2020 Topps Series 2 Baseball #537 Marcell Ozuna Atlanta Braves  Official MLB Trading Card: Collectibles & Fine Art

Marcell Ozuna is the inspiration for this piece on Average Exit Velocity Leaders. Come back to us.

When Marcell Ozuna was being discussed among my fellow Braves friends as an option for the 2020 season, I just didn’t see it. He had always carried elite exit velocity numbers, but only 2017 showed elite offensive production in a 7 year career. There was just no way that Ozuna was going to fill the hole left in the lineup vacated by Josh Donaldson. NO. WAY.

I was way wrong.

Ozuna slashed an astounding .338/.431/.636, annihilating Donaldson’s stat-line nearly as much as he annihilated baseballs. He increased his barrel rate from 12.1 to 15.4, his hard hit rate from 49.2% to 54.4%, average exit velocity from 91.8 to 93, and finished in the top 4% (or better) in all major stat categories. How did he level up? I don’t know about the exit velo or the hard hit rate, but the main reason he performed better offensively is quite simple: launch angle.

In 2020, Ozuna’s groundball rate was the lowest of his career at 36.7%, 4.7% below 2019 and 8.9% lower than his career mark. It’s only natural to believe that his fly ball rate went up, and it did, to 40.2%. His line drive % was his 2nd best of his career coming in at 23.1%. You’d be quite the maroon if you looked at both of those numbers and did not come to the conclusion that Ozuna increased his launch angle in 2020. Indeed, he did. In 2018, his average launch angle was 10.7 degrees. In 2019, it increased to 13.5. In 2020? 16.4. Make no mistake, this is a deliberate change in a swing and the the combination of adding lift to the ball and hitting the ball with elite exit velocity unleashed a beast on the NL East.

If the Braves cannot entice Ozuna to come back, are there other options (maybe the next Ozuna?) they could go grab? While I wouldn’t expect any player to duplicate the monstrous year Ozuna had in 2020, even Ozuna himself, there are guys with underlying stats that could fit the Braves needs, and provide another interesting challenge to Kevin Seitzer.

Average Exit Velocity Leaders: Trade Targets/Free Agents

In today’s exercise, I took a look at Statcast’s top 50 players in exit velocity and chose players to focus on that were:

A). On poor performing teams who might listen in trade talks

B). 2021 Free Agents

Let’s hunt.

10th in MLB (93 MPH): Joc Pederson

Joc would be a complement to Adam Duvall and while 2020 was an outlier, Joc normally mashes RHP. According to Fangraphs, Joc had a .200 BABIP and nothing else out of his statistical line was any different, therefore he’d likley be a good buy-low candidate to start in LF 2/3 of the time. Launch angle dropped in 2020 and pull rate was 43.7% which doesn’t bode well for hard hitters.

11th in MLB (93 MPH): Rafael Devers

He started out monstrously but ended in beast-mode in 2020. Devers would cost a pretty penny in a trade and while I don’t think the Red Sox would deal him, they could fast track their rebuild if they would. Seems like adding 3 degrees of launch angle would really unleash his full potential.

12th in MLB (93 MPH): Marcell Ozuna

We know this guy. He’s the reason I’m writing this piece. Freshly off his 30th trip around the sun, Ozuna is the top bat on the market (if we’re not counting defense). I know fans want Anthopoulos to re-sign Ozuna, but there’s not much past evidence that point to Ozuna being a target for Anthopoulos. His BABIP was .391…there’s likely some regression, but he’s not going to get paid for what his numbers MIGHT become, but what he did in a 60 game season in 2020.

13th in MLB (92.9 MPH): Gregory Polanco

The ultimate buy-low on this market, Polanco hit the ball hard and with optimal launch angle, but just didn’t have the results. Frankly, he’s never had the results to match his talent, but his .193 BABIP in 2020 is as eye-popping as I’ve seen. I’d LOVE to see what Kevin Seitzer could squeeze out of him.

15th in MLB (92.8 MPH): Kyle Schwarber

Like Polanco, Schwarber suffered from bad luck, with a .219 BABIP but walk rate and K-rate were around his career norms. Not really sure what happened but his launch angle plummeted and that’s not a good thing for a not so fleet of foot left hander.

17th in MLB (92.5 MPH): Jorge Soler

The jump in Ks from 2019 are worrisome and greatly zapped his stat-line, but Soler was still crushing balls and was in the top 7% in hard hit rate. Another player who seems like a visit to Dr. Seitzer would greatly increase his value.

