Too often, as analytics have carved out an increasingly important place in player valuation and game-planning, the players themselves and their leadership have sounded as resistant to this revolution as Orrin Price (Morton Downey Jr.) was to using computers in “Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation.”
The smarter players, and smarter agents, rather than lament the changes, have learned to speak the teams’ language. Consider Marcell Ozuna, arguably the top free-agent outfielder available, whose representative Melvin Roman is using analytics to highlight Ozuna’s assets and provide context to his perceived liabilities. Here’s betting it helps.
Ozuna, who just turned 29 this month, put up his apparent career season with the Marlins in 2017, slashing .312/.376/.548 with 37 homers in 159 games. Miami traded Ozuna to the Cardinals the subsequent winter, and when it comes to back-of-the-baseball-card numbers, Ozuna has produced perfectly fine — a collective .263/.327/.452 line, with 52 homers in 278 games — without approaching his 2017 peak.
Yet no team worth its salt relies solely on those surface numbers, and the same should go for players and agents. The Post obtained a copy of the 43-page booklet that Roman has given to clubs interested in Ozuna, and it’s chock full of analytically-fueled selling points.
Consider that Ozuna’s average 2019 exit velocity was 91.8 miles per hour, placing him 17th of the 273 batters with at least 300 plate appearances, and that 48.1 percent of his batted balls traveled over 95 mph, 16th in that same group.
With teams throwing high in the zone to counteract the accent on launch angles, Ozuna put up a .423 xwOBA on pitches up in the strike zone, ninth among hitters who faced at least 300 such pitches.
Most interesting, when you look at how hard Ozuna hit the ball in 2019 and compare it to his “personal best” of 2017, you see how misleading the mainstream measures can be, especially when you’re trying to predict a free agent’s future performance. Ozuna’s actual slugging percentage this past season was .472, 76 points lower than what he posted two years ago. His expected slugging percentage, based on how hard he hit the ball? .548. In 2017, when he actually slugged .548, his expected slugging percentage was .519.
As another point of comparison, Ozuna’s average exit velocity of 91.8 mph tops any free-agent outfielder’s platform year since 2015. Granted, Ozuna leads that competition by only a hair, as Yoenis Cespedes averaged 91.7 mph in 2016, when the Mets rewarded him with a four-year, $110-million deal that hasn’t been as bad as portrayed.
Of course these numbers are cherry-picked; agents present their client in the best possible light, or else they’re not doing their jobs. However, facts are facts, and after hearing so many complaints and pushbacks from the players’ side against the embracing of more sophisticated information, it couldn’t be more comforting to witness a player trying — and arguably succeeding — to use that information to his advantage.
This week’s Pop Quiz question came from Paul Juers of Queens: The 1944 film “Arsenic and Old Lace” opens with a joke about a Major League Baseball team only being able to win a game on Halloween. Name the team.
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Your Pop Quiz answer is the Dodgers.
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