Upon acquiring Giancarlo Stanton last week, the Yankees formed what is unquestionably baseball's hardest-hitting duo, with Stanton and Aaron Judge dominating Statcast™ leaderboards in 2017.
But after Stanton exercised his no-trade clause to prevent a deal to St. Louis, the Cardinals kept pushing. What they found instead was an option that shouldn't be overlooked as the club tries to fight its way back to the postseason after a two-year absence.
On Thursday, St. Louis officially traded a quartet of prospects to Miami for Stanton's former teammate, Marcell Ozuna. The 27-year-old isn't Stanton, but between him and 2017 breakout artist Tommy Pham, the Cardinals now feature arguably the hardest-hitting pair of outfielders in the National League.
Meanwhile, St. Louis' new projected starting outfield -- Ozuna in left, Pham in center, Fowler in right -- could provide the club with elite offense and solid defense. It also freed up the Cards to trade Stephen Piscotty to the A's for a pair of prospects on Thursday, with Randal Grichuk perhaps on the move as well this offseason.
Pham and Ozuna both are coming off career years, when they ranked fifth and ninth, respectively, among qualified NL hitters in weighted runs created-plus (wRC+), and sixth and 12th in wins above replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs. Underpinning that success were some stellar Statcast™ metrics.
It's not just the flashes of power, although Ozuna in particular had those. Operating in Stanton's massive shadow, he finished fifth in the Majors in homers hit 430-plus feet (13) and tied for seventh in those hit at 110 mph or harder (seven), according to Statcast™. Pham stood out in St. Louis, accounting for five of his club's eight hardest homers and four of its nine longest.
The 2017 season featured 105 players who were primarily outfielders and produced at least 200 batted balls at the plate. Among that group, both Ozuna and Pham ranked in the top 25 percent in average exit velocity, hard-hit rate (95-plus-mph exit velocity), barrel rate and expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA).
Here is a closer look at each of those Statcast™ metrics:
• Ozuna (90.7 mph) matched his 2016 average exit velocity to trail only Judge, Khris Davis, Stanton, Bryce Harper and J.D. Martinez in this group of outfielders. Pham (89.7 mph) was not far behind, in 13th place. The only other NL clubs with multiple players in the top 20 were the Mets (Yoenis Cespedes 10th, Michael Conforto 19th) and Brewers (Ryan Braun 11th, Domingo Santana 16th).
• In that group, only ex-teammate Christian Yelich put more balls in play with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher than Ozuna (214), who also ranked sixth in hard-hit rate (45.4 percent). Pham (43.4 percent) was 10th in that category, just behind Cespedes and Conforto.
• A barrel is a Statcast™ term for a batted ball with an ideal combination of exit velocity and launch angle, typically resulting in extra-base hits. Grichuk -- still a Cardinal for now -- actually topped both Ozuna and Pham by turning 15.7 percent of his batted balls into barrels in 2017 to rank fifth in that group of outfielders, although he also struck out 30.1 percent of the time. Still, Ozuna and Pham tied with George Springer for 25th, with a solid barrel rate of 9.3 percent.
• The Statcast™ metric for a hitter's overall skill shows how St. Louis has set up what looks like an intimidating 2018 outfield.
Expected wOBA is based on a player's quality of contact -- plus his actual strikeouts and walks -- while giving credit for extra bases. On one hand, those three Cardinals starting outfielders each posted a 2017 wOBA higher than his expected mark, suggesting they may have overperformed to some degree. But even so, each produced a top-notch xwOBA.
Pham (.366) ranked ninth among this group of outfielders, between Springer and Charlie Blackmon. Ozuna (.359) and Fowler (.355) followed closely behind, in 12th and 13th place. That gives the Cardinals three outfielders in the top 15, while no other club has three in the top 30 on that list, pending future transactions -- including the potential signings of free agents such as Martinez (third) and Jay Bruce (20th).
Best combined xwOBA rank for top three OF*
Out of primary OF, min. 200 batted balls in 2017
- Cardinals: 34 (Pham, Ozuna, Fowler)
- Yankees: 40 (Judge, Stanton, Aaron Hicks)
- Angels: 65 (Michael Trout, Justin Upton, Kole Calhoun)
- Dodgers: 96 (Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor)
- Astros: 106 (Springer, Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez)
*Based on 2018 club
• On the defensive side, the Cardinals plan to shift Pham to center -- where he started 30 games last year -- and Fowler to right. It's a decision backed up by Statcast™'s Outs Above Average metric, which had Pham tied for 20th in 2017 at +6 OAA but Fowler down at -9 (and Ozuna at +1).
The move could benefit both players, with Fowler's above-average wheels standing out more in right. While Fowler's average max-effort baserunning sprint speed of 28.2 feet-per-second tied for 31st of 58 qualified center fielders in 2017, it would have tied him for 11th of 52 right fielders.
Still, it's the bats that could make this group -- and the Ozuna-Pham duo in particular -- stand out from the crowd. While the Cardinals didn't land the reigning NL MVP, their deal for Ozuna should provide their lineup with a significant boost going into 2018.