Warning! Beware of Nelson Cruz

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.

The Good

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.

The Bad

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.

The Ugly

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.

Total Value

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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17 year old amateur blogger that writes about the Detroit Tigers. For more information, visit www.ttowntiger.com.

12 Responses to “Warning! Beware of Nelson Cruz”

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  1. Ian R. says:

    A quibble with the Dirks comparison: His 2013 WAR is mostly defense. Defensive metrics, as I’m sure you know, are notoriously unreliable in one-season samples, and Dirks didn’t even really play a full season. Cruz’ value comes from his bat, which means his WAR probably better represents his true talent level.

    Given that the Tigers are the preseason favorites in their division, there’s value in gaining some certainty with Cruz rather than rolling the dice with Dirks. Of course, that’s probably not worth spending an extra 8-10 million.

    (Terrific analysis otherwise, by the way.)

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    • Land says:

      Defensive metrics are not notoriously unreliable. That is false. However, they are unreliable for future projection of defense. If a guy hits .350 one year with a .400 babip, they still actually were that good. However, you might need more years to see his career babip is .300, so he is projected to lose a lot of his BA. Analogously, Dirks really did do that well for what they were trying to measure; what we should expect shouldn’t be based on the one season.

      We should expect some regression on his defense, but not because it was measured incorrectly last. We should expect regression to the mean, which is probably below last year but above his prior years.

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      • Ian R. says:

        Except UZR (which is the fielding component of WAR) doesn’t measure on-field performance as unambiguously as BA does. See here:


        It’s not that it was measured incorrectly, it’s that the measures we have aren’t precise enough to really understand what happened on the field. We don’t have enough data yet to know Dirks’ true talent UZR, and his one good season may not even have been a good season.

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        • Iron says:

          Exactly, which is also why the various different defense metrics (Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, etc.) so often differ so wildly at least over the relatively short term of a single season.

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  2. murphym45 says:

    The thing about Cruz is that the draft pick compensation makes it nearly impossible for him to generate any value for the team that signs him. As I explained today in another community article (http://www.fangraphs.com/community/the-draft-pick-compensation-paradox/), a draft pick at the end of the first round is worth around $10M, so even if Cruz signed for $15M and two years (which is unlikely since he turned down $14.1M for one year), he’d need to be worth 3.5-4 WAR over the next two years just for the team to break even.
    Either Cruz signs for a big discount, or the team that signs him is making a huge mistake.

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    • Ian R. says:

      I won’t be surprised if Cruz ends up taking something like 2/15. It’s not like he can just call the Rangers and accept the QO after all – his market has collapsed.

      Also, what if he signs with a team that’s already lost its first-round pick? The value of a late second-round pick is substantially lower.

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      • murphym45 says:

        According to some research referenced in my article, even the 100th draft pick averages 2.0 WAR, which would translate to a value of roughly $7.5 Million, so even a pick at the end of the 2nd round has significant value. The bigger gap is between the teams in the early teens, whose first round picks might produce $20-25M of excess vallue.

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        • Land says:

          The average might be 2 WAR, but the median is undoubtedly much lower. If we’re talking about GMs who don’t want to lose their job, refraining from a free agent because of a 6% chance (I’m making this up) a player will be even an average regular is more risky than taking the player who is more likely to contribute some value.

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  3. John C says:

    He hasn’t signed yet because most GM’s realize what you do. Cruz is a one-dimensional player, who doesn’t a lot to help a team win games, and he’s demanding a contract commensurate with a player who does more to help a team win than just hit home runs. Add in the fact that he’s going to cost a team a draft pick, and he’s a hard sell.

    As far as the Tigers and Cabrera go, the whole idea of “lineup protection” is nonsense anyway, especially with the best hitter in the game being the one supposedly “protected.” To the extent that you do want a quality hitter batting after Cabrera, you can do a lot worse than an all-around pure hitter like V-Mart. Note how the Red Sox had fits with him, but handled Fielder like he was a bush-leaguer.

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  4. BretWilliams says:

    The point about Cruz hitting behind Cabrera is unclear. Yes, Cabrera will walk a lot. Yes, Cruz will swing a lot, and make a ton of outs. Cruz has enough power to concern pitchers, at least a little, making them somewhat less likely to simply pitch around Cabrera.

    I agree, there are better options to hit behind Cabrera, but who? Certainly not Andy Dirks.

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    • CamJKaiser says:

      I guess I didn’t make myself clear on that. I think that Victor Martinez should hit behind Cabrera. If there was no Martinez then I would consider Cruz as DH, but with Hunter and Cruz in the outfield (two severely declining outfielders) I’d rather role the dice on Andy Dirks for less money.

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  5. YouFeelDumb says:

    Yes, you do

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