How Should We Value Nelson Cruz?

There are extremely different views as to the value of Nelson Cruz.  Prior to 2009 he was considered a Quadruple-A player, so there are those who believe that last season was simply an aberration.  Then, there are those who fully believe in his breakout campaign, thinking that the sky is the limit for him in 2010.

Which is the right way to be leaning?  It’s a tough call, to say the least, so let’s take a look and come to a conclusion.

First, his 2009 statistics:

462 At Bats
.260 Batting Average (120 Hits)
33 Home Runs
76 RBI
75 Runs
20 Stolen Bases
.332 On Base Percentage
.524 Slugging Percentage
.280 Batting Average on Balls in Play

The power is the number that jumps out at you and is in the most need of discussion.

Prior to 2009 he had spent parts of four seasons in the Major Leagues, compiling 557 at bats and hitting just 22 HR.  He had shown flashes of power before, but nothing compared to his 2008 emergence, where he hit 37 HR at Triple-A and then another seven in the Majors.

The 37 HR barrage did come in the Pacific Coast League, so it should be taken with a small grain of salt.  The league is a notorious hitters haven, with home run totals often inflated.  While Cruz was thumping the ball, Dallas McPherson was doing the same, hitting 42 HR in 448 AB.  How about Joe Koshansky hitting 31 HR in 457 AB?

Cruz’ HR/FB rate has been consistent in his cup of coffee in 2008 and long-term Major League stay, at 21.8%.  Still, that’s a tough number to expect repeated.  From 2008 to 2009, only five players with enough at bats to qualify for the batting title repeated HR/FB marks over 20%:

  • Ryan Howard
  • Alex Rodriguez
  • Adrian Gonzalez
  • Adam Dunn
  • Albert Pujols

Those are elite players, so it certainly is fair to expect a regression until Cruz proves otherwise capable (especially given his inconsistent history).

How about his flyball rate?  Last season he was at 45.6%, while he was at 37.9% in his 2008 cup of coffee.  Let’s look at his recent Minor League numbers:

  • 2005 – 47.5%
  • 2006 – 41.7%
  • 2007 – 42.0%
  • 2008 – 45.9%

He’s a bit all over the map.  He’s going to hit the ball in the air, but will he be in the low 40 percent range or the high 40 percent range?  That’s going to help determine his home run totals.

When you put it all together, the answer is that I can’t go into 2010 expecting him to match the power he showed in 2009.  Given his history, along with concerns over his HR/FB rate, he’s going to have to prove that he can maintain that type of level in the Major Leagues over a second, full season, before I value him as such a player on draft day.

That’s not to mention the other concerns that are surrounding him:

  • Early word is that he could bat seventh in the Rangers lineup early on (how believable it is may be a different story)
  • His health, as he’s only had three seasons in his professional career where he had at least 500 AB (533 in ’04, 501 in ’06, 502 in ’08), making it tough to expect him to have significantly more than that in ‘10

Add everything together and we get the following projection:

.267 (140-525), 28 HR, 90 RBI, 80 R, 17 SB, .306 BABIP, .343 OBP, .495 SLG

I’ll be the first to admit that I am being a bit cautious in these numbers.  He strikes out a fair share (25.5% in ’09), so a great average may be difficult.  If he is indeed hitting lower in the order, just how many RBI and R is he going to get?

Then, there’s the power, which really could go either way, but given his history, it’s hard to see him repeating.

Which side of the fence do you fall on?  Are you believer?  Why or why not?

If you would like to see a free preview of the Rotoprofessor 2010 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide (available for just $5) now including a Top 50 Prospects for 2010 List, click here.

For some 2010 projections, click here.  Among those we’ve already covered include:

Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.

11 comments

  1. Sawyer says:

    I’m one who’s extremely high on Cruz. I nabbed him last year with my first pick (don’t judge, this league plays by different rules than most!) and was smiling the whole year (well, not as much in the second half). If he could be more consistent and stay healthy, I see the sky as the limit for him – a 40HR, 115 RBI, 100R, 30SB ceiling for him doesn’t seem so far fetched.

    That brings me to a question I have for you. You see player performance predictions on most sites. I’ve never seen anyone break a prediction up into a Floor Prediction (10% possibility), Likely Prediction (80% possibility), and Ceiling Prediction (10% possibility). To me this would be highly valuable in judging risk, certainty, and upside in a given player. What do you think?

  2. MRT says:

    Sawyer – I couldn’t agree more about Cruz. I don’t think we’ve seen it all yet from him. Especially after watching him go 3-3 with 2 homeruns in Spring Training last night, i don’t see him with less than 30 homeruns for the season. I expect a line of 35HR, 90+ rbi’s (given his spot in the lineup), but it’s the 20+ steals potential that i also like about him.

  3. Guancous says:

    @ Sawyer: PECOTA breaks down their prediction into multiple groups. They’re having trouble with their 10 year forecasts but the 2010 data looks good.

  4. Rotoprofessor says:

    Sawyer, that’s certainly something I could do. I would put the projection of have there as the “likely”. Check back later this afternoon and I’ll post my floor and ceiling numbers here in the comments.

  5. MikeAbo says:

    I am very high on him. Who would you rather have Ethier or Cruz?

  6. TY says:

    A 40/30 season is maybe being a bit generous. This guy can mash and can run, but he also goes into MAJOR DROUGHTS. He K’s alot and was a career minor leaguer until last year…? I’m on the bandwagon, but lets not get too wild here.

    30/20 and .260 seems about right… sure he could go 35/25 and .275 or the other way 25/15 and .250…. ya never know, especially with streaky, stike out hitters….

  7. Rotoprofessor says:

    Here’s the best/worst case scenario, assuming he’s healthy and gets the same 525 AB I projected him for above (strikeouts/walks did change):

    Worst – .238 (BABIP .292), 20 HR, 70 RBI, 70 R, 12 SB
    Best – .295 (BABIP .321), 35 HR, 105 RBI, 95 R, 25 SB

    I would agree with Ty, there’s just no way I see a 40/30 season as in the realm. Everything would need to go right for him to get to those numbers and I just don’t see it as possible.

  8. TY says:

    Ya 40/30 isn’t conceivable from any MLB player right now. Only ones even remotely close would be Braun or Kemp. Most either can’t hit for that power or if they can they dont have the speed to swipe 30.

  9. BLAZE says:

    Justin Upton will get to 40/30 before Kemp or Braun will IMO.

  10. Ty/Blaze – I don’t think any of them have a chance to reach 40/30 at this point:

    Kemp – doesn’t have the power
    Braun – don’t think he’ll run enough to reach 30 SB
    Upton – still a year or two away from reaching his full potential (in my opinion)

  11. Hippeaux says:

    I’m with you on Cruz. I think he’s being drafted way too high. While I believe the power is genuine, his combination of minimal patience and relatively low contact rate really worry me. 20-30 HR is great, and very realistic, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he his dipped even below the floor you set for him. The league will adjust to him in 2010 and it remains to be seen whether he can make the corresponding adjustments. The presence of Vladdy, a fellow Dominican, who is a somewhat similar hitter, could help.

    I also worry that if he gets off to a poor start or gets hurt, there could be challengers for his at-bats. David Murphy is currently without a place to play. Vladdy would like to get back in the outfield, if his health allows him. And, of course, Justin Smoak is lingering at AAA waiting for an opportunity at 1B or DH.

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