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.