19th in MLB (92.4 MPH): David Bote

An intriguing player, as Bote has played all over the field (some not very well), Bote carries healthy walk rates and not terrible K-rates, but was BABIP’d to death in 2020 to the tune of .228. 2019 seems more of a realistic stat-line for Bote and I’d take that all day from a guy that can play several positions. Launch angle optimization could really unleash a beast here.

26th in MLB (92.1 MPH): Jesse Winker

Winker put his name in the hat for elite hitter in 2020 when he slashed .255/.388/.544 in 183 PAs with the Reds. Reading the stat-line, it seems as though he took a hit on Ks to add a tick to power. Winker’s numbers isn’t a Great American fluke. They are legit, and if the Reds would deal him, Braves should take him, especially if there’s a DH in 2021. Like Bote, adding a few degrees in launch angle could really aid that elite exit velo.

28th in MLB (91.9 MPH): Colin Moran

Austin Riley‘s counterpart? Don’t mind if I do. Moran, like Winker, took extra Ks to add extra slugging, but also added walks to the mix. This led to a .797 OPS that likely could be increased significantly if he can add 3-4 degrees of launch angle without a K jump. Ozuna did it…why not Moran?

29th in MLB (91.8 MPH): Gary Sanchez

I don’t think Gary Sanchez is available, but he’s here because Alex R. demanded he make this list. Like Polanco, he’s the ultimate buy low as his BABIP was a stat-line crushing .159 despite having the best barrel rate of his career. The launch angle is right where it needs to be and it’d be pretty badass to grab him and put him in a tandem with Travis d’Arnaud.

30th in MLB (91.7 MPH): Josh Bell

He’s on this list because I think the DH will be here and the Pirates will trade anyone that brings back a decent return. There’s no silver lining here. He’s no victim of bad luck. His walk rate decreased, K-rate increased, slugging drastically dropped, and his launch angle simply vanished. However, I believe in his bat and if the Pirates want to send him to the Braves to be their DH for the next 4 years, so be it.

31st in MLB (91.7 MPH): Justin Upton

Justin Upton has not been a good ballplayer in 2 years. However, he was remarkably unlucky last year (,218 BABIP) even though he continued to hit the ball hard regularly while carrying his lowest K-rate since 2012. Surprisingly, he played an OK left field too. Like Alex R. suggested, if the Angels wanted to throw the Braves significant dollars and take on Ender Inciarte‘s contract, sure, we’d take Justin Upton for 2 years.

37th in MLB (91.3 MPH): DJ LeMahieu

Yes, Lemahieu is a 2nd baseman and we’ve already got one of those, but he also moonlighted as a 3rd baseman and wasn’t bad there. If he could play 3B, 2B, 1B, and DH, he could be a remarkably valuable player for the Braves who desperately need another lefty masher in the lineup. And the versatility would allow for players around the horn to rest on defense while rotating in at DH. He’s got very little launch angle and it would be cool if he’d be open to some Seitz tutelage.

38th in MLB (91.2 MPH) : Joey Gallo

Gallo had the stat-line in 2020 that many thought he’d have regularly throughout his career. What happened? Maybe nothing. Maybe something. It all depends on if 2019 is the outlier or if the rest of his career is the norm. A true 3 outcome guy that plays a surprisingly good OF, Gallo could slot in well as the Braves 5th hitter and might decrease Ks under Seitzer.

42nd in MLB (91 MPH): Nomar MazarA

He strikes out a lot. He doesn’t walk much. He’s got a terrible batting average. Have I sold you yet? No? Well, what’s coming next likely won’t change your mind, but if you’re looking for a guy that Seitzer could fix that likely costs nothing, Mazara is your man. Launch angle needs to increase without increasing Ks and Seitzer has helped both Tyler Flowers and Ozuna make that happen. Could Mazara follow suit?

46th in MLB (91 MPH): Salvador Perez

Don’t look for walks. You will definitely not find them here. However, if you want an optimized swing that’s plug and play in the Braves lineup, Perez is your man. He’s in his last year of team control with the Royals, is a good defensive catcher and was elite in every batted ball category on Statcast.

47th in MLB (90.9 MPH): Travis Shaw

Travis Shaw is not a great ballplayer, but what he would be is a good counterpart to Austin Riley. He hits the ball hard, runs into dingers every now and again and can play good defense. But the most important part…he’d be cheap as dirt to acquire whether it be as a free agent or in a trade with the Blue Jays.

Who would you like to see in a Braves uniform from this list?