The Full Nelson. One of the simplest yet most effective wrestling moves in existence. It was a move mastered by kids even before the optical nerves were blessed with the role of messaging the awesomeness of WWE to the brain. Go to hug someone from behind but, instead of sensually massaging the nipples, move the hands up to the neck then interlock the fingers. That person now looks like a pelican with a shark biting its legs. Nelson Cruz has been one of the simplest yet most effective hitters in MLB. See ball, hit ball. Far, very far. From 2014 to 2019, he hit at least 40 home runs in four of those seasons. In the two that he failed to hit the mark, he went for 39 and 37. Now at age 41, he’s struggling to start the 2022 season, posting a .157/.250/.245 slash with a .088 ISO. As a result, he was dropped in 7.2% of ESPN leagues. We know that Father Time is undefeated, so is this when we cue up the Boyz II Men?
Usually, I go into the history of a player but that’s not necessary for Cruz. He has been one of the preeminent power hitters of our generation. So, no foreplay this week. We get straight to the nitty gritty.
Cruz has 117 plate appearances on the season with three home runs. The walk rate is 11.1% while the strikeout rate is 19.7%. I mentioned the paltry ISO above but the BABIP is only .169. He’s been unfortunate, so that should normalize as the season progresses. Let’s dig in to see if there are some structural issues.
The ground ball rate is at a whopping 57.5%. The only time he had a number above 50% was back in his rookie season. For most of his career, that number was in the high-30% to low-40% range. The line drive rate is down while the infield fly ball rate is up. Looking at the approach, he’s still utilizing the entire field with a slight bias to the pull side.
Looking at how he’s being pitched, Cruz is seeing the same percentage of fastballs with a slight increase of sliders and changeups.
His effectiveness against fastballs is showing a negative number for the first time since 2014. He still hit 40 home runs that year so it’s not a death knell but it’s concerning nonetheless. In fact, he has a negative value on almost every pitch except for the splitter and curveball, and those are barely above 0.
The plate discipline numbers look fine. The contact rates are actually better and the swinging strike rate is the lowest since 2014.
Looking at the Statcast numbers, the max exit velocity is still in the 92nd percentile. Obviously, the other stats are down but when he squares one up, it’s getting smashed.
He’s not cheating to catchup to the fastball, so that’s a good sign. He’s experienced bad luck, so that should normalize. The approach looks to be the same and I don’t see any structural issues and don’t think Father Time is riding down on his apocalyptic horse to take Cruz up to heaven. It seems to be a timing issue to me. Let’s not forget that, outside of his rookie season, Cruz has played in the American League. That’s 16 years worth of baseball in one league. He’s now in the National League, where he is seeing many of the pitchers for the first time.
Now, Cruz is a DH in most leagues so that deflates his value. Also, there’s always the risk of injury due to his elevated age. That said, if you need power, Cruz is an enticing option. It’s just a matter of time before he heats up and gets into a rhythm. He’s too good of a hitter not to.