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Game Thread: Twins vs. Seattle, 4/10/21 @ 1:10pm

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 03:33 PM
Welcome back to the Twins Daily game thread party! After a rare Friday night off the Minnesota Twins will take on the Seattle Mariners t...
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Morneau

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 02:09 PM
I thought he was was really good last year. Maybe I'm on an opening day high (Not high) but he is so good.Who would have thought he would...
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The 5 Rule Draft

Twins Minor League Talk Today, 01:52 PM
This year's Rule 5 draft we lost Akil Baddo and Tyler Wells. So I thought I'd check to see how they were doing. 1st I checked on Baddo, h...
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Ex Twins in 2021: Where Are They Now?

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 12:19 PM
One of my favorite annual threads on the site. Let’s stay updated on ex-Twins in the news... This is a start of a list, and feel free to...
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2021 MLB (non-Twins) Season news

Other Baseball Today, 09:54 AM
A thread for news from around Major League Baseball. Tonight in L.A., the Angels will forego their DH in order to let Shohei Ohtani both...
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Twins 2021 Position Analysis: Designated Hitter

No team is better set up at DH than the Minnesota Twins, who are fortunate enough to employ an all-time great at the position.

He's 40 years old, and thus not without his question marks, but Nelson Cruz is back and we all should all be happy about that.
Image courtesy of Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Projected Starter: Nelson Cruz
Likely Backup: Miguel Sanó

Depth: Luis Arráez, Mitch Garver
Prospects: Aaron Sabato, Brent Rooker

THE GOOD

There is no player in baseball better suited for the term "designated hitter" than Nelson Cruz. Hitting is all he does – the Twins wouldn't dream of playing him for an inning in the field at this point – but he does it unbelievably well.

By almost any holistic offensive metric, Cruz has been the second-best hitter in MLB over the past two seasons, trailing only Mike Trout. The peak of Cruz's career has coincided with its twilight, and up to this point he hasn't shown much sign of showing down.

His production in 2020 was basically right on par with the prior season, when he slugged 41 homers with 108 RBIs. Cruz batted third or fourth in every game he started, and lived up to the billing with monster production that was at times simply outrageous. From August 17th through September 8th, for example, he slashed .343/.450/.761 with nine home runs in 20 games.



Even from the most optimistic view, it's probably fair to build some regression into expectations for Cruz. The man turns 41 in July, after all, and outstanding production – much less absolute top-tier production – is rarified air at such an age, to say the least.

The nice thing is that Cruz has been SO GOOD that he can afford to experience a significant drop-off, and still be a high-impact designated hitter. If you took 100 points off his .992 OPS in 2020, it still would've been the best for a DH in the AL by 50 points.

And as far as his anticipated age-related drop-off is concerned ... Cruz made a bit of a statement on that front in his first spring training game earlier his month:



THE BAD

I said earlier of Cruz: "up to this point he hasn't shown much sign of showing down." That's not to say he's shown NO sign of slowing down.

In the second half of September last year, his bat tanked like we've never really seen as a Twin; albeit in a very small sample. His final 11 games, which followed the aforementioned ludicrous 20-game stretch, saw Cruz hit just .154/.267/.256 with one home run and one double, missing a week with knee soreness in the middle.

For the season, Cruz's Statcast measures were great, but they weren't quite on par with years prior. Measures which were previously in the top 1-2% of all hitters were now more in the top 10-15%.


Attached Image: cruzstatcast2020.png


No one's gonna scoff at an Average Exit Velocity, HardHit% or xwOBA in the upper-80th percentiles, but in the previous three years, Cruz was literally 98th-99th percentile in each of those categories, without fail.

As you look at his mid-to-long range xwOBA trends, the downward progression is quite noticeable:

Attached Image: cruz_woba_trend.png


Under normal circumstances, the above trends wouldn't be too noteworthy, especially for a player with Cruz's track record. But again: we're talking about a guy who turns 41 in three months. While it's difficult to envision him dropping off to the point where he's not an asset at DH (if healthy), it would be no real surprise if he morphs into more of a low-average, high-strikeout, all-or-nothing type this year, rather than the totally dominant force we're accustomed to.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Time is undefeated. Then again, from what we've seen during his tenure in Minnesota, the same can basically be said for Nelson Cruz.

