Jump to content

Providing independent coverage of the Minnesota Twins.
Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

The Forums

Why isn't Buxton on MLB OPS leaders list?

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 04:36 PM
Buxton is listed only on the MLB HR leaders list. Not on OPS or AVG or SLG or OBP. He should be the leader in several of these. He has as...
Full topic ›

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

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 04:16 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...
Full topic ›

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...
Full topic ›

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...
Full topic ›

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...
Full topic ›

Will 40-Year-Old Nelson Cruz Continue To Wake And Rake For The Twins?

What does Nelson Cruz dream of during his twenty minute power naps?

When he’s stretched out in his lawn chair with the sleep shades pulled over his eyes, is he acquiring a new skill? Is he reviewing every pitch he’s ever seen like Neo learning martial arts in The Matrix? Is he sleeping so deep he’s reversing the aging process?

We do know one thing about Cruz. When he wakes up, he’s going to hit.
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Cruz’s mechanics are impeccably groomed, minimal and sharp, not unlike his well-coiffed facial hair. His simple yet violent swing construction is one of the reasons he has been able to roll out of bed and starts raking.

A wake and rake, if you will.

The old adage is that hitters have the tendency to start slow, struggle to find their timing, and require enough live pitches before getting into midseason form. Cruz rises from his hibernation, steps to the plate and mashes.

From 2015-2019, during the period of the season when the northern part of the country is still defrosting, Cruz has posted a .401 weighted on-base average (wOBA) in games in March and April.

That was the fourth-highest among hitters with 450 or more plate appearances in that time. Only Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman -- three hitters who were prepubescent when Cruz began his Major League career -- posted better numbers in March/April than him.

Even during his advanced aging years Cruz is consistent, showing no indications of tiring with the long slog of the season. In that same span, 2015 to 2019, his wOBA in August/September dropped all the way down to .397.

With season-prepping routines upended by the global pandemic, Cruz shook off the months-long hiatus and smashed baseballs. In July and August, he maintained a .437 wOBA over his first 141 plate appearances, 7th highest among qualified hitters. Some hitters never had the chance to look comfortable at the plate.

Beyond a granite physique and minimal swing mechanics, Cruz has demonstrated that he is fully engaged with the team. He’s a mentor and coach who also happens to hit home runs in critical spots during the game.

His ability to study opposing pitchers appears unrivaled. You’ll find him cemented at the railing of the dugout, focused on finding bread crumbs a pitcher leaves on the mound that might tip the balance into the hitter’s favor.

He has influenced the team’s pitching staff as well, helping them craft their arsenals and giving them insight in a way that only a veteran with over 7,000 plate appearances can.

During the game, other players might turn inward to focus on their own performance but, again, he’s at the top of the dugout steps yelling words of encouragement to his teammates, even firing up veteran players like Josh Donaldson.

All of this adds up to invaluable intangibles that benefits the team and the organization.

“Nelson is a rarity in a lot of ways, and it’s very significant when you find someone that enhances everything going on around him,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He makes people better. He shows them routines. He points out small things. He talks about big things and having a plan and how to prepare.”

There is value in having that presence in the clubhouse, dugout, and on the field. Asked about his own leadership, Cruz talked about playing with Michael Young in Texas and modeled his career after the former Ranger. If his presence means one young Twins player is able to use Cruz as his model, that’s a worthy investment.

All that feelgoodery aside, it’s hard not to overlook the fact that in 2020 Cruz outperformed a lot of key metrics with some signs of decline in other ones.

According to Baseball Savant’s expected metrics -- projections of what players should post based on what types of batted balls they produce -- Cruz over-performed in 2020. By Savant‘s methods, Cruz’s batting average should have been closer to .269 rather than .303 (his .034 difference was the 26th highest among qualified hitters). His expected weighted on-base average was .363 rather than the actual .405 (27th highest).

How much weight should be put on something like that? If you operate like the New York Yankees, not much. They gave DJ LeMahieu a $90 million contract this offseason after he posted the highest expected-to-actual wOBA difference in baseball last year. If the Yankees and their army of data quants don’t care, maybe the Twins shouldn’t either.

Even if his 2020 numbers were closer to the anticipated ones, Nelson Cruz would still have had a very good season. If his “true performance” happened to be a .363 wOBA season, that would equal what JD Martinez has produced over the last six years. That’s a very good proposition.

While Cruz did carry the offense early in the 2020, that production started to erode later in the summer.

He posted his lowest exit velocity (91.6 mph) of the last six seasons. His strikeout rate, fly ball rate, and overall contact rate were the lowest marks in that time as well.

He also pulled fewer pitches, hit more ground balls, and had the lowest percentage of balls hit 95 mph or higher since before 2015.

