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Will Nelson Cruz Hit Home Runs?

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Nelson Cruz hits the ball far and he hits the ball hard. Will Safeco Field suck his power dry?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The answer to the question in the title of this post is unquestionably, "Yes." What we're most concerned with is whether or not Cruz will hit as many home runs now that he calls Safeco Field his home. It's no secret that Safeco Field depresses offensive output, particularly for right-handed hitters. So let's dive into some numbers to try and figure out how Nelson Cruz might be affected by his new home park.

I'll start with raw batted ball distance -- how far does Nelson Cruz hit his fly balls on average?

Year

Average Fly Ball & Home Run Distance

MLB Rank

2011

300.66

13th

2012

289.72

74th

2013

306.06

11th

2014

296.97

29th

Cruz BB Distance

This batted ball distance data and graph from Baseball Heat Maps paints a pretty favorable picture. Cruz hits the ball far and that's a good thing. There's a decent (indicative but not predictive) correlation between home run distance and home run per fly ball rate. Based on the formula that Mike Podhorzer and Chad Young came up with, Cruz's projected HR/FB rate in 2015 is 16.7%. That's a bit lower than his HR/FB rate over the last two years - over 20% in 2013 and 2014. Based on Cruz's batted ball profile and a full season of play, a HR/FB rate of 16.7% would net around 30 home runs. That's a super simple estimate, let's go deeper.

Over the years, the Mariners have tried to solve their lefty-heavy batting order by acquiring right handed pull-hitting fly ball guys. Richie Sexson and Corey Hart are perfect examples of this type of hitter. On the surface, it might seem like Nelson Cruz falls into this category but he's unique in a few important regards.

First, his spray chart shows an approach that scatters hits, home runs in particular, across all fields. Observe:

Cruz spray

And here are Cruz's relevant career stats based on hit direction:

Pull

Center

Opposite

ISO

Avg. Distance

HR/FB%

ISO

Avg. Distance

HR/FB%

ISO

Avg. Distance

HR/FB%

0.364

326.2

39.6%

0.270

308.9

13.3%

0.272

264.6

8.6%

Cruz is fully capable of hitting for power to the opposite field. That will help him avoid falling prey to the deep pit that is the left center power alley in Safeco Field. That research by Tony Blengino shows that Cruz's batting average might be the stat that will be affected the most by Safeco Field. Reducing the amount of doubles that fall in will affect the overall amount of hits but probably won't affect the number of home runs too drastically.

The other aspect of Cruz's batting profile that should benefit him in Safeco is his ability to hit the ball hard. We've all heard about the marine layer that affects the way a baseball travels on the west coast, specifically in Seattle. What that physically means is the air is denser at sea level. Objects traveling through denser air will need more velocity to "push" through the higher resistance.

ESPN's Home Run Tracker lists the speed at which every home run left the batter's bat. Last year, just eight of Cruz's home runs left his bat at a speed under 100 miles per hour. In 2013, just four home runs were under 100 mph. Of course, 100 mph is an arbitrary cut off and I don't think there's been any research done to try and figure out how much harder a ball has to be hit to circumvent the effects of the marine layer. We do know that when Cruz hits his home runs, he hits them very hard.

Will Nelson Cruz hit home runs in Safeco Field? The answer is, "Yes, a lot of them." Will he be affected by the ridiculous suppressing effect of Safeco Field? Yes, but not as much as we might have initially thought. We know that Nelson Cruz hits a lot of home runs. He hits them far and he hits them hard. He's also capable of hitting them to all fields. Steamer projects Cruz to hit 30 home runs next year. This is probably a pretty decent guess based on the data above. His overall batting line will definitely be affected by Safeco Field but, hey, he'll probably hit a ton of dingers to make up for it!