The new of Nelson Cruz signing a 4-year deal with Seattle wasn’t all that surprising given that they didn’t want to deal any of their young starting pitching. Due to the complete dearth of production not only from their designated hitters, but the cleanup spot in their lineup, this was an organizational must. Now, will the real Robinson Cano please stand up? He has been asking for a right-handed power bat since his arrival in Seattle. Now he has it. Whether it was the career high ground ball percentage (52.6% in 2014) or the move to Safeco, Cano was a disappointment to many fantasy owners this past season. But things are looking up in Seattle with the Cruz signing and the late season acquisition of Austin Jackson. Buster Olney tweeted out a projected Seattle lineup yesterday:
I believe that Cruz will hit cleanup, pushing Kyle Seager to fifth in the batting order, splitting the left-handed bats. After only missing the playoffs by one game in 2014, Cruz plus one more bat may be the remedy. I alluded to the designated hitter and cleanup batter’s lack of productivity last year and to further illustrate, here are each totals for 2014:
Seattle DH’s 2014: 152 G, 60 R, 15 HR, 50 RBI, 10 SB .190/.266/.301
Seattle #4 Batters 2014: 162 G, 63 R, 19 HR, 75 RBI, 8 SB .218/.295/.352
To say that Robinson Cano has to be frustrated about his protection the last two years is an understatement. While the Mariners featured 16 different players who hit fourth, the 2013 Yankees had 14 different cleanup batters with Travis Hafner (56 games), Alfonso Soriano (44 games), Vernon Wells (27 games) and Lyle Overbay (11 games) leading the way. Here is how they stacked up as a group:
NY Yankee #4 Batters 2013: 162 G, 70 R, 24 HR, 84 RBI, 11 SB .228/.305/.382
Seattle has to try and placate not only their fan base, but their franchise investment, Robinson Cano. Everyone knows that Seattle needs a right-handed power bat to balance their lineup and protect Cano. But did the Mariners overpay at 4-years and 57 million dollars? Only time will tell and it will be dependent upon if Seattle can win a World Series within this window. With King Felix and a young crop of starting pitching arriving, now seems like the time to go for it.
Not only is Cruz a key to improving Robinson Cano in 2015, but there are some eerie similarities between the two. Cruz saw a drop in production after the All-Star break in 2014. However, in comparison to the numbers above, even his worst half of the season trumps either of the statistical lines above.
Nelson Cruz 2014 1H: 93 G, 56 R, 28 HR, 74 RBI, 3 SB .287/.353/.570
Nelson Cruz 2014 2H: 66 G, 31 R, 12 HR, 34 RBI, 1 SB .249/.306/.463
But here is how I started to think about Robinson Cano and how there could be foreshadowing about Cruz’s production in Seattle. Cano’s first and second half splits in New York before signing with Seattle (a move the organization felt it had to make):
Robinson Cano 2013 1H: 95 G, 53 R, 21 HR, 65 RBI, 6 SB .302/.386/.531
Robinson Cano 2013 2H: 65 G, 28 R, 6 HR, 42 RBI, 1 SB .331/.379/.494
It was only a year ago, but I really did not remember how good of a first half Cano had in 2013 and he almost matched Cruz’s first half in 2014. One of the inferences that stat people will point to is that Cano’s HR/FB% in the second half of 2013 dropped to 10.3% from 21.6% in the first half and it carried over into 2014, as Cano’s full season HR/FB% dropped to 10.7% in 2014. Much will be made of the ballpark but Cano’s second half of 2013 was with the Yankees. Nelson Cruz’s first half HR/FB% was a robust 23.9% and dropped to 15.2% in the second half just under his career number of 17.3%. So before I attempt to predict what Cruz will do in 2015 in Seattle, I need to go back a step. Please remember Cruz’s 2014 second half and Cano’s 2013 second half as a frame of reference.
