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The 2017 season was a breakout year for slugging outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who turned in career bests in batting average (.312), on-base percentage (.376), and slugging percentage (.548) while also clubbing 37 home runs and driving in 124 RBI, both of which were also career highs. It was the type of season many fantasy owners have been waiting for from Ozuna, whose power potential has always been there waiting to explode.

But Ozuna's breakout came during a season that saw a tremendous leap in terms of home runs across the entire league, a phenomenon that has conspiracy theorists wondering whether juiced baseballs or other factors might be at play.

Ozuna's talent is undeniable, but following a trade from the floundering Miami Marlins to the St. Louis Cardinals, what should fantasy owners expect from Ozuna in 2018?

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Career Year or Start of Something Great?

To start with an obvious statement, Ozuna can go one of two ways. The 2017 campaign may have, in fact, been the start of a trend for Ozuna, who has the potential to hit 40 or more home runs in a given season if healthy. On the other hand, some peripherals suggest that Ozuna's numbers may have been a bit inflated, which means a regression is coming in those areas. So let's break those things down piece by piece.

First, let's talk power. According to StatCast data, Ozuna's average exit velocity in 2017 was 90.8 MPH, which puts him with players like Yoenis Cespedes and Joc Pederson in terms of simply hitting the ball hard. He also managed a ridiculously high 23.4% HR/FB ratio, around 10% higher than league average, and 9% higher than his 2016 ratio. All of that is to say that Ozuna mashed at an incredible rate last year, which his 37 HR alone could have told you.

But what's odd about Ozuna's massive HR totals and HR/FB ratio is that they both went up dramatically, despite the fact that his 39.1% hard-contact rate last season wasn't drastically improved over previous years. Ozuna made hard contact 37.4% of the time in 2016, for example, but managed just a 14.1% HR/FB ratio. A 9% increase in HR/FB ratio with just a 1.6% increase in hard-contact rate is strange, to say the least. Adding to that, Ozuna actually hit 3% fewer total fly balls last year than he did in 2016. Fewer total fly balls, but significantly more of them leaving the park? Something doesn't add up, and I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Ozuna's power output isn't the only thing in question. As Rick Lucks pointed out in his article, Ozuna's on-base numbers don't seem sustainable either. While he did earn 2.3% more free passes in 2017 than his career average, he also struck out a career-high 21.2% of the time. What's more, Ozuna hit .312 in 2017 on the back of a .355 BABIP despite hitting more ground balls and making more soft contact than he did in the 2016 season, when his BABIP was .296. As Lucks also points out, those ground balls were somehow more productive for Ozuna than they had been in previous years, despite a significant decline in groundball exit velocity and no real speed in Ozuna's repertoire. But if StatCast data and non-traditional numbers aren't your thing, let me put it plainly: Ozuna got lucky an awful lot last year--at least, when he wasn't launching baseballs into the seats.

The most likely scenario for Ozuna seems to be a regression. He could very well hit for massive power once again, but his other numbers will most likely come back to Earth. Ozuna is joining a Cardinals team that ranked 13th overall in runs scored in 2017, which isn't bad, but ranks lower than the Marlins did last year. The good news is that Ozuna will likely bat cleanup for the Cards, behind a trio of batters who all reached base at prolific rates last season. Tommy Pham (.411 OBP), Matt Carpenter (.384 OBP), and Dexter Fowler (.363 OBP) will give Ozuna plenty of opportunities to drive in runs in 2018. With those three setting the table, Ozuna's power alone may be enough to give him substantial fantasy value, even if he falls off in other areas. Target him as a high-end OF2, but don't expect a full repeat of last year's totals.

 

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