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Entries in Nelson Cruz (7)

Monday
Feb242014

Cruz to the O's: More Comp Pick Hijinx, or Sign of a Rational Market?

Nelson Cruz reportedly entered the offseason seeking a four-year, $75 million contract. Over the weekend, he settled for a one-year, $8 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles. Cruz's agent might take a page out of Scott Boras' playbook and label this a "pillow" contract designed to re-establish the 33-year-old, Biogenesis-linked slugger's value. If so, it's gotta be the world's lumpiest, hard-as-concrete pillow.

Some will point to Cruz's new deal as further proof that Major League Baseball's free agent draft pick compensation system is broken. In broad strokes, there's plenty to complain about. Free agents who receive and turn down a qualifying offer essentially have a tax levied on their next contract, with interested teams needing to consider not just the monetary value of the player's on-field production, but also the value of the pick they'd lose to sign him (Baltimore had less to lose than most, having already surrendered its first-rounder to ink Ubaldo Jimenez and its Competitive Balance Lottery pick to acquire Bud Norris; they'll lose the 55th overall selection to get Cruz). It's not fair, really.

And yet, you can make a pretty sound argument that in this particular case, Cruz is being paid what he's worth. He launches majestic homers with the best of them, but there's not much else to his game at this point. Consider:

  • Cruz's .319 on-base percentage over the past three seasons is a dead ringer for the overall MLB average, and south of the standards set by corner outfielders (.328) and designated hitters (.323). Once you adjust for park and league factors, his three-year OPS is 12 percent better than the MLB average -- good, but hardly the stuff of fat free agent deals.
  • He has a history of hamstring/quadriceps injuries, which have made him a plodding base runner and fielder. Cruz has taken an extra base between 22% and 30% of the time over the past three years, compared to the 40% big league average. He has been several runs worse than an average major leaguer on the bases each season, according to Fangraphs, and has cost his club about five runs per year in the field as judged by advanced metrics like Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating. Cruz may DH in Baltimore, but he's been DH-worthy for a while now.
  • Players with Cruz's profile -- lots of power, little defensive or base running value, frequently banged up -- tend to age poorly. His Baseball-Reference player comps include Henry Rodriguez (done as a productive major leaguer by age 32), Brad Hawpe (cooked at 31) and Jay Gibbons (last effective at 29). His number one comp according to Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system is Juan Gonzalez. These guys had lots of injury issues (I pulled a hammy just writing this paragraph), but that's kind of the point. Cruz hasn't been a beacon of durability, either. He's not the sort of player you want to sign to a long-term deal, much less the four or five-year pact Cruz initially wanted.

Let's be clear: There's nothing wrong with the O's signing Cruz at this price. It's a short-term commitment, and he's a definite upgrade over the likes of Nolan Reimold and Henry Urrutia. But put it all together, and Cruz projects to be about 1-2 wins better in 2014 than the sort of talent you can pull from Triple-A or the waiver wire. If the cost of a win is around $6 million, it's hard to say that he really got jobbed by the pick attached to his name. The qualifying offer system may well be broken, but Cruz's deal seems to be more a case of sanity prevailing in the C-suite.

Tuesday
Oct112011

Cruzin' for a Brusin'

Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers hit two home runs and a double Monday night, tying the game with his first home run and winning it in extra-innings with the first walk-off grand slam in playoff history.*

Cruz's power envelops the top and inside halves of the plate.

 

Nelson Cruz, in play slugging percentage, 2011 regular season.It makes sense then that pitchers try to work him low and away:

Nelson Cruz, pitch frequency, 2011 regular season.The Tigers did not seem to get the memo, as they worked Nelson inside:

Nelson Cruz, pitch frequency, 2011 ALCS game two.Three of those pitches ended up in his wheel house.

Nelson Cruz, in play slugging percentage, 2011 ALCS game two.Note that working him well inside was a good idea, as the only out he recorded was on an inside pitch off the plate.  Whether the pitches he crushed were meant to be more inside or more away, Tigers hurlers missed badly three times, and Nelson made them pay.

 

*Robin Ventura hit a walk-off grand slam in the playoffs, but due to a base running blunder, it only counted as a single.

 

Thursday
Apr212011

Weaver Stikes Out Cruz

Watching Jered Weaver (LAA) battle Nelson Cruz (TEX) in the second inning Wednesday night, it stuck me that the plate appearance was a classic battle between a good hitter and a great pitcher.  Here is a graphic representation of the pitch sequence:

Jered Weaver strikes out Nelson Cruz, 4/20/2011.The diagram on the left shows the location of the pitches in the strike zone.  On the right the break of the pitch, how much it deviates from a straight line.  Weaver threw five straight fastballs to Curz.  The first three tried to get Nelson to go fishing outside the strike zone.  Jered started him with a pitch in the dirt, then tempted him outside.  Cruz did not buy the pitches, and put himself in an excellent position for the rest of the at bat, up 3-0 in the count.

Cruz knew he would get a strike on 3-0, and Weaver put the pitch up and in, and Cruz swung through it.  Weaver then took five miles off his fastball, dropping it from 90 to 85, and got another swinging strike.

Jered had now shown Cruz five straight fastballs. He had changed location and speed, but each exhibited the same break.  Weaver, if you will, had trained Cruz to follow the ball a certain way.  As I watched the final pitch, Weaver gave him the fastball motion, but snapped his wrist as he released the ball.  It was clear from the centerfield camera that the pitch was going to do something different.  You can see the difference in the break above, but it also was different in another dimension:

Jered Weaver strikes out Nelson Cruz, break and velocity.The last pitch came in at 79 MPH, taking a totally different patch to the same spot as the fifth pitch.  Cruz swung and missed, and Jered made a comeback from a poor start to another strikeout.

The pitch was classified as a slider, and Jered's slider has been his best K pitch this season.  He gets a 32.4% strikeout rate with his slider, the highest of any of his pitches.  He's struck out more batters with his fastball (15 to 13), but he used the fastball to end more PA 63 to 38 for slider.  He doesn't throw it as often, but when it comes after a number of fastballs, it's a very effective pitch.