While Nelson Cruz might be one of the least favorite of available free agents among nerd faces, it’s hard to ignore what he does rather consistently for your fantasy squad — and that’s hit home runs and drive in runs all while hitting for a decent average. The often injured (or suspended as it were) outfielder has posted an ISO below .240 just once in the last five seasons and has yet to hit below .260 as a major league regular. Cruz has hit 135 home runs in the past five years and he’s really only played a full season once.
That last line pretty much sums up all of the risk with Nelson Cruz. When he’s on the field, he can be a productive outfielder for your fantasy squad. While his days of hitting 30+ home runs and stealing 20 bases is probably over, he nonetheless projects as a player who can rack up 25+ home runs and flirt with 85-90 RBI fairly easily to go along with a career .268 batting average. Even in his PED suspension-shortened season of just 456 at bats, his 27 home runs, 76 RBI and .266/.327/506 slash line was good for 43rd overall and roughly $11 bucks according to the arithmetical ingenuity of Zach Sanders’ cranium.
Where Cruz ends up in free agency could have a huge impact on his value, however. The ballpark in Arlington (or RANGERS ballpark, or whatever they’re calling it now) was one of the friendliest places for right handed batters to hit, and especially friendly for home runs. If you’re a Cruz owner, pray with every fiber of your being that the Reds sign him.
Fantasy draft-wise, I think Cruz occupies kind of an interesting territory. For someone with the ability to hit 30 home runs (I said ability) and hit for a decent average, there aren’t many other outfielders with that profile who will also go in the 9th to 11th rounds. Jayson Werth maybe? Mark Trumbo? I’m spitballing, but the point is he makes for an interesting risk if he continues to languish in the mid rounds.
Looking at his plate discipline figures, there aren’t any red flags to speak of, with everything pretty much in line with his career rates. One thing that stood out about his batted ball data, however, was his home run per fly ball rate, which was at a four year high in 2013. A graph for the visual learner in you:
His career rate sits at 16.6%, but all of that has been as a Ranger. Now obviously, that only impacts home games, but you get the point. Should he sign somewhere like Seattle, my bet is the projections start to suggest he only hits about 19-22 home runs in a season where he plays in 135 games or so. If that’s the Nelson Cruz of 2014, then run away. If he winds up in, say, Baltimore, he’ll probably exceed the current Steamer projection of .254/.316/.463 with 24 home runs and 75 RBI.
I recognize it’s foolish to suggest that home/away splits tell 100% of an offensive story, but just to be thorough, here are Cruz’s career home/away splits which you may do with as you please:
There’s no doubt Nelson Cruz is a butcher with his defense, but he’s a quality third outfielder in most standard roto formats. He’s on the wrong side of the performance arc, but should he slip into the teen rounds or single digit price range, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the investment. Just always have a reliable backup for those 30 games he’ll inevitably miss.
Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.