Last Thursday, Nelson Cruz inked a one-year deal with the Twins, which will become official after a physical. Cruz has refused to succumb to the effects of aging, but that will happen at some point…I assume. After spending four seasons in Seattle, he now joins the Twins. Let’s find out how the park factors compare and how that could impact Cruz’s performance.
-Park factors are already halved to account for only half the games played at home
-1B, 2B, 3B, HR factors are for right-handed hitters; the rest are for all hitters
Well gee golly, it’s a clean sweep! I don’t believe I have encountered this before in a park factor comparison, as inevitably, each park will “win” at least one factor.
For a power hitter, Cruz has never struggled with strikeouts, generally posting marks in the low-20% range. While typically a bit worse than the league average, his strikeout rate has actually declined in each of the past three seasons. That’s pretty remarkable for a man who just finished his age 37 season. Target Field (Twins) suppressed strikeouts, while Safeco Field (Mariners) boosted them in 2017, so the move to Minnesota should help stave off any age-related strikeout rate increase.
Cruz hasn’t been much of a line drive hitter in his career, as he sports just a 17.5% career mark (21.5% 2018 league average), and has posted a mark above 20% just once over a full season. So any help he could get from his new home park would be welcome. There’s certainly ample room for growth given how low it has typically sat!
In addition to the potential for more line drives, Target is perfectly neutral for pop-ups, while Safeco greatly boosted them. Cruz has basically been league average in pop-up rate, though with his slightly elevated fly ball rate, his pop-ups as a percentage of at-bats is a bit higher than the league average. So this park switch is another piece of good news, as the potentially improved liner rate and reduced IFFB% could raise his BABIP.
Speaking of increased BABIP, that’s a nice little swing in singles factor, another point in Cruz’s favor. His doubles rate plummeted in 2018, but the park switch could lead to a nice rebound. Cruz might hit one triple a year, so the increased triples factor is pretty meaningless.
Despite playing in a park that actually suppressed right-handed home runs, Cruz has managed to post HR/FB rates between 22% and 30.3% in his four years with the Mariners. This coming as a 34 to 37 year old! Amazing. But it’s clear that his home park has hampered his home run production, as his home HR/FB rate was just 22.4% versus a significantly more impressive 28.8% in away parks. That’s a sizable gap considering hitters generally hit better at home. That means that Cruz could very well enjoy a nice boost in HR/FB rate from the park switch.
So overall, the park switch is surprisingly positive all around. Before checking the factors, I assumed they would be similar and Cruz’s value would remain relatively stable. That’s not the case though, as Target should boost Cruz’s BABIP and HR/FB rate, while reducing his strikeout rate. While this analysis makes no mention of his age and possible decline finally coming, don’t forget that and think that the park switch means he’ll automatically perform at least as well as 2018.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.