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New Year, Same Guy: Nelson Cruz Leads MLB in Home Runs

Nelson Cruz has proven to have above-average elite power and has become one of the most reliable run producers in baseball.

Nelson Cruz


Nelson Cruz has proven to have above-average elite power and has become one of the most reliable run producers in baseball. That fact illuminated brightly in Baltimore last season as the small dimensions in Camden Yards helped Cruz lead the league in home runs, the only player to hit 40 in 2014.

When Nelson Cruz signed with the Seattle Mariners this offseason, many were worried that his run production would suffer by playing in spacious Safeco Field. That notion was a justified thought. Per Baseball Prospectus, in 2014, not only did Safeco Field rank in the middle of the pack in terms of home runs by a right-handed hitter, it also ranked near the bottom for right-handed hitters as a run producing environment.

And yet, here we are, talking about Cruz leading the league in home runs once again in 2015 and just like we mentioned in our look at Adrian Gonzalez, Cruz has established himself as an early candidate for the American League MVP.

Nomad by Fate–a Wanderer

Nelson Cruz currently leads the league with eight home runs. First thought out of people’s minds is, “Wow!” it doesn’t matter where he’s hitting, Cruz just rakes. Even Seattle isn’t big enough to hold him back.”

Yes and no.

As mentioned, Seattle is not a friendly environment for hitters, especially those who hit right-handed and are trying to swing for the fences. The idea that someone of Cruz’s capabilities can tame the unmerciful Safeco Field would be the stuff of legends:

Armed with his mighty sword (read: bat), Cruz would prove the nay-sayers wrong and hack and swing his way through hordes of enemies (read: pitchers/pitches), launching them to a land far and away, never to be seen ever again (read: home runs). The Mighty Cruz would conquer the majestic land of the Emerald Puget (read: Safeco Field) and enjoy the high praise and spoils that is bestowed upon a hero of his stature (read: the four-year contract he signed in the offseason).

Joseph Campbell would appreciate this myth-like tale of Nelson Cruz, but the story is a bit more complicated than what was described. For starters, here are his home-road splits:

Nelson Cruz: Home vs Away
  HR AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA BABIP
Home 2 0.294 0.294 0.500 0.794 0.206 0.344 0.333
Away 6 0.391 0.481 1.174 1.655 0.783 0.668 0.231

The home runs are not there, but technically, his Slugging Percentage and ISO numbers (ISO–Isolated Power is a stat that measures a hitter’s raw power) are still pretty respectable at home. Heck, his .344 wOBA (as we explained in the Adrian Gonzalez pieceWeighted On-Base Average basically means that not all hits are created equal) is similar to Kyle Seager‘s mark in 2014, finishing at .346, good enough for a top 40 finish. So Cruz is putting up a good fight against the monstrosity that is Safeco Field.

On the road, however, is where Cruz is a viking. Like Ralph Wiggum when he’s sleeping, Cruz must look at the team schedule and get excited at some of the venues he will be visiting in the coming weeks:

  • He will be visiting his old stomping grounds in Arlington, Texas by the end of April
  • Will be visiting the “Juice Box” in early May (Houston)
  • From May 19-24th, the Mariners will be traveling to both Baltimore and Toronto, both great run-producing environments in 2014.

All the pent-up frustration he has from playing in Seattle is unleashed when Cruz and the M’s go on the road. The numbers are the stuff of video games. It’s safe to say that he becomes a different hitter on the road. Apparently, his approach also changes as well.

Hitting Approach

Other things to notice about Cruz’s Home/Road splits is the fact that he has yet to take a walk at Safeco Field. For some reason, Cruz sees a lot more strikes at home than on the road (2.6 strikes per plate appearance at home vs 2.1 on the road). On the road, he walks as many times as he strikes out. The approach at the plate on the road obviously helps him put up monster numbers.

Another thing to notice about Cruz’s tendencies is that his Batted Ball rates are dependent on where he’s playing on any given date:

Nelson Cruz: Home vs Away Batted Ball%
  LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB BABIP
Home 11.5% 30.8% 57.7% 13.3% 13.3% 0.333
Away 5.3% 21.1% 73.7% 21.4% 42.9% 0.231

On the road, he’s looking to put every ball in the air. So far, that has helped him achieve a Home Run Per Fly Ball Rate (HR/FB) of 42.9 percent. The high Fly Ball Rate (FB%) also leads to a low BABIP, but when almost every other fly ball is being hit for an extra base-hit, BABIP does not affect him very much.

At home, he attempts to scale back the fly balls and tries to hit for more line drives and ground balls, which has resulted in a very high BABIP, but “only” a batting average of .294.

Conclusion

It’s very early, but Cruz has already shown that he not only is an established power-hitter, but also a real professional hitter that can adapt to his surroundings. He appears to know his limitations at Safeco Field and has been dominant on the road this season. Whether The Mighty Cruz can conquer the seemingly indomitable ballpark in Seattle remains to be seen, but it should prove to be a very fascinating adventure.

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