I find it hard to bet against the man even if all historical data suggests it's a pretty good bet. The Twins are well protected in the event of injuries or seismic drop-off, since he's on a one-year deal and they have a wealth of bats – majors and minors – capable of rotating through the DH spot to keep it juiced.

Suffice to say this position is the last anyone needs to worry about.


READ OTHER 2021 POSITION ANALYSIS ARTICLES

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10 Comments

Yeah, the Twins should be ok at DH. They have a lot of potential thump that can be moved there even if Cruz goes down for a while.

    • Twins33, Dman and MNT1996 like this

 

Yeah, the Twins should be ok at DH. They have a lot of potential thump that can be moved there even if Cruz goes down for a while.

 

Yep totally agree no shortage of DH candidates.If Cruz stays good there is no better DH out there so hopefully he has another good year in him.  

    • MNT1996 likes this
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ScrapTheNickname
Mar 19 2021 12:52 AM

My feeling is that Cruz won't "slow down" so much as a wrist injury will put him on the shelf one day and he'll never be healthy enough to be full-Nelson again.

I agree with Scrap.Yep...at 41 years old a guy can just stop hitting.But often, that coincides with an injury .....which is much more likely to happen when your.....41.

arthritis, stiffness, sight changes, back tightens, muscle loss are all part of the 40s and they cannot be avoided.He will slow down - everyone does.I wish him the best maybe he can be another Julio Franco and play until he is 48!  

His backups have thump, but Cruz has something better - he can actually get hits when he doesn't get homers.Let's hope that aging curve for him does not catch up.

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Doctor Gast
Mar 19 2021 08:20 AM
It's great to have Cruz around wether at the plate or in the dugout. He'll get his ABs in yet we have a plethora of options to take his place. What's important is we have his leadership.

I'm hoping that Rooker does make the lineup as the starting leftfielder. If he can produce, he is the designated hitter for the future Twins, who can also play the field at first or the outfield. 

 

Sano, of course, is also in the running, and it is nice to have a DH who can play in the field, in this case Sano at 1B or 3B.

 

Throw a revitalized Garver into the mix, as a guy who could be a DH who could also be that backup at 1B or C, and all we really need to hope is that Cruz hits the gates running and doesn't slowdown for the first half of the season. If he does start to tire, it is nice to know that Twins could have a good looksee to their options beyond 2021.

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Dodecahedron
Mar 19 2021 11:57 AM

Because we know the MLB is deadening the ball this year, we really have no idea what to expect from any "power" hitters.

 

We can safely predict that many hitters in the MLB will go from studs to duds. Whether or not this includes Cruz, no one knows. Since Sano can hit it into the next county, I'm not too worried about him in this regard. Sano's issue will continue to be making good contact in the first place.

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Richmond Dude
Mar 19 2021 02:31 PM

Personally, I don't like the idea of using Garver as a DH unless Astudillo is also on the roster.Instead, on those days you may want to play both Garver and Jeffers or Sano as DH, I would put one at first base and let Sano hit.If the catcher goes down, we have a lot more options to sub at first (Kirillof, Rooker, Kepler, Arraez; assuming Kirilllof and Rooker both make the roster).

Does it get much better than Cruz as your DH? He has defied Father Time so well that I just believe he has at least one more high quality season in him. But as Nick states, he could "come down to earth" this season, see his OPS drop a 100 points and STILL be a dangerous, productive hitter.

There is also a TON of depth to handle the spot when necessary and looking further down the road as well. Kind of amazing that he did very little at the ML level until he was 28yo. While i wouldn't dare to compare them, it sort of gives perspective on someone like Rooker who is only 26yo but has a potentially fine bat and has made steady progress every season after being signed out of college. And yet some question his potential because he may be too old.

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