Texas Is Boring, or Why Nelson Cruz Is Underhyped

Time for a classic Neyer-ism. Who are these two players?

From 2008 to 2010

Player A: .315/.372/.542, 139 wRC+, 378 games, 1640 PA, 13.1 WAR
Player B: .292/.350/.555, 139 wRC+, 267 games, 1093 PA, 10.3 WAR

I’m sure at least one or both are pretty easy, given the title of this piece. Player A is The Greatest Hero in American History for Some Reason Josh Hamilton, and Player B is Hamilton’s fellow-outfielder-and-Ranger, the titular Nelson Cruz. On a per-PA basis, one could argue that Cruz has actually been better than Hamilton (2010’s American League Most Valuable Player) over the last three seasons. But if you look through the archives here at FanGraphs, there is little written specifically about Cruz other than some (complimentary) mentions in fantasy positional reviews or in this silly post from about a year ago. Why is that?

After thinking about it, I’ve come to an explanation: the Texas Rangers have become boring.

Let’s step back and take a quick look at Cruz. He displayed a tantalizing combination of power and speed in the minors with some questions about his plate discipline, and didn’t get a real chance until his age-26 season in 2007 with the Rangers. He bombed spectacularly. He was actually exposed to waivers at some point during the following offseason, if I remember correctly. In a short stint in the majors in 2008 he crushed the ball, then followed that up with a good season in 2009 (3.4 WAR). In 2010, he continued to miss time with injury, but still managed to put up 5.1 WAR over only 108 games with a combination of excellent right field defense (+10 runs according to UZR) and awesome hitting (.318/.374/.576, 153 wRC+). Cruz has only an average-ish walk rate, but he has cut the strikeouts down. His BABIP will probably regress a fair bit, but he does hit the ball hard and has good speed, so it isn’t as if 2010 was a total fluke.

These numbers are all easily observable from his player page and to those who watch the Rangers regularly. But while watching Cruz at the plate in Arizona this past weekend, it struck me that he hasn’t gotten much attention here at FanGraphs or elsewhere. Cruz is an underrated stud in right field, possibly the equal of Shin-Soo Choo in ability, but without the “he’s underrated!” hype. Perhaps Cruz is overlooked because of Hamilton’s story and monster 2010, Cruz’s own injury problems, the constant hype-machine around Nolan Ryan “rebuilding” or “buying” the Rangers (I’m not sure which story is more overblown and annoying — you pick), the fall out from Michael Young being “Misled and Manipulated,” or Ron Washington‘s mistake that Definitely Only Happened That Once. Those all probably have something to do with it, but I have another theory: the Texas Rangers have become boring.

I don’t mean boring to watch. If you like good pitching (Lewis and Wilson, in that order), good defense (Elvis Andrus, Julio Borbon, Cruz, Hamilton, and now Adrian Beltre), and good hitting (Hamilton, Cruz), the athletic and well-balanced Rangers are a fun team to watch. They are the clear favorites to win their division again this season, and they really have only just started to tap the talent in their excellent minor league system. And, of course, there are various storylines around the team that make it “interesting” to read about, as listed above: Hamilton’s story might still interest the three people on the planet who haven’t heard it rehashed 1,006 times, the ongoing ownership mess, Michael Young, and Nolan Ryan Nolan Ryan Nolan Ryan.

So I guess I don’t mean the Rangers are a “boring story.” But I mean they have become “boring” analytically, from the perspective we try to come from here at FanGraphs. Notice I didn’t say “bad.” On the contrary, they are boring because the front office is smart. Perhaps they could have handled the leaking of Michael Young news more deftly, but for those of us trying to see the situation from a baseball standpoint, it’s just a team who recognizes a player overpaid for his talents who is taking up roster and payroll space better used elsewhere. They understand the importance of both depth and upside in the farm system. They obtain undervalued guys in trades who turn into major contributers (like Cruz). They understand the importance of evaluating and valuing fielding properly. They aren’t letting up after winning the division title. In other words, while there is plenty to talk about “outside” of baseball stuff, inside the baseball stuff they tend to do things right, which makes for little to complain about, but also means that some of the good things go unnoticed — like Nelson Cruz. It’s just another smart thing the Rangers did.

Hopefully people will start to notice that Nelson Cruz is a really good player. In the meantime, if they want more attention from analysts, they should try doing some obviously silly things. Like, say, letting Elvis Andrus hit in the top half of the batting order.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

26 Responses to “Texas Is Boring, or Why Nelson Cruz Is Underhyped”

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  1. Padman Jones says:

    Cruz DID make an appearance in ESPN Magazine’s body issue. Take that, Hamilton.

    I don’t disagree with your premise, but it’s kinda distasteful, innit? It’s like the FanGraphs way of copping to the same sort of journalistic mores that emphasize sensationalism and negative headlines to drum up interest.

    Plus, wouldn’t, say, the Red Sox also be boring by the standard of ‘they do things right?’ East Coast Bi-As! (clap clap clapclapclap)

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  2. Jason says:

    In which they are “smart” and “tend to do things right” = how we would do it at fangraphs.

    At the highest level I agree, though I would say there are a few blemishes on this baseball operations staff. Acquiring Bengie Molina for anything of value was highly questionable, & Ron Washington’s managing of the World Series would definitely not leave one with the impression that this front office is smart.
    Also having two players on your 40 man request trades in a 2 month period is a little concerning.

    Still – credit where credit is due – they have had considerable recent success and are well positioned to sustain that in the near future.

