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Braves' woes continue with botched Fredi Gonzalez firing
2:29 | MLB
Braves' woes continue with botched Fredi Gonzalez firing
Wednesday May 18th, 2016

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One of the most important questions fantasy owners face on a regular basis is “hot streak or trend?” Pretty much every player in the majors is going to have a 10-game or two-week stretch where they’re among the best hitters in the league. Anyone can do it for one two-week window. The great ones do it time and time again.

There are a few guys who fit that bill here in the middle of May, but none is quite as intriguing as Marcell Ozuna. The Miami outfielder went 0-for-3 on Tuesday, snapping his 16-game streak, but he’s still hitting a robust .301/.350/.510 this season.

Ozuna, of course, hinted at this ability previously in his career. In 2014, his age-23 season, Ozuna looked like he was on his way to becoming a deadly middle-of-the-order bat for Miami. He played 153 games and racked up 612 plate appearances that year, belting 23 homers while hitting .269/.317/.455. His strikeout rate of 28.6% was too high for comfort, and he hit a .337 BABIP, but there was still far more good than bad, especially for a 23-year-old in his first full major league season. The Marlins had every reason to believe they could soon boast of the best offensive outfield in baseball, with Ozuna joining Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich.

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But Ozuna’s 2015 did not go as expected—he looked like anything but a future star entering his mid-20s. He slashed .259/.308/.383 with 10 homers, and suffered the indignity of being sent back to the minors after having nearly two full seasons of major league games under his belt. Many players struggle to shake that off, and Ozuna didn’t hit much better after the Marlins brought him back to the show.

Ozuna’s advanced numbers do not tell a story that appears to have longevity. His strikeout rate is a bit higher this season than it was last year. His line-drive rate has fallen nearly three percentage points, while his hard-hit rate is unchanged. He has traded a significant share of grounders for fly balls, but that’s actually bad news for everything except home run potential. His HR/FB ratio has spiked to 17.5%, higher than hit was when he hit 23 homers in 2014. We cannot determine if Ozuna is a player to buy or sell until we do some more work to determine if the HR/FB ratio increase is for real.

Hitting the ball hard has never been an issue for Ozuna. Even when he was struggling last year, he had a top-10 average exit velocity. It’s worth noting, however, that his average fly ball distance is up to 300.09 feet this year after sitting at 282.64 feet in 2015 and 291.52 feet in ’14. That’s the first piece of good news we’ve found in his non-cosmetic numbers.

Ozuna’s stance at the plate hasn’t changed much this season. He still has the wide open stance he brought into the league, and he still squares his body as the pitcher delivers the pitch, using a toe tap with his front leg as a timing mechanism.

Here’s a look at Ozuna in 2015.

And here he is this season.

The one thing that does stand out are his hands. Take another look at those GIFs, paying particular attention to Ozuna’s hands. There’s a lot of noise in 2015. They come off his shoulder as the pitcher is uncoiling, and then go into a load that’s more active than the average.

Compare that with this season. Ozuna’s employing more of a bat waggle, but that serves to keep him in an athletic position. His hands are in one spot before his load, whereas last year they were clearly in two distinct spots—one as he waited for the pitcher to deliver, and the other as almost a setup for his load. That could be a reason why Ozuna’s isolated slugging on four-seam fastballs fell more than 100 points from 2014 to ’15. This year, it’s back up at .327, a sign that he’s making pitchers pay when they challenge him with something hard.

Here’s a look at Ozuna’s hands in 2014.

In short, something that worked in two years ago failed him last year. Has he made an adjustment? Seems that way.

Hand movement for a hitter is about as subtle as it gets, and we can’t be totally sure that’s what’s happening with Ozuna unless we hear it from him or someone on Miami’s coaching staff. What we know for certain is that a 25-year-old with obvious power appears to be figuring things out for the second time in his career. It is, however, hard to ignore the numbers that mirror his disastrous 2015 campaign. Ozuna isn’t an obvious sell, but his value could easily be peaking. At the very least, now is an excellent time to make him available to see what sort of return he can bring.

