Saturday, February 22, 2014

What the Orioles have with Nelson Cruz

The Orioles have agreed to a one year deal with Nelson Cruz for $8 million and another half a million in incentives. For a guy who has averaged 1.3 WAR for the past three years, the price is pretty much perfect and the length perfect as well as there is little or no risk. If Cruz passes his physical tomorrow, the Orioles have seemingly made a nice deal--though they do lose a draft pick. But what exactly do they get in Cruz?
At first glance, the Orioles get a guy with a career isolated power of .228, which gives their lineup more pop to go along with Chris Davis and Adam Jones. They also get a guy who has performed well in the post season if the Orioles can perhaps get there. Cruz has averaged 32 home runs per 162 games for his career. Those are positives for a good price.
They also get quite a few question marks. With the constant trouble Cruz has had with his legs over the past four seasons, his fielding stats have tumbled into the netherworld. He can spell Nick Markakis in right against some good left-handed pitchers, but otherwise, the Orioles should only use him as a DH.
The Orioles do have some question marks in left field. MLB Depth Charts has the Orioles with a platoon left field of Nolan Reimold and David Lough. The Orioles should hesitate to put Cruz in left as the position is not his natural position and there is more of a chance to hurt himself--something that has happened with far too much frequency in Cruz's career. If Cruz plays more than 40 games in the field, that would be too many.
Should the Orioles be a bit concerned about the home/road splits of Nelson Cruz? Perhaps. Cruz played his home games in Texas for all but his first cup of coffee for the Brewers in 2005. Texas is a great place to hit. 92 of Cruz's 157 homers were hit there.
In fact, his career home OPS is .912, or 178 points higher than his road OPS of .734. That is a pretty incredible difference. Fortunately, the Orioles play in a fairly friendly home park for batters.
Nelson Cruz has had fun hitting in Fenway Park, and has been fairly successful up in Toronto. But he has not hit well in Yankee Stadium III or at Tropicana Field. With 36 games to be played in those four locations, that is also a good news/bad news thing.
The AL East should take note that Nelson Cruz mashes fastballs and curves and struggles against most other pitches. Cruz is vulnerable to sliders and split fingered pitches. He also hits fly balls to most parts of the field but pulls most of his ground balls.
Nelson Cruz gives the Orioles a power bat, something that is becoming more rare in baseball these days. He should help the offense as long as he is not playing the field a great deal and giving back much of his offensive value. Other than the ouch of losing the draft pick, the length and the cost of the deal are ideal  As long as they hide his glove most of the time, Cruz should help the Orioles.

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