Pirates not hopelessly punchless; Marcell Ozuna’s grounder woes
The Braves will go for their eighth straight win on Thursday night as they kick off a four-game set with the Pirates. The obvious thing to watch is the glory that is Max Fried, but we can go a little deeper. (We can also set aside that weirdly, Fried has struggled with the Pirates. He’s faced them three times and had poor results twice; his start with good results had bad peripherals.)
Instead, here are some other things to be aware of:
Pirates not so hopelessly punchless
You might look at Pittsburgh’s teamwide 86 wRC+ (third-worst in MLB) and figure that they’re not a huge offensive threat. That’s certainly in the ballpark of the reality of the situation, but they’re not that bad. As the Braves have racked up wins, they’ve rectified a lot of the wOBA-xwOBA gap that has plagued them, and their gap is now average-y among teams. The Pirates, though, have the league’s fourth-worst wOBA and “only” its ninth-worst xwOBA. Only six teams are underperforming xwOBA by more.
This phenomenon is also spread fairly unevenly among their roster, as a few guys have been hurt way more than others.
Ke’Bryan Hayes has a great xwOBA but only a good wOBA. Daniel Vogelbach is in a similar boat. Ben Gamel had a sizable gap until he got hurt; Bryan Reynolds’ gap isn’t noteworthy but isn’t helping a disappointing season from the guy the Pirates refused to trade before the season. Diego Castillo has a perfectly fine xwOBA but a horrid batting line. Make no mistake: there’s a lot of darker-tint blue above, and the Pirates aren’t good or even okay offensively. But they shouldn’t be this bad, and the Braves shouldn’t be deviating from their prep and grooving pitches to Castillo just because his batting line looks awful.
Marcell Ozuna’s grounder misadventures
I’m not exactly thrilled with continuing to document the ridiculousness of Ozuna’s 2022, but things just keep happening. He continues to run a giant wOBA-xwOBA gap, with horrendously negative WPA and RE24 marks. The Braves would be so much better if any of those things were a little bit more normal.
But now, there’s a new (old) problem for the guy. On the season, based purely on exit velocity and angle, Ozuna should be batting .284 on grounders. Instead, he is batting .206 on them. How did this happen? Well, it wasn’t at the start of the season:
- First half April: 12 grounders, .333 BA, .285 xBA
But, then it started to weigh him down:
- Second half April: 16 grounders, .063 BA (!!), .237 xBA
It kept up for the next few weeks:
- First half May: 17 grounders, .118 BA, .250 xBA
And mercifully, it ended:
- Second half May: 12 grounders, .417 BA, .330 xBA.
Through that point, Ozuna hadn’t balanced out (.211 BA, .271 xBA), but at least the recent results were good given how hard he was hitting the ball — a .330 xBA on grounders is no joke.
Yet, through six games in June, there’s been some extreme suffering:
- June 1 – June 8: 11 grounders, .182 BA, .349 xBA.
Since June started, only four guys have hit 10 or more grounders well enough to have a .340+ xBA. Of those four, Avisail Garcia got a .400 BA off them. Whit Merrifield’s only got .200, but that’s still better than Ozuna’s .182. Ozuna’s hit seven grounders at 101.5 mph or better in the month, with two hits to show for it.
Sure, he should just hit the ball in the air. Everyone should. But it’s hard to climb out of an xwOBA underperformance hole when your hard grounders don’t turn into hits with some frequency either.