Buy

Lance McCullers, SP, Astros

McCullers’s owners waited for six weeks for him make his debut this year, and they couldn’t have been happy to see him allow five runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings in a no-decision against the Red Sox. He also got four strikeouts, but that start was a far cry from what he did last season. Of course, that start was his first in about seven months—and it came against one of the best offenses in baseball. On top of that, it rained for most of the time McCullers was on the mound. If I owned McCullers, the last thing I’d be thinking about doing with him right now is selling. It’s still worth checking in to see if his owner is jumpy after he started the season in less-than-glorious fashion.

Pitching report: Out of starters? Time to consider some non-closer relievers

Michael Brantley, OF, Indians

This is another calculated gamble here. Brantley is back on the DL with fatigue in the shoulder he had surgically repaired in the offseason. The good news, however, is that an MRI revealed no new structural damage, putting Brantley on track for a return in early June. There is, without question, more than a little risk here—any time a player goes back to the DL because of the same injury, fantasy owners should instantly be concerned about his immediate future. But with that risk comes the potential for great reward. Owners should be able to get Brantley at a discount because of the injury. If it does turn out that the shoulder simply needs more rest, that maybe Brantley returned a bit too early the first time, you could be buying a top-20 outfielder at a fraction of the price. If you can stomach the risk, make an offer for Brantley.

Sell

Buster Posey, C/1B, Giants

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We tried to warn you during spring training. Positional scarcity is one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated on the fantasy community, right next to full PPR scoring. The only reason Posey’s average draft position was so high was because of his catcher eligibility. A player with those same numbers at any other position would have been coming off the board 30-to-50 picks later. Now Posey owners are looking at a late second-round pick hitting .273/.331/.430 with four homers in 142 plate appearances. That’s basically John Jaso without the hair. You may still be able to salvage that Posey pick by selling him off now to an unsuspecting owner in your league. It’s a good bet that he’ll hit better from this point forward, which should make your sell job a bit easier.

Adam Jones, OF, Orioles

Jones trended the wrong way in basically every meaningful offensive metric from his high point of 2012 through last season. With that in mind, it’s not shocking to see him sitting at a 200/.269/.274 slash line through the end of play on May 8. Since then, he has hit four homers and driven in nine runs. Jones is still capable of play like that in spurts, but it’s not something he can do over the course of a full season. This is your opportunity to help another owner in your league answer the question we posed at the start of a column in a way that benefits your team. It’s overwhelmingly likely that this is nothing more than a hot streak. If you can sell it as a trend, you can unload Jones at a price that strengthens your team for the rest of the year.

Hold

David Ortiz, 1B/DH, Red Sox

The last thing Ortiz is right now is a sell-high player. Sure, it’s going to be hard for him to keep up this exact pace, but Ortiz spent the last three years proving that he could be one of the best power-hitters in the game at an advanced age. I look at Ortiz leading the majors in slugging percentage, OPS, ISO and wOBA in his age-40 season and see not someone bound for a downturn. This is a guy who averaged 34 homers and 105 RBI while hitting .281/.370/.545 in his age-37 through age-39 seasons. There’s a very real possibility that we’re witnessing the best age-40 season in MLB history. There’s no such thing as an untouchable player in fantasy baseball, so if you do enter trade discussion involving Ortiz, understand that you aren’t engaging in a sell-high opportunity.

• ​Matt Harvey still valuable on the mound despite middle-inning struggles

Raisel Iglesias, SP, Reds

Iglesias is on the DL with a shoulder injury, and it could be some time before he’s back. For one thing, he had to abruptly stop his throwing program, and while he picked it back up last weekend, the fact that hit that speed bump should give you pause. In addition, consider where the Reds are in the standings. They aren’t going to be anywhere near playoff contention, and have a realistic chance to be one of the three worst teams in the majors. In turn, the team’s brain trust is going to be absolutely certain Iglesias’s shoulder is 100% healthy before they even think about getting him back on a mound. There’s no reason to drop him, but understand that it’s going to be a long while before he’s again at your disposal. 

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