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    • Jason says:

      correction to my own post – meant “management team” instead of front office.

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    • Ham says:

      Who else besides Young requested a trade?

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    • PADMY says:

      Chris Ray =/= Anything of value

      Considering the Rangers’ catching situation following Salty’s development of the yips (and of course, the inability of Taylor Teagarden to hit anything moving faster than 65 mph or so), I’d say it was a good move.

      Context, man. Also, did I mention that Chris Ray is awful?

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      • merizobeach says:

        Ray pitched decently during his short stint in SF. The greatest fault in the Rangers acquiring Molina–other than his being a whining “Fat Cancer”–is that it cleared the way for Posey, who led the team into contention. The Giants with Molina were going nowhere.

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      • wat says:

        Michael Main was worth nothing? The fact that they cleared the way for Posey was also another knock against it.

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    • Sam says:

      Trading away Adrian Gonzalez, Alfonso Soriano, and Chris Young for very little return was a bit more than a blemish.

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  3. Quintero says:

    Maybe because we as fangraphers know that there is park effect, so we think whoever can hit in Texas is normal and we can’t call Cruz underrated because someone will call us out by point out park effect? Cust Kayin’…

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  4. RC says:

    whats interesting to me here, is that according to wRC, 22 points of OBP is worth the same as 13 points of SLG, despite the fact that we’ve been told for years that OBP is worth twice what SLG is.

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    • don says:

      Cruz has a higher percentage of his ABs last year than Hamilton (because he doesn’t have many in 2008 at all), and offense as a whole was lower last year. His line doesn’t have to be as high to get a 139 wRC+. Still, I agree that it’s a strange result.

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    • Jason B says:

      “despite the fact that we’ve been told for years that OBP is worth twice what SLG is.”

      I think that’s just a rough approximation to get the point across that they’re not equivalent. Easier for a layperson to wrap their head around 2x than it is (22/13)x. I guess kind of equivalent to saying the circumference of a circle is about three times the diameter.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        Jason, you have it backwards. It would be 13/22, which is nowhere near twice as much. If OBP was worth twice as much, then 22 points should be worth 44 points of slugging; not 13.

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      • adam says:

        Maybe he wrote this wrong because I haven’t heard of the saying but; 22 points of OBP being worth 13 points of SLG is SIGNIFICANTLY different from OBP being worth twice as much as SLG. If the latter were true, 22 points of OBP would be worth 44 points of SLG, which is shocking as he stated. OBP being twice as valuable means you would trade 2 of your SLG points for 1 OBP point. So I guess most importantly, which view is correct? I would think they would be fairly equal with OBP having a slight edge.

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      • Alex says:

        there’s no direct, constant ratio between obp and slg, because slg over/undervalues different types of hits by different amounts. two players could have the same obp and same slg and one could have a woba 10 points higher due to hitting a bunch of doubles instead of hrs or something.

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  5. Mario Mendoza says:

    Cruz’s hype is more likely just hindered by not playing full seasons and not crossing those hey-look-at-me thresholds.

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  6. DCoop says:

    @Jason – “Also having two players on your 40 man request trades in a 2 month period is a little concerning. ”

    Communication with the players is the issue in question here. Young and Davis didn’t request trades initially because they dislike the team – they did it because they foresaw their playing time dwindling. To me, this lends even more kudos to the Rangers. Think about it. Michael Young and Chris Davis would be a definite upgrade to many teams, but in Texas, they’re having to fight for AB’s because of the talent in the organization.

    I definitely agree that Cruz is underrated, but I think Mario is correct in assuming that part of it has to do with the fact that he hasn’t been healthy for an entire season. If he could put together a full season of numbers, he’d be compared with other power bats around the league and the boomstick would receive its fair share of credit.

    All in all, great article. And while I personally don’t find the Rangers boring in the least, I take it as a compliment to the organization that being unable to find many vulnerable areas in this team makes them not as fun to poke at. After being a Rangers fan for 20+ years and seeing the many unbelievably awful seasons that this team has amassed, I’ll take this kind of boring year after year.

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  7. Russ Russell says:

    You know what is really boring, this article. GO RANGERS.

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  8. Matt Defalco says:

    Nelson Cruz is, essentially, an MVP candidate every year… until he gets hurt. Honestly, I (personally) think he’s the best outfielder in the MLB. There is, admittedly, some bias there. His injuries always hamper him badly. Just last year he made it into the home run derby, because he was doing so amazing, but then got hurt after and slunk back into the Texas shadows. Not to say he didn’t have a good season – he did; his season could have been amazing, however, if he didn’t get hurt.

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  9. TT says:

    For a moment there, I thought I walked into a Baseball Prospectus article circa 2004 or so. Sort of had the snark effect turned up to 10 there.

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  10. Stringer Bell says:

    Yes, batting a guy with an above average OBP and very good speed in the first spot of the order is a stupid decision. Sure.

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    • meh says:

      You must be new.

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      • Stringer Bell says:

        Nope, been here a long time. I just have never agreed with the assertion that Andrus should be pushed down the lineup, when he is a perfectly good guy to bat at the top as long as he retains his on base percentage.

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  11. KristenWallace. says:

    Nelson Cruz Is My Absolute Player. Julio Borbon Is The Nicest Man. I Met Him At Saltgrass. Nelson Just Hit Another Homer. I Think He Is Underrated. He Was Born In Monge Cristi, Dominican Republic. His Birthdays Is July 1, 1980. He’s 30. He Is An Amazing Outfielder. Te Only Sad Thing Is Manages To Get Injured ALOT.

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