With the world continuing to be in dumpster fire mode, I figured I’d write about things that I love. No, not my kids (although this week we learned to ride a bike without training wheels, flew a kite, lost a tooth, and watched The Sandlot for the first time – pretty epic week), but two players that I’ve fallen hard (phrasing) for – Marcell Ozuna and Nick Castellanos. Both players have similar ADPs, with Castellanos being at 83.4 and Ozuna landing at 88.6 (average ADPs from ESPN, NFBC, Yahoo, and CBS). Both players also have new homes that feature good lineups in hitters parks and the sum of the parts has my pants feeling a little tight….oh wait, that’s just the quarantine-15 that I’ve put on. Let’s dive into both players and see if we can find a clear winner.
Big Boi in Hotlanta
Marcell Ozuna enters his age-29 season looking to recapture that age-26 season magic. Back before his St. Louis days, Ozuna had the season of a lifetime, putting up a .312/.376/.548 slash line with 37 bombs in 2017. Ozuna’s first year with the Cardinals was marred by a nagging shoulder injury that eventually led to post-season surgery. In his sophomore season with the Red Birds, Ozuna came out swinging, mashing 10 homers in April. He also seemed to discover a penchant for stealing bases as he tallied three steals in April. Considering Ozuna had only crossed three stolen bases in a season just once in his career, the new-found speed was certainly intriguing. By June 28th, he managed to mash 20 homers and steal 8 bags, but why is our cutoff date June 28 you might ask? Good question. Because that’s the day that Ozuna fractured three fingers diving back to first base on a pickoff attempt, causing him to miss 28 games.
Ozuna returned on August 3rd and batted just .214 down the stretch, albeit with 9 bombs and another 4 steals. He finished the year with a .241 average with 29 homers, 12 steals, 80 runs and 89 RBIs in 130 games. A solid fantasy season, but the average left something to be desired. Diving a little deeper leads us to a little sunshine among the rain. For the year, Ozuna landed in the 96th percentile for hard-hit balls at 49.2%. On top of that, he had an xBA of .288, thanks to a .257 BABIP that landed him 10th worst among 135 qualified batters. If he continues to hit the ball hard, that BABIP should regress to the mean leading to a batting average that shouldn’t hurt you.
My main question is are the steals legit and should we continue to expect them moving forward? In his first six seasons in the league, Ozuna stole a total of 14 bases. He then followed that up with 12 in 2019. What changed? Ozuna’s sprint speed has predictably declined as he’s aged, landing in the 62nd percentile in 2019. Not terrible, but certainly not a reason to all of a sudden show off your speed. The answer may lie in a change in coaching philosophy. In seven years under Mike Matheny, the Cardinals averaged 92 stolen base attempts per year. However, under new coach, Mike Shildt, they attempted to steal 145 bases, being successful 116 times. Now that Ozuna has a new home in Atlanta, will he be asked to continue being aggressive on the basepaths? Brian Snitker has been the Braves head coach since May 17, 2016. In his time as head coach, the Braves have averaged 115 stolen base attempts per year – better than Matheny, but worse than Shildt. I think we get a glimmer of hope from Freddie Freeman’s performance on the basepaths. Freeman has stolen 30 bags in Snitker’s time as head coach, despite having a sprint speed in the 41st percentile. To me, this means we can count on a handful of steals from Ozuna. Maybe not the 12 steals that we saw in 2019, but not the 0-3 that we saw from 2014-2018 either.
From a park factor perspective, the move to Atlanta should be a positive one. In 2019, Truist Park in Atlanta had a park factor of 99 against right-handed hitters for homers, whereas Busch Stadium had a park factor of 91 (99 median). Roster Resource has Ozuna projected to bat cleanup in the Braves lineup. With Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman batting ahead of him, Ozuna should have plenty of RBI opportunities. However, the departure of Josh Donaldson leaves the bottom of the Braves lineup looking a little sparse, which could limit Ozuna in terms of the runs scored category. Obviously, things will be adjusted once we know what the season schedule holds, but Steamer had a projection of 31 homers, 80 runs, 98 RBIs, 7 SBs, and a .276 batting average in 144 games.
Casty in the Nati
On July 22nd, Nick Castellanos voiced his displeasure about playing in Comerica Park. On July 31st, he was traded to the Cubs. Coincidence? I think not. But it’s clear both from his words and his performance that Castellanos was happy to not call Comerica home. In 100 games with the Tigers, Castellanos hit 11 homers (9.2% HR/FB), had a 42.1% hard-hit rate, and a 21.9% strikeout rate. In 50 games with the Cubs, he hit 16 homers (23.2% HR/FB), had a 42.8% hard-hit rate, and a 20.9% strikeout rate.
While he’s no longer with the Cubs, he should have a good time hitting in Great American Ballpark. Castellanos’s main complaint about Comerica Park was that the full length of centerfield was 420 feet from the left-center gap to the right-center gap. He’d mash a ball that went 410 feet (a bomb in most stadiums) and it would end up looking like a routine fly ball. Great American Ballpark, on the other hand, is 404 feet to dead center from home plate. It’s also a tad smaller than average down the lines. Given his high rate of hard contact, it’s surprising to me that last year’s 27 homers were a career-high. Getting out of Detroit should help those power numbers, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he sets a new career-high this year.
Speed has never been a big part of Castellanos’s game. Over his six seasons, he’s never stolen more than 4 bases in a year, despite having a sprint speed in the 72nd percentile. Taking a look at his time in Detroit, the Tigers averaged 95 stolen base attempts per year (in non-Rajai Davis years), which was well below the league average of 115. On the bright side, in David Bell’s first season as manager, the Reds attempted 118 steals. That number was slightly better than league average, but by no means Shildt territory. Unless the Reds make a big fundamental change towards being aggressive on the basepaths, I wouldn’t expect more steals than you can count on one hand.
Thanks to having a hard-hit rate of greater than 40% and a line-drive rate of over 30% in three of the last four years, it’s easy to put Castellanos down as a positive contributor in batting average. An xBA of at least .283 in each of the last four seasons backs that assumption up.
In 2019, Castellanos hit 100 runs for the first time in his career. However, he batted second in 99 games, batting either third or fourth in the remaining games. With Roster Resource projecting Castellanos to bat fifth, I wouldn’t expect to see him tally 100 runs again. But I would expect to see a high volume of RBIs with the likes of Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Mike Moustakas, and Shogo Akiyama hitting ahead of him. Steamer has Castellanos projected for 25 homers, 77 runs, 86 RBIs, 3 steals, and a .273 average in 139 games. Personally, I view Ozuna as more of an injury risk than Castellanos, so I’d bump up Castellanos’s games played. I’m also surprised to see them down on Castellanos’s batting average as he’s eclipsed .273 in three of the last four seasons, with .272 being his low point.
Who You Got?
Now that we’ve traversed the landing spots of these two sluggers, who do you got? Maybe I’m foolish for ignoring Steamer some, but I tend to gravitate more towards Castellanos despite the lack of stolen bases. Maybe that’s what you let guide your decision in drafts. If you’ve already stockpiled stolen bases, go to Castellanos. If you need some extra speed, look to Ozuna. Either way, I love the value of these two outfielders.