Here are each player’s three-season averages entering their first season in Seattle. For Cruz, I am using the average of his 2012, 2013, and career year of 2014 for his totals and for Robinson Cano I will use his last three years as a Yankee from 2011 – 2013:
Nelson Cruz last 3 years: 142 G, 74 R, 30 HR, 91 RBI, 5 SB .266/.327/.497
Robinson Cano last 3 years in NY: 160 G, 97 R, 29 HR, 106 RBI, 6 SB .309/.371/.533
Robinson Cano 2014 Seattle: 157 G, 77 R, 14 HR, 82 RBI, 10 SB .314/.382/.454
Taking into account the production behind Cano in the lineup, his counting stats suffered. With the carryover of his drop in second half HR/FB% and the possible ballpark effects, this was Cano last year. The move to Seattle dropped Cano’s runs and RBI by 20% and his home runs in half. Even with the Mariners lowering the fence heights, this plus the lineup had an effect. It is most apparent when looking at Cano’s splits in 2013 and 2014 and his OPS compared when hitting to left field and to right field:
Robinson Cano 2013 hitting to LF: 1.077 OPS; hitting to RF – 1.010 OPS
Robinson Cano 2014 hitting to LF: 1.030 OPS; hitting to RF – .738 OPS
It is not all Safeco, but Cano suffered an almost .300 point drop in his OPS last year. This can be an outlier but it is hard to ignore. This tweet by Jeff Zimmerman was an interesting one in regards to the ballpark effects in Seattle as a precursor to Cruz signing:
In my last comparison, based on the ballpark effects here are Cruz and Cano’s last three years using ESPN’s Home Run Tracker data:
Nelson Cruz 2012: Average Standard Distance 417.3 feet, Average Speed off Bat 106.8 MPH
Nelson Cruz 2013: Average Standard Distance 407.1 feet, Average Speed off Bat 104.5 MPH
Nelson Cruz 2014: Average Standard Distance 402.2 feet, Average Speed off Bat 104.7 MPH
Robinson Cano 2012: Average Standard Distance 400.1 feet, Average Speed off Bat 104.3 MPH
Robinson Cano 2013: Average Standard Distance 399.3 feet, Average Speed off Bat 103.8 MPH
Robinson Cano 2014: Average Standard Distance 375.4 feet, Average Speed off Bat 101.2 MPH
That tweet was no joke, Cano lost only two MPH on his average speed of the bat but that accounted for a drop in average home run distance of over 20 feet in 2014. It is going to be difficult to say the same will happen to Cruz but his margin for error may affect his home run totals.
What else will make projecting Nelson Cruz’s 2015 difficult is how different his 2014 was from his career numbers. Hot first half aside, here are some interesting numbers about Cruz in regards to his home/road splits:
Career Home: 107 HR, .287/.350/.540, wRC+ 129
Career Away: 90 HR, .250/.307/.462, wRC+ 106
2014 Home: 15 HR, .252/.320/.463, wRC+ 114
2014 Away: 25 HR, .289/.346/.584, wRC+ 160
Complete reversal, right? To set a baseline for Cruz I will use his three-year game average of 142 games, though acting as DH should keep him healthy. Based on the second half, his counting stats over 142 games would be 66 runs, 26 home runs and 73 RBI. Not a bad start to set a projection at. If he kept that pace and did get to the 159 games he reached in 2012 and 2014 then the numbers jump to: 75 runs, 29 home runs and 82 RBI. I am willing to split the difference.
My 2015 Nelson Cruz Projection: 157 G, 73 R, 27 HR, 88 RBI, 5 SB .266/.327/.478
What I’m most interested in is whether Robinson Cano can bounce back. Since his disappointment in 2014 will provide a buying opportunity, I am willing to reach for Cano this year when I avoided him in drafts last year. It has been 2 years since Cano had a capable player batting behind him, and though Nelson Cruz has his warts, he represents a huge improvement as protection in the lineup. If Austin Jackson and James Jones can get on base, the Mariners offense will be vastly improved.
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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!