to expect a decline in production due to age.

Enough about the offense, though. Defense matters too, even if it’s not talked about as much. The numbers don’t exactly tell a strong story. At least for 2019. There are a lot of different numbers, and ways that defense is measured today. And every last one of them is questionable for their own reason. Baseball-Reference rated him out at -0.4 in their defensive WAR for the season. He had been slightly above-average the previous two years, but negative in the two years before that.

Fangraphs rated out Marcell Ozuna as a 0.0 defensive WAR player. On the surface that doesn’t sound good. But when comparing him to the other 16 qualified left fielders, that was actually the third best mark in baseball. His UZR/150 is tops among the left fielder group.

But then there’s the Statcast numbers. There were 92 qualified outfielders in 2019. Marcell Ozuna rated 83rd out of that group at 8 outs below-average. That was right there with Ian Desmond, Ryan Braun, and Jesse Winker. That said, in 2018 he rated 54th out of 87 at -1. That’s a pretty big difference.

When there are situations where the defensive metrics aren’t all in agreement, that’s when you want to lean on your scouts. And it’s also highly likely that the teams have better statistical data to work with, too. That data just isn’t available publicly. The public data has a rather wide variety of just how good or bad Marcell Ozuna is. If the internal data is more precise, more accurate – it could make a big difference. Rating out as a solid, or even good defender changes a lot of the overall value if the other side is the -8 that the Statcast Outs Above Average says. But if that -8 is more accurate, and the UZR/150 that has him at the top of the left fielders group is wrong, that’s a rather big swing in value, too.

Spending money to upgrade the team feels better than trading players and also spending money. In one scenario the Reds are losing players and dollars. In the other it’s just the dollars that are leaving. As noted above, it just feels unlikely that in today’s market that Marcell Ozuna would get $160M and 7 years. But there’s probably a set of years and dollars that makes sense for Cincinnati and Ozuna. And unlike some other proposed acquisitions, this would be for multiple years.

Photo of Marcell Ozuna by Ian D’Andrea. Photo has been modified slightly to fit the ratio of the site. License can be found here.

31 Responses

  1. Big Ed

    Defensively, Ozuna is uglier than five mud fences. There were at least two balls in the NLCS that a good LF would have caught, but Ozuna could not get in position even to make it close. Cardinals fans were not happy. And who could forget his climbing the wall early in the year, only to have the ball fall harmlessly in front of him on the warning track?

    Bad fielding does not age well. If Ozuna is that bad now, he’s gonna be the defensive equivalent of Judi Dench by 2021. He is a DH already.

    • MFG

      LOL! Great Judi Dench comment.
      Lets go after Didi and Grandal and pick up some bullpen help and get it done!

  2. KDJ

    He has been a Cardinal, so we have to give him a look . . . right?

  3. Frank howard

    Good grief……oh well…looks like nothing gonna happen…..same old thing…we already have 250 hitters.

  4. MFG

    If we look at Ozuna would we also take a look at Puig?

    • redsfanhelpme

      Yes! Go after PUIG!!! NO WAY on Ozuna!!!

  5. Rex

    his age is a problem…that money could be better spent elsewhere or on a better player/aged outfielder

  6. RedNat

    I would rather have Puig back. better defense and baserunning

    • MFG

      Agree and I like his energy and we need an enforcer for those bench clearing brawls!

  7. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I just don’t believe he’s the kind of bat we need. We need OBP batters. As in batters will an OBP over 350. I think we have the horses to knock runners in. But, we don’t have runners. For example, with Suarez, he had the 2nd most HR’s in the league. But, he had the 10th most RBI’s.

    “Well, that’s a weak correlation there, HR’s and RBI’s, because the person could just miss an RBI because they didn’t get a hit at all in the AB.” You mean, he missed an opportunity to increase his OBP? That just supports the other part of the OBP increase I believe we need.

    • Steve Schoenbaechler

      Especially if they are asking for something like that cost. Seriously.

  8. Earl

    Astros’ (& former Indian) Michael Brantley is an example one of those guys the Reds “could” have gotten.

    His contract is not crazy and the guy is just an all around solid player.

    Brantley made an insane circus catch playing right (I believe) against the Reds. One of the best plays I ever saw in person.