Are these early indications of the coming regression or just a giant nothingburger? It is difficult to say how much of that performance was due to things like aging, a shortened season, or not having access to in-game video.

In the case of the two latter issues, he won’t have those issues in 2021. This year MLB expects to be back to the full 162-game slate. Plus, in-game video, with it’s too-hot-for-TV blackened screen box so teams cannot pick up the catcher’s signs, will return as well allowing Cruz to resume his dissection between at bats.

But what’s to say about the aging effect?

While production can decline due to age, it’s other factors like increased injury risk and longer recovery time that older players tend to battle. Cruz incorporates a detailed daily regiment of nutrition, workout, and recovery (sleep) to optimize his performance and curb the effects of aging.

As a prospect, he found in his first full season his numbers in the second-half of the year dropped off considerably. It was then he began to continue his workouts into the season to keep himself ready for the full year. He has since refined that process and credits the transition to full-time DH as another reason he’s able to keep hitting at this level.

“Once I started playing DH, my legs are fresher because I don't have to be running in the outfield. I think that has been key for the last few years in being able to play more games,” Cruz said. “I know my body better, so I know what I need to do to stay on the field on a daily basis.”

There is a new caveat looming for 2021: the deadened baseball.

Following two seasons of juiced baseballs, MLB will begin to manufacture balls with less springiness in hopes of curbing the home run onslaught. But the thought of hitting a ball with flight restrictions doesn’t phase Cruz. As long as everyone else is in the same boat, he has no problem with it.

“That’s for everybody,” Cruz said of the proposed ball changes. “I’ll be good.”

Even if MLB’s changes are successful in reducing the average fly ball by 13-to-16 feet like the KBO did in 2018, that shouldn’t affect Cruz significantly. If the new ball shaved off that amount, he would still average 335 feet on his fly balls -- basically what Khris Davis and JD Martinez averaged this season.

In his “no doubt” home run total was 67%, meaning nearly 70% of his home runs would have been a home run at any stadium, in any condition. This might discount a few of his shorter home runs (he had 2 “doubters” and 6 “mostly gone” shots last year) but the bulk of his power should remain. Again, if the deadened ball knocks off 13-16 feet, most of his home runs would remain.

From all the publicly-facing data available, it’s difficult to reach the conclusion that he would regress all that much.

Cruz should be on the downward slope of his career yet he’s done everything humanly possible to rage against the dying of the light and continued to put up superhuman numbers when most players have long since retired. Could this actually be his last season?

“I guess when you think about retirement, it’s about ending, and I don’t want to put that in my mind going into the season,” Cruz said. “I understand my team, to be able to go where we want to go, I have to do my best. I have to be my best, I have to be on top of my game, so retirement is not on my mind. My body feels great. My mind is still good, too. So there’s no reason. I still love the game.”

At some point, like most mortals, the irreversible effects of aging will finally catch up to Nelson Cruz and retirement will beckon.

But not this year. This year, he’s chasing a ring.

  • h2oface, mikelink45, dbminn and 2 others like this

  • Share:
  • submit to reddit
Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

11 Comments

I would be happy with even a half season and being a dugout presence. We all know he would love to reach 500 home runs. So he will be working hard to produce.

 

He may delay the role of Brent Rooker for another year, but can live with that.

 

The "robe" needs to continue.

    • TopGunn#22 and Joey P like this
Photo
Doctor Gast
Feb 12 2021 05:34 AM
He's back! And he'll do everything that he can to help the club. Welcome back, Cruz! Keep pumping out those dingers
    • Dman likes this

Just enjoy him as long as the body allows him to do what he has, but realize that sometimes the aging process has some steep downward slopes and when it does we thank him and move on.

Where is the 13-16' coming from, Parker? The article I read in the Strib was talking about 2 feet, however, that was of balls hit farther than 375'.

 

He is gonna have a significant reduction in production at some time. No one knows if it will be this year and whether it will be a slow decline, that may have begun last summer, or his production will fall off a cliff. For that reason I am elated that the Twins were able to be patient and get him on a one year contract. Now, bring that big thunder stick out and delay that decline one more year!

Photo
Parker Hageman
Feb 12 2021 08:55 AM

 

Where is the 13-16' coming from, Parker? The article I read in the Strib was talking about 2 feet, however, that was of balls hit farther than 375'.

 

 

That was the figure cited in the Sports Illustrated article linked in the paragraph above. 

 

"Accordingly, its manufacturer, Skyline, made the ball one gram heavier, increased the circumference by one millimeter and decreased the coefficient of restitution (COR), which basically measures the bounciness of a ball. (Think of dribbling a soft, uninflated basketball versus a hard, inflated one.) The result was a ball that traveled, on average, 13 to 16 feet less, leading to a 40.7% home run drop."

