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Nelson Cruz’s Contact

When you think of the guys who swing and miss the most, a few names probably pop into everyone’s minds – Mark Reynolds, Jack Cust, Ryan Howard, Carlos Pena, Adam Dunn, and Russ Branyan have been the kings of whiffing for a while, and they are always at the top of the strikeout leaderboards.

Not surprisingly, these are the names that show up when you sort contact% from lowest to highest. Contact rate and strikeout rate are very highly correlated for obvious reasons. But they aren’t perfectly correlated, and if you look at the two leaderboards next to each other, you’ll notice something strange.

Nelson Cruz has the fifth lowest contact rate of any hitter in baseball this year, with his 67.9% rate sandwiching him right between Howard and Cust. However, his K% isn’t anywhere near those guys. In fact, despite a massive drop in contact from last year, his strikeout rate is basically unchanged.

Last year, Cruz made contact 77.8% of the time, which led to a 24.3# strikeout rate. This year, he’s contact rate is down 10 percentage points, but his strikeout rate has only increased by eight-tenths of one percent. He’s swinging through pitches he hit a year ago, but apparently not in situations with two strikes on him.

I don’t know what this means, honestly. My instincts would suggest that the decrease in contact rate is more “real” than the stability of strikeout rate, and that his K% will increase if his contact% doesn’t return to prior levels, but I haven’t studied the issue close enough to prove it. It is at least possible that Cruz has adopted an extreme shift in how he swings the bat based on the count, where his two strike swing is further away from his regular swing than any other hitter in baseball, but that seems like the kind of thing that would have been picked by up the team’s fanbase, and I haven’t seen anyone talk about this before.

So, Ranger fans, help me out here – am I missing something you guys have already figured out? Why is Nelson Cruz making contact like Jack Cust but only striking out like David Ortiz?