Nelson Cruz is viewed as a one-tool player. It was the reason most around baseball advocated against handing him a lavish deal, before or after the PED suspension. He can't field well, he can't get on base, he can't run and he doesn't hit for average—but he can hit the ball to the moon.
They say right-handed power is a rarity in today's game, and that's probably true. We've watched the Mariners chase after these guys for almost the entirety of Jack Zduriencik's tenure, more worn down by this cliche (reality) than about any fanbase.
But man, once you actually do find one of these guys—even if it is that guy's only skill—it's a lot of fun. Nelson Cruz, a true caricature of a right-handed bopper if there ever was one, is a lot of fun. And the skill that makes him him, the skill that makes him cost $57 million, has been on full display in 2015.
I mentioned in the first post I did using Statcast data that no one in baseball has hit the ball harder in 2015 than Nelson Cruz. I figured that was worth calling out here as still baseball's hardest hit of the year.
Now, it's worth noting—as Jeff Sullivan writes on today over at Fangraphs—that this is still a young system and we're not totally sure how much we can trust the data. I personally trust that individual measurement, but there are some where the readings are questionable. For that reason, I somewhat regret quickly jumping to lay out the average exit velos a little more than a week ago.
That said, sometimes it seems pretty clear when the data is on point, that when it looks like a guy crushed it and the data says he crushed it, he probably crushed it. Last night, Cruz crushed it.
At 116mph off the bat, that is the very hardest home run it in 2015. So yes, Cruz hardest hit period, and hardest home run. And not only was the hardest home run of the year, but it was also, at 483 feet, the longest—eclipsing the next-closest, a 481-foot shot from Josh Donaldson.
I use these stats and tools mostly just to marvel at what they say. It's fun to use Baseball Savant to sort dingers that were absolutely clobbered and click on through to hihglights. But it turns out there might be significance to these moonshots, even when you're only looking at one.
The Economist actually recently raised this point in discussing a recently blast by Alex Rodriguez and what that could mean for his prospects at this stage in his career. The gist of their findings:
As one might expect, the data were extremely noisy—using a single swing to project what will happen on as many as 300 others is a tall order. But buried within them was a powerful and highly statistically significant trend. For each foot beyond the distance of a league-average longball (usually just under 400 feet) that any individual home run travels, an additional 0.06% of that batter’s other line drives and outfield fly balls in that season become home runs (see chart).
In most cases, this amounts to a rounding error. But for the biggest of blows, those percentage points add up in a hurry. If a player about whom we had no other information—say, a recent arrival from Cuba—hit a home run of average distance in his first at-bat, we would expect him to hit about 6% more homers than an average player for the rest of the season. In contrast, if the player hit a 477-foot home run like Mr Rodríguez’s in his first at-bat, we would expect him to hit around 50% more homers than average. That is as strong an example of signature significance as one could hope to find.
Honestly, there's a little too much math here for me to comprehend, but the basics of this article explained that if A Rod could hit a ball 477 feet, it is highly unlikely he's washed up. We know Cruz isn't washed up, not yet anyway.
And while I love the pure power Cruz brings, there's actually more going on here. We can save that for another time, but at this juncture, it's worth pointing out he's swinging at less pitches outside the zone than he has at any point in his career other than the 2008 season and his contact rate is higher than it's ever been.
Why? I don't know. Again, we'll take a look again before long.
But right now, just know that when Cruz gets into one, he can hit it as hard as anyone. For now, it's best just to sit and marvel at it. As the Rangers fielders showed last night in Arlington, sometimes it's all you can do.