Photo
nicksaviking
Feb 12 2021 09:08 AM

With the one year deal I'm not really worried about Cruz at all. The worst that can happen is that he doesn't perform, he gets moved to the bench or part-time duty and one of the young hitters gets more ABs. 

 

But even with the advanced age, he nearly OPS'd 1.000 last year and hasn't OPS'd under .850 in 8 years. Even with significant regression, it's hard not to see him still being a useable player.

 

As for the new ball, I think it will be more important than ever to load up on the moonshot players like Cruz, Donaldson and Sano. It's guys like Buxton and Polanco who will probably be most impacted.

    • TopGunn#22, Dman and DocBauer like this
Photo
Parker Hageman
Feb 12 2021 09:35 AM

I'll add this to the conversation since it was on the cutting room floor of my post:

 

We expect 40-year-old players to decline because that's what 40-year-olds do. Since 1970, there are about 25 seasons in which players have had above-average wOBAs. 

 

When you looked back at the list of qualified players who were age-40 or older, most of those seasons took place in the 1980s-1990s when older players weren't quickly removed for the younger, more affordable ones. Perhaps, too, the growth of research also made teams realize that the risk of having 40-year-olds as everyday players was often a losing proposition. 

 

There have only been 9 seasons since 2010 of 40-year-old or older players receiving at least 300 plate appearances (88 total since 1970). Four of those seasons belong to Ichiro (2) and Raul Ibanez (2). The most recent one was from Carlos Beltran in 2017.

 

The amount of preparation that today's players receive compared to those even 10-15 year ago is far superior. The way that players took care of themselves in the 1980s and 1990s looks quaint. The amount of science applied to every aspect of their training and condition is absurd. 

 

What’s more, the amount of work Nelson Cruz puts in is even more absurd. Even compared to his younger teammates. From the nutrition, training and recovery standpoint, I’d wager that not one of the names prior to 2000 had the same experience as Cruz. 

 

With that in mind, is performance at 40 really that difficult to maintain? 

 

Are teams valuing and projecting older players with a bias when you are drawing from a limited pool of players, most of whom had their careers in an era where the training and conditioning isn’t even a fraction as comparable to today’s standards? Are teams pushing out players because of cost while some still have productive years remaining? Is there an undervalued market there?

 

There’s no question that skills erode with age. Not every player is going to reach their late-30s let alone their 40s. The question is, with the modern training systems in place, how much better can an aging player be compared to that of the ones from 10-to-20 years ago? 

 
    • TopGunn#22, Dman and DocBauer like this
Photo
Parker Hageman
Feb 12 2021 09:45 AM

 

 

As for the new ball, I think it will be more important than ever to load up on the moonshot players like Cruz, Donaldson and Sano. It's guys like Buxton and Polanco who will probably be most impacted.

 

Interestingly, Byron Buxton had 7 of his 13 home runs tagged as "no doubters" by Statcast. 

 

That was the second-highest on the team outside of Cruz. 

 

Miguel Sano hit his an average of 412 feet. Buxton hit his an average of 409 feet. 

 

Buxton is surprisingly strong.

 

Now Polanco...just one of his 4 home runs were of the "no doubt" variety and the average travel was 361, 4th lowest in all of baseball. 

 

If the ankle injury isn't driving his lack of power, then the new ball will hurt him in 2021.

 

 

    • nicksaviking, TopGunn#22 and Dman like this
Photo
nicksaviking
Feb 12 2021 11:03 AM

 

Interestingly, Byron Buxton had 7 of his 13 home runs tagged as "no doubters" by Statcast. 

 

That was the second-highest on the team outside of Cruz. 

 

Miguel Sano hit his an average of 412 feet. Buxton hit his an average of 409 feet. 

 

Buxton is surprisingly strong.

 

 

Well that's both encouraging and a lesson in double checking one's assumptions prior to posting!

It's great to have him back, and like nicksaviking said, it's just a one-year deal so the Twins have almost ZERO risk.

 

It would be GREAT to have Nellie as a Twins hitting coach immediately upon the announcement of his retirement (whenever that happens).I can't think of anybody who would make a BETTER hitting coach than Cruz.

Forgive me if my numbers are off slightly, I'm sure they are pretty close, but I believe Cruz is 2nd only to Trout in OPS over the past 2yrs.

Additionally, were his OPS to drop a full 100 points in 2021 he would still rank something like 7th across MLB the past 2yrs.

So yeah, even with a fair amount of regression, he should still be a quality bat this year.

Similar Articles


by Nick Nelson , 06 Apr 2021
Photo


by Cody Christie , 05 Apr 2021
Photo


by Cody Christie , 31 Mar 2021
Photo


by Cody Christie , 22 Mar 2021
Photo


by Nick Nelson , 18 Mar 2021
Photo