I’ve held out on writing this article for as long as I possibly can, but this probably should have been said weeks ago. The Braves can’t keep starting Marcell Ozuna.
For the entire season, the Big Bear has been the worst offensive player in the lineup, which is the last thing that should be expected out of a designated hitter. Ozuna has one job, and he’s been abysmal at it. On the season, he’s hitting just .215 with a .659 OPS. Ozuna is striking out in nearly a quarter of his at-bats and walking just 6% of the time. All of this has led to him accruing an appalling -1.1 WAR.
To a degree, I understand why the Braves have continued to stick with Marcell Ozuna. His upside is undeniable, and his Baseball Savant page actually paints the picture of someone who could rebound considerably.
- 71st percentile in HardHit%
- 70th percentile in xwOBA
- 87th percentile in xSLG
- 88th percentile in Barrel %
Ozuna’s high strikeout rate and low walk rate will always hamstring him a bit, but this suggests he’s been one of the more unlucky players so far this season.
Despite that, the Braves can’t keep trotting Ozuna out there in hopes things will magically change. The eye test is abysmal. He is constantly putting up uncompetitive at-bats, especially against high-quality pitchers. No peripherals are going to convince me otherwise. He’s been awful, and if the Braves didn’t have any other options, then maybe I would be content with Ozuna staying in the lineup and trying to figure things out. But Atlanta has a borderline elite bat riding the bench more often than not, which cannot continue.
William Contreras and Travis d’Arnaud create arguably the best catching tandem in baseball. Both were named to the All-Star Game this past July, and Contreras even started as the National League’s designated hitter, which is ironic because Brian Snitker has only used him as a designated hitter 15(!) times this season.
Contreras has an on-base percentage nearly 100 points higher than Ozuna and is on a 40 home run 162-game pace this season. Yet the Braves have opted to play him in just 57 games. We are beyond the point where this is unexplainable. I understand not wanting to burn out your catchers, and every once in a while, they deserve a day off. But Contreras is only 24 years old; he can handle the burden of hitting four times a night. There is no reason he shouldn’t be in the lineup almost every day from this point forward, and it should have been that way a while ago.
Of course, with d’Arnaud currently out with an injury, Ozuna will likely stay in the lineup for a few more games. The Braves expect d’Arnaud back at the end of the week. When that happens, I don’t see any reason Ozuna should be starting more than every once in a while unless things take an incredible turn over the next few days. The Braves have given him enough chances, and he’s provided this team with nothing in return.