Lately I’ve been hearing some rumors connecting the Tigers to free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz. I understand how fans have been hungry for another power bat since Prince Fielder was traded, but Nelson Cruz is not the guy you want. It’s not because of the whole PED suspension last year, or even the fact that he single-handedly dismantled the Tigers in the 2011 ALCS. No, it’s simply because he is not that valuable of an all around baseball player.
I don’t particularly enjoy writing pieces where I talk about a player’s shortcomings. At the end of the day, these guys are major leaguers and I’m still a kid who’s a fringe high school bench player who doesn’t know whether he’s a natural right-handed or left-handed hitter (I’m really bad at both). But due to the recent clamoring for Cruz, I figured it was my duty to all my readers to expose the truth about him.
Nelson Cruz is a solid power hitter. Despite having a shortened season due to a 50 game suspension, Cruz still managed to hit 27 HR in 109 games. With a respectable ISO of .240 in 2013, and a career ISO of .228, Nelson can still manage to hit for very good extra base power. His wOBA in 2013 was .359 and is .353 over the course of his career, both being good. Bottom line, he’s a good power hitter, but I never said that I’m debating that aspect of his game.
Nelson Cruz does not have very good plate discipline. Assuming that we’re talking about the guy that’s supposedly going to be “protecting” Miguel Cabrera in the batting lineup, plate discipline does play a huge factor in this discussion. We don’t want a guy who’s a free swinger batting after a walk to the best hitter in the game who also happens to be really slow on the base paths. Last season, Cruz swung at 30.8% of pitches that were outside the strike zone (O-Swing%), which is really bad. He only made contact with 73.1% of the pitches that he swung at (Contact%), which is also bad. His BB/K was also bad, clocking in at 0.32. Bad. What have we learned so far? Basically, Nelson Cruz is an all or nothing hitter, which some fans really don’t mind. In the case that he’d be hitting behind Miguel Cabrera, I’d tend to shy away from a hitter like Cruz.
To an extent, all the bad I mentioned could be forgiven if Nelson Cruz wasn’t such a terrible defensive outfielder. Move him to DH you say? The Tigers have Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera who will both rotate time at 1B/DH, so there is no room whatsoever for another DH. Cruz would have to play everyday in RF or LF. He is 34 years old and 240lbs. His ability to chase down balls in open space is clearly declining. Sticking him in the outfield with Torii Hunter, who looked lost in the outfield for most of 2013, would be a horrible idea for a team that used the offseason to vastly improve their infield defense. The stat that I like to use for defense is UZR, but because of Nelson’s shortened season though, I’m going to use UZR/150. Last year, Cruz’s UZR/150 was -6.5, which is way below average. Considering he’s posted a negative UZR for the last three seasons, you can see that he is not very good at defense and is clearly not getting any better. It’s also worth mentioning that the Tigers would have to give up their 2014 first-round draft pick to the Texas Rangers considering Cruz turned down their qualifying offer of $14 million.
In 2013, Cruz was worth 1.5 Wins Above Replacement. Andy Dirks 2013 WAR: 1.7. Obviously WAR is not the end-all-be-all statistic, but it does give a pretty good idea of what a player is worth when you replace him with someone who is league average at his position. In this case, the WAR of each player is practically identical, which means over the course of a season they will somehow be worth the same amount of wins to their team. Cruz will probably cost around $7-9 million in 2014, whereas Andy Dirks is already under contract for only $1.625 million. Assuming Cruz signs for $8 million and has the same WAR as 2013, the Tigers would be paying $5.33 million per win for him. Andy Dirks with his current contract and WAR? $956,000 per win. I know this might be some moneyballin’ right here, but if the goal of baseball is to buy wins, wouldn’t you rather have the wins at a cheaper cost?
When all aspects of the game are taken into account, you see that Nelson Cruz is a below-average baseball player with a plus power tool. The Tigers have Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Austin Jackson, and Torii Hunter (and sometimes Alex Avila too) who will all contribute their fair share of runs this upcoming season. Not only do they not need a one-dimensional power hitter, he just doesn’t make sense for the makeup of their lineup which now features a solid balance of on-base average, power, and speed. Mix that with the huge liability that he is on defense, and you get a player that I don’t want to play for the Detroit Tigers.
For more information from me on the Detroit Tigers, visit www.ttowntiger.com
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