We make such a big deal about young talent in baseball. Watching tomorrow’s stars is exciting, right? Fans love young talent because it gives them hope for the future. Teams love young talent because those players are still on small rookie deals and are an incredible value.
In a league where the average age for a hitter has dropped a full year in the past decade, the older crowd is getting squeezed out of the headlines and the limelight.
Now when I say “old”, I mean by baseball standards of course. Men in their mid-to-late thirties would be considered young by the world’s standards. On the diamond, however, these guys are dinosaurs.
Nelson Cruz is one of those guys. Cruz came up in 2005, began playing regularly in 2009, and truly broke out in Baltimore in 2014. He wouldn’t make a sexy keeper in fantasy, but Cruz sure adds punch to the middle of the Twins lineup.
A Look at Nelson Cruz’s 2018 and 2019 Stats
Will this guy ever stop hitting home runs? The Dominican-born Cruz will turn 40 in early July and is looking to go deep in 2020 once for every year he’s been alive.
Cruz was a relatively late bloomer, but became an instant star once that happened. The powerful righty’s first 40-homer season was in 2014 – Cruz’s 6th full season in the league. Since that season, his low in homeruns is 37.
*projections from THE BAT X
While Cruz’s 2018 numbers would be a career season for many lesser hitters, doubters and critics saw them as the beginning of a decline. The .256 batting average was the lowest of Cruz’s career and over 20 points below his career mark.
37 homeruns were his fewest since 2013. His RBIs dropped from a career-best 119 in 2017 to under 100 the following year. Many experts announced that Cruz was in decline. His days of vying for the homerun crown over. I don’t think this is the case.
Cruz bounced back with an outstanding 2019 season in which his Twins upset the balance of power in the AL by winning the Central for the first time since 2010.
What encourages me about Cruz’s 2019 numbers is what he did in the second half of the year. Anyone can start hot, but Nelson Cruz slugged his way to the 4th-best second-half Off in baseball – behind only Alex Bregman, Jorge Soler, and Marcus Semien.
If a player was on his last legs, he would fade down the stretch – not heat up. It should be noted that Cruz missed a few weeks in August last year due to a ruptured tendon in his wrist and still posted top-5 numbers in the second half.
Why the Writing on the Wall Might not Matter for Nelson Cruz
Looking at the numbers, those who claim Cruz is due for a disappointing 2020 season actually have an argument. Here is what they see:
After playing 152+ games for 4 straight seasons, Cruz appeared in 144 in 2018 and just 120 in 2019. An ankle injury kept him out of some early-season 2018 action and the aforementioned wrist injury shelved him in 2019.
Is health going to be a concern for Cruz in 2020? I don’t think so. Remember, 2020 is an abbreviated MLB season. Who does this benefit the most? Old guys who need the rest. If the MLB season is only 70-80 games, there is a much higher chance that Cruz’s body holds up.
Ok, what else have doubters been saying. Well … there is BABIP. Part of the reason for Cruz’s gaudy second-half 2019 numbers was an elevated BABIP of .351. No one is mentioning that Cruz had an abnormally low BABIP in his “down” season in 2018 – just .264.
We can come to the conclusion that Cruz is likely to perform somewhere between his 2018 and 2019 levels. He was especially unlucky in 2018 and a little too lucky in 2019.
I am not afraid to predict big things for Cruz in 2020 because his floor is so high. In 2018, nothing went right for him. He was hidden in a no-name Mariners lineup and couldn’t ever seem to get a hit to fall (hence the low BABIP). As a result, he hit only 37 homers and drove in only 97 runs.
Older guys who are playing it year-to-year aren’t as exciting as the youngsters, but their production matters just as much in Vegas sportsbooks or your fantasy baseball lineup. Don’t be afraid to buy high on Nelson Cruz this year. Even without lucky breaks, he is a top-10 power hitter in this league.
See you on top!