  9. Tom Mitsoff

    Doug’s analysis makes me leery of Ozuna. He’s not a standout either offensively or defensively according to what I am reading from Doug. I can’t stand watching catchable fly balls not being caught by allegedly major league outfielders as I saw many times last season. A booming bat would compensate a bit for defensive deficiencies, but I’m not sure Ozuna is as much of a thumper as I had believed.

  10. Kap

    Shogo akiyama from the nippon baseball league is now another option for center field. His profile seems very intriguing

    • Kap

      Jackie Bradley jr, ender inciarte, starling marte, maybe kiermaier or pillar. Nithing really too exciting

  11. Not Corky Miller

    100% agree, Winker/Ervin and use the money elsewhere.

    Grandal or Didi, another starter (Jake Odorizzi) and Bullpen ( Will Smith).

    What about Brett Gardner to play CF? Need his energy and grit on this team..

    • TR

      Grit is important but the Reds usually acquire it from the Cardinals. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

  12. The other JB

    NO,NO,NO Ozuna is not the answer. Castellonas would look great in GABP. ( I could live with his Defense for the type of bat he brings and no QO ). I hope the Reds find a way to address centerfield. I’d like to see Senzel at second where his defense would be above average and lets get the young man away from the outfield walls. Yes we absolutely need bats ,but the reds lost a lot of games because of there poor defense and situational hitting. Defense matters.

  13. Scott C

    Whenever I saw Ozuna play, he looked terrible in the field, he either can’t find and/or judge the flight of the ball or he runs bad routes to get to the ball. I do like him as a hitter but I’m not sure he brings enough to the table to warrant pursuing.

  14. MFG

    We are forgetting what a whole year of Aquino might look like? I think Senzel in CF for now looks okay. Platoon Winker and Ervin in LF because they have earned it. The big ? is our middle infield and bullpen. How far away are we from help coming from our minor leagues to help us in CF? Maybe Senzel plays CF for 1-2 more years?

  15. Cbus

    No as well. He sounds like Puig but worse and more expensive.

    Get Castellanos and Grandal, won’t break the bank. Winker rotates among all 3 outfield spots and is the back-up plan if Aquino falls flat. Weakest hitter in the lineup would be SS and you can pick between a .300 hitter in Iglesias or a 20 HR guy in Galvis, doesn’t really matter which one.

  16. Thomas Jefferson

    The Cards writer at The Athletic is reporting that the Cards will offer Ozuna a QO. If there is any doubt about going after him, that should take it away. This type of hitting would seem to be available in a number of places that will be more flexible on the field and require less long term commitment (and no QO comp): players like Moustakas and Kendrick come to mind.

  17. james mcdaniel

    why would the reds be interested in one of the worst defensive outfielders in the game today? He is a future DH.

    • Big Ed

      Ozuna is a defensive liability even as a DH.

    • Frank Howaed

      Probably because they are NOT interested.

  18. David

    In regards to Pete’s long comment about, about the Reds’ organization:

    Good luck with all that. Castellini represented the “Old Guard” thinking in the Cardinals organization, hence the hiring of Jocketty after the Cards let him go, in spite of his once in the recent past being “Executive of the year”.
    Yes, the Reds organization needs to totally rethink the way they’ve been doing it, because it is not working.
    They will not really be serious contenders next year, because they don’t have enough talent. Their farm system is not “loaded” with prospects that are ready to go, and going outside the organization for free agents is an expensive and risky operation.
    If everybody on the Reds had a career year (including Joey Votto bouncing back, which is likely NOT going to happen), then I could see them being a contender. But that is all a bridge too far. They just don’t have that much talent. Period.
    They will likely end up about where they were this year, right around .500, depending on injuries, etc.
    I would like to be optimistic, but everything I’ve seen indicates….business as usual

  19. redfan4life

    No on Ozuna. I would like to see the Reds get a CFer and a SS and 2-3 relievers. Move Senzel back to 2b. Have catcher be your weak spot and wait on Stephenson. I would not go after Grandal.
    Ii would also try to get a solid vet LH hitting OFer as insurance for Aquino in case he falls off.

    • TR

      I like your comment, especially about going with the status quo behind the plate. Stephenson is about a year away and getting Grandal would only crowd up the catching position and make it difficult for Stephenson to take over. The Reds still have some building to do with young players before they’ll enter the competitive class in the NLC.