It's been well documented this offseason that Jeffrey Loria -- perpetually embattled Miami Marlins owner -- is no fan of young outfielder Marcell Ozuna. So much so that despite Ozuna's top prospect pedigree and 6.5 fWAR over parts of three seasons, Loria has set his mind to trading the young center fielder. Among his concerns is Ozuna's dedication to offseason fitness. In protest, Ozuna's new manager and hitting coach offered the following projection:
Up to 10 teams have inquired and/or have serious interest. But Marlins executives are getting pushback from new hitting coach Barry Bonds and manager Don Mattingly, feeling they can shape Ozuna into a 30/30 performer. Ozuna has not been a favorite of owner Jeffrey Loria, who feels Ozuna hasn't come to camp in shape the last two seasons. But while the Marlins could get a haul for him, they are now considering keeping him.
Bonds and Mattingly, free of the lens distorted by years of disfavor through which Loria views Ozuna, see him as valuable player. And why wouldn't they? Ozuna's big league production to date averages 3 fWAR per 162 games. Ozuna has managed to put up league average offense (101 wRC+) while hitting a home run every 39 at-bats. He's also one year removed from a season in which he hit 23 HR over 612 PA, or a home run every 27 times he went to the plate. The power will probably continue to develop, and you don't have to squint very hard to see Ozuna slugging 30 home runs at least once, somewhere. But the power is not the sticking point with Bonds' and Mattingly's prediction. The sticking point is that Ozuna just hasn't stolen that many bases.
In Ozuna's rookie year, the Marlins were 16th in stolen base attempt percentage (SBA%), or the percentage of times runners attempted a steal when they had a stolen base opportunity (runner on first or second with the next base open). During his breakout 2014 season, the Marlins hardly ran at all and were ahead of only the Orioles in SBA%. Last season, while Ozuna was in the dog house, the Marlins ran wild. Sure, that was mostly the Dee Gordon effect, but it showed that the Marlins' previous two managers were willing to send a runner often if they believed he had a good chance to steal a bag.
Since the dawn of modern baseball in 1988, there have been forty-five 30/30 seasons. Mike Trout and Ryan Braun were the last players to accomplish the feat all the way back in 2012. So it's official, going 30/30 is really hard. Perhaps comparing his career to this point with the performance of the 29 players who posted those 30/30 seasons prior to their age 25 seasons will shed more light on whether Marcell Ozuna has a shot at a 30/30 season.
Each of the 29 players in the aforementioned group also appeared in the big leagues before their age 25 seasons. Ozuna's volume of plate appearances (1397) puts him in the upper half of the list. He's close to the median for home runs as well, and on a per plate appearance basis is outpacing players like Jeff Bagwell, Jimmy Rollins, and two-time 30/30 player Ron Gant, with each of these stars seeing roughly the same, or more, action.
Things take a bleak turn when you look at the stolen base component. His ten career bags ranks above only Brandon Phillips (4), who had roughly a quarter of the plate appearances Ozuna has had, and Alfonso Soriano (2) and Dante Bichette (0), who had each seen 10 percent of a season's worth of plate appearances.
Soriano probably isn't a fair comparable. Since 1988, he's had the second most 30/30 seasons (4), which puts him behind only Barry Bonds (5). Dante Bichette doesn't work particularly well, either. His magical 1996, and 1994 where he would have had a legitimate shot at 30/30 if not for the strike, were products of a pre-humidor Coors Field. Bichette was also tied for the oldest of the group, attaining the 30/30 threshold in his age 32 season. Brandon Phillips doesn't particularly support the Bonds and Mattingly prediction either. He was a relative unknown when he was traded from Cleveland to Cincinnati. Ozuna is a former top prospect and already has considerable major league experience. Phillips' career flipped on like a switch, and he went 30/30 in his second full season. An Ozuna speed breakout after so much time at the big league level would be a rare feat, but, as noted, the building blocks are in place for the power.
So Marcell Ozuna's career path doesn't fit with the players from the group that Mattingly and Bonds presume he has the potential to join. That doesn't mean it won't happen. The early years of many of these players are as dissimilar to one another as they are to Ozuna. It does show, however, that it is very unlikely that Ozuna will attain this milestone. It seems more likely that, by uttering those words, "thirty, thirty", that Don Mattingly and Barry Bonds were making it more difficult for Loria to unload a player whose dedication he questions but who remains likely to be worth at least two wins in 2016.
Looking back at the 29 players who have gone 30/30 since 1988, there's another interesting trend. Five of these 29 were traded before their age 25 seasons, despite making at least one appearance for their first big league team. Ozuna is entering that season. His current manager and coaches want him to stay because their concern is to win games and, presumably, extend their careers. If they need to fudge the projections a little bit to keep Ozuna on their team, it likely won't go down as either of their greatest sins.
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