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2018 in Review: Nomar Mazara

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We’re now three seasons into Nomar Mazara’s MLB career. What did his 2018 hold and what do the trends say about his future?

MLB: Texas Rangers at Minnesota Twins Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports


Morning LSB! Over the next few weeks I will be breaking down a few players and their 2018 seasons along with their future outlook and how it could impact future Ranger teams. The goal is to give a snap shot of what the data says about a player not, what my eye tells me about the players physical abilities, and where the concerns and hopes lie. Let’s start with a pretty divisive player around here in Nomar Mazara.

First off, it’s important to note that Mazara has not had a good start to his career to this point in his MLB career. The Big Chill has posted a career 92 wRC+ over three seasons, his highest being 96 in 2018. That makes him a below average hitter at a position that saw a median wRC+ of 122 among qualified right fielders and a positional wRC+ of 106 in 2018. Another way to look at it is that over the past three seasons Mazara ranks 37th out of 39 qualified right fielders by wRC+; just ahead of Carlos Gomez and Jason Heyward. Nomar doesn’t provide any value with the defensive profile either as he’s been between a below average and average defensive RFer over the past three seasons as well. After positional adjustments he’s simply not a net positive to have handling a corner outfield spot and needs to provide surplus value with the bat to compensate, which he isn’t doing. Mazara just produced 1 fWAR in 2018 and just 1.5 fWAR over three seasons and 1720 plate appearances, well below the 6 fWAR an MLB average player would be expected to produce over three seasons.

Breaking It Down

Before looking into the data, let’s briefly talk about what Mazara’s physical abilities should allow him to be in an ideal world. Mazara possesses excellent hand-eye coordination, which along with a fluid swing allows him to make contact around the plate. He is explosive and quick in the hips and wrists which helps him generate plus bat speed and tremendous raw power without getting too long. Lastly, Mazara has the ability to pick up different pitch types consistently and make hard contact against different speeds and breaks. With those things in mind, it can be frustrating to watch a player that talented consistently find below average results and the question is raised; why?

Mazara has the ability to hit the ball as hard as almost anyone in the MLB and occasionally will show it off in games as he had the 9th hardest hit ball in 2018 at 117.1 MPH per Statcast. Despite the ability, he hasn’t show the consistency as his average exit velocity is “merely” above average. There are some quality hitters in that area just above mediocrity though; Bryce Harper and Anthony Brendon both sported average exit velocities of just 0.01 MPH faster than Mazara’s average of 90.5 MPH. There’s obviously something that is separating Mazara’s batted ball outcomes from Harper’s, but what exactly is it?

Take a look at these two charts from Baseball Savant:

Nomar Mazara Chart
Bryce Harper Chart

*I am not comparing the two as players, just their batted ball profile to highlight why two guys who hit the ball hard at similar rates can have such different outcomes.

What immediately jumps off the map is how many balls Mazara put at a negative launch angle compared to Harper. Harper’s hardest contact consistently comes off the bat at a much more optimal angle for offensive output while Mazara has as many balls he gets on top of as he does flares, solid contact, and barrels combined. Mazara’s batted ball profile is partially due to his approach as he doesn’t look to drive the ball in all situations. Unfortunately this leads to situations where he shortens up in favor of contact over power and he often puts balls in play that should have been taken or fouled off. There are numerous advantages to at least increasing the number of pitch counts and situations he’s looking to drive the ball in.

That being said, there are players who succeed despite a sub-optimal launch angle. Players like Shin Soo Choo or pre-monster 2018 Christian Yelich still were able to make a good living at the plate while hitting a great deal of grounders. We’re left with a partial answer and another question, which brings us to the most important part of this whole shebang; plate discipline and zone control.

The public perception for Mazara as he was coming up is that he had a consistent and strong approach that carried his game beyond his physical abilities. “The Big Chill” has maintained that reputation through his first three years of his career despite the numbers suggesting it probably shouldn’t have. In 2018, Mazara’s Z-O Swing%, which has a positive correlation coefficient (r = .23) with wRC+, ranked 125th out of 141 qualified hitters in 2018. It isn’t just a case of Mazara being too passive on pitches in the zone either. Mazara posted a well below-average O-swing% of 33.5%. Meanwhile the earlier mentioned “successful groundball hitters” maintained O-swing %’s in the mid 20’s.

Here is a visual on how Mazara’s wOBA has looked when compared to his O-swing% and overall it seems to support this case strongly as the two stats maintain a fairly strong inverse relationship in a rolling 15 game average:

Ultimately I’d wager that Mazara is capable of becoming an above average hitter in the MLB simply by making marginal improvements to either of the two weaknesses discussed above, but won’t see more than marginal improvements unless one or the other is addressed. If both are improved upon, Mazara’s physical abilities are enough to make him a consistent plus hitter in the MLB.

The Trends

The next logical area is to look at if Mazara has taken steps forward in these parts of his game during his time in The Show. Over the past three years here are Mazara’s batted ball profiles:

Mazara Batted Ball

And here are his plate discipline numbers:

Mazara Plate Discipline

As we can see, there’s been a complete stagnation of improvement in regards to controlling his swings at pitches in and out of the zone. Even worse he’s seen a sharp increase of ground balls over the course of three years and 2018 saw his ground ball rate jump to 55.1%. These trends are discouraging to say the least and help tell the story of why Mazara has completely stagnated as a hitter despite seeing large improvements to his HR/FB and hard hit rates over the past three years.

Looking to the Future

The best way to describe this scenario is that Mazara has performed a great deal like a prospect who can’t take that next step forward despite the physical abilities to do so due to a counter-productive approach at the plate. We’re left with another situation, like Rougned Odor last season, where Mazara is stuck in limbo and the only way out is to revamp how he goes about his business at the plate.

The physical abilities are still there and Mazara is still very young and has plenty of time left in his career to figure out his way, but unfortunately the Rangers are running out of cost controlled time for it to help them out. Mazara is arbitration eligible this off-season so he will already command significantly more capital than the league minimum he currently makes, but that also means he will be a free agent in just three seasons.

If Mazara makes the adjustment under new leadership next season, the concerns fly out the window and we hopefully will all enjoy the next three seasons and beyond of The Big Chill, but if he’s unable to make a move next season, it puts the Rangers in a strange spot at the beginning of what they envision their next competitive window to be.