Nelson Cruz is a very good baseball player. He doesn’t do everything in the game perfectly. Nelson Cruz isn’t an outstanding defensive right fielder, he doesn’t have exceptional speed, he doesn’t hit for a high average (career .268 average), and he doesn’t get on base very well (career .328 OBP), but he is still a very good baseball player. Mostly, the reason that Nelson Cruz is still a good baseball player is that he is very good at hitting home runs.
For his career, Nelson Cruz has hit 108 MLB home runs, and has averaged 28 home runs per year from 2009 – 2011, all while averaging just 120 games played per year. If Cruz were able to stay healthy for full seasons at a time and play 150 games, he may be heralded as one of the best home run hitters in the game. For his career, Cruz averages 16.7 AB/HR. As a reference point, Albert Pujols’ career average is 14.4 AB/HR, Prince Fielder’s is 15.5 AB/HR, and Miguel Cabrera’s is 18.1 AB/HR. So Nelson Cruz would fall somewhere amongst those current great home run hitters according to that metric.
The problem is that so far, in 2012, Nelson Cruz isn’t hitting home runs, and because hitting home runs is most of what makes him a valuable player, he hasn’t been very valuable to the Texas Rangers yet this season.
However, like Pujols and his slow start to the year, just because Cruz isn’t hitting home runs now doesn’t mean he won’t finish with a close to 28 home runs for the season as he has averaged the last three years. If we look at Cruz’s career since he became an everyday player in 2009, and employ only the best skills at picking arbitrary endpoints, we can see that he has a history of going on significant hot and cold streaks when it comes to hitting home runs.
For 2009, 2010, and 2011, his AB/HR and G/HR totals ride like a roller coaster, up and down. His hottest streak came in 2010, where over the first 11 games of the year Cruz averaged 5 AB/HR, and a HR every 2 games. Interestingly enough, Cruz has had a tendency to start the season hot each year, with 2012 being the lone outlier, though not too far off from his career average.
Although Cruz is in a slump now, it is not yet the worst slump of his career. In fact, the current slump would only be the 4th-worst of his career, as the current 68 at bats without a home run trail marks of 89, 87, and 76 straight homerless at bats in previous years.
There are many great hitters that go through similar streaky periods, even if in reputation only. Pujols is in an awful slump now. Mark Teixeira’s typical early-season struggles are well chronicled. Now, Nelson Cruz is adding his name to the list of the streakiest hitters in baseball. It is easy to pick on streaky hitters when they’re in a downward turn, and equally convenient to overly praise them when they’re at their peak, but in the end it’s the totals that matter once sample size is no longer an issue, and endpoints are no longer arbitrary.
The good news for the Rangers is that they have assembled an 18-9 record with little assistance from one of their biggest offensive threats. Cruz is primed to be on an upward swing in his home run rate soon. As we saw in the 2011 ALCS, when he is locked in he is one of the scariest hitters in baseball.
Bring your green hat, because you know Nelson Cruz is going to be streaking.
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