The Argument Against Oneil Cruz

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Oneil Cruz is probably a superstar in the making, but we should be unsure as to whether or not he can justify his mid-70s ADP, due to his low contact rate, low launch angle, mixed with playing most of his games in PNC Park.

Cruz’ career 92.1-mph exit velocity is electric and a large contributor to his .445 xwoBACON. When he makes contact, he straight-up mashes. But when is a big word, when we speak of his contact.

Yes, it’s a strikeout league, but Cruz’ 35% strikeout rate in 2022 was way above the MLB 22% average. And striking the ball hard doesn’t always yield great results.

Cruz’ 8.3-degree launch angle was well below the MLB 12% rate in 2022. Sure, he had a 16% barrel rate despite this low average launch angle, but his 49% groundball rate is a bit scary. And this wasn’t a result of MLB pitchers pitching him better than MiLB pitching, as he had a 51% groundball rate in Triple-A before getting called up.

This is a player who can mash 30 home runs, but could also slice a crap-ton of 100-mph grounders straight to fielders. These could bust up his ability to run out infield singles.

He does have speed, but the old, tired adage rings true here: you can’t steal first base. We can’t deny that this guy generates a ton of outs.

Cruz is a StatCast darling when it comes to batted balls, but he lands a whole lot less often than we want him to. And batted balls aren’t the whole story, bringing us back to how the strikeouts and launch angle cap our results. Cruz’ 162-game average has been 33 home runs, which is awesome, but his expected stats are very much not awesome.

A .233 real-life batting average is a bit disheartening, but his .450 slugging percentage keeps us up for chasing that 35-home run ceiling. But Cruz’s .223 expected batting average and .410 expected slugging percentage indicate he’s greatly overperformed. And that’s for the neutral field. Cruz has to play half of his games in PNC Park, where home runs go to die.

According to EV Analytics, PNC is generally neutral for hitting, but is the sixth-worst ballpark for power. We’ll need a lot of wind games in Wrigley Field and scorching heat days in Busch Stadium with legendary performances to take advantage of the excellent hitting condition of the Great American Ball Park and the good conditions of whatever they’re calling the park in Milwaukee. 81 games in PNC is huge for depressing power.

Not to mention, that Pirates lineup — woof! Cruz definitely has a capped ceiling for runs scored and runs batted in no matter where he hits in this batting order.

There’s no guarantee that a hitter can’t ascend above a ballpark. But this is where we have to draw attention to Cruz’ early ADP. He’s got Dansby Swanson and Corey Seager right with him and he’s ahead of Tim Anderson and Xander Bogaerts; while way ahead of Willy Adames, Jeremy Peña, and Carlos Correa. The moral of the story is probably: shortstop is frickin’ stacked. No longer is a middle infielder hitting 25 home runs a unicorn. Seager (33), Adames (31), Jose Altuve (28), Francisco Lindor and Marcus Semien (26), and Swanson (25) did just that. Ten slugged at least .450. 18 slugged at least .410.

The idea of not pouncing on Lindor at his ADP to wait for Swanson/Cruz/Seager is fine, but how do we justify Cruz over those two? And if waiting for the mid-range of the position is what we’re doing, why not spend that pick in the mid-70s on more upside and wait even further for a whole mess of guys?

Cruz is a great talent, who’s gonna hit a mess of big home runs that break the highlight reels. In dynasty and keeper leagues, he’s very valuable, especially in deeper leagues. The talent is worth a big flyer. In redraft, though, there are just so many guys at the position who are so much more than “just a guy” guys.

Alex Sonty is a professional DFS and poker player, while contributing to RotoGrinders and FanGraphs, as well as serving as a part-time political science professor in Chicago, IL. He’s been playing fantasy sports since 1996 and entered the DFS realm in 2014, currently playing high-stakes MLB and NFL cash games and GPPs. He is a Chicago Tribune and SB Nation alum, while holding a J.D./M.A. and L.L.M. from DePaul University.

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1 year ago

Cruz had a weird season, as if he were two different players.

Before August 16: .195/.242/.397, 5.9% BB rate, 37.1% K rate, 6 SB, 4 CS

After August 16: .274/.349/.510. 9.7% BB rate, 32.6% K rate, 5 SB, 0 CS

Brad Johnsonmember
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Sonty

Or even just any slugger. He has a classic volatile masher profile.

1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Sonty

Not completely weird for a young player to improve after adjusting to the bigs, either, though. Julio Rodriguez had a rough first month, thanks partially to a lot of questionable called third strikes – something that, as noted below, Cruz also faced.

A lot depends on how much you think that Cruz turned a corner in the last few months versus random, and I’m fine with people arguing either way.

1 year ago
Reply to  Webs

contact quality improved. notice his BABIP jumped way up. Better pitch recognition on breaking balls and barreling up. Standard evolution for prospects graduating. In the groove Cruz just flashing his value.

Gains came from pitch recognition after seeing a lot of pitches. Pitchers will now have to readjust to him. Similar to how Dalbec in ’21 (2nd half = fire) figured it out (unfortunately it didn’t extend because bad habits are exploitable to pitchers). Cruz needs to keep improving his eye, and that should help maintain his contact quality, then he needs to work on situational hitting to improve his K% to something manageable so he doesn’t need a wicked high BABIP to hit for average.

1 year ago
Reply to  Webs

Watching him every day you could see him adjusting his approach later in the year; taking more pitches, going the other way, waiting for his pitch, etc.

70 ADP is high, but if you don’t draft him your face might look like Degrom’s after facing Cruz.