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Nelson Cruz and winning at baseball

Cruz has had a lot of big hits on the season.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Nelson Cruz is having a very good season this year with the Mariners. We know this because:

1) He's on pace to hit 40 DINGERS,

2) His triple slash line is .302/.369/.547 (good for a wRC+ of 157), and

3) He was a member of the American League All-Star team (in infallible measure of greatness).

However, another thing that's quite impressive (if a little bit harder to find in the box score) is that Cruz has been the third best player in all of baseball this season at helping to improve his team's chances of winning.

# Name PA WPA -WPA +WPA Clutch wRC+
1 Paul Goldschmidt 416 4.50 -5.28 9.78 0.49 183
2 Anthony Rizzo 415 4.14 -6.23 10.37 0.84 152
3 Nelson Cruz 396 4.04 -6.16 10.20 0.67 157
4 Bryce Harper 372 3.95 -4.81 8.76 -1.48 209
5 Mike Trout 403 3.68 -5.30 8.98 0.04 178

To track this, we can look at a player's WPA. I know that we've talked about WPA on the site a lot, but just in case you need a refresher, feel free to click here. For context, an average MLB regular will have a season-long WPA of ~1.0, while "great" and "excellent" players will have WPAs of ~3.0 and 6.0, respectively. Cruz is currently sitting at ~4.0; if he continues to perform well, he could definitely reach above 6.0 on the season. Only 18 players have passed the 6.0 WPA threshold over the last 10 seasons, so that would be a pretty big deal.

Cruz's high WPA this season comes from a combination of 1) being very good and 2) being "clutch". The table above shows that Cruz has a positive clutch rating (0.67), indicating that he actually performs somewhat better in high leverage situations than he does in a context neutral environment. (It's important to remember that a player's clutch rating is relative to themselves.) In any case, this has led to quite a few big hits this season. Cruz has had five plate appearances so far in 2015 that have yielded a WPA above 0.333 (my ~arbitrary cut-off for a "big hit"). I've listed these below because it's Friday and we should enjoy ourselves!

  • This walk-off single. (0.354 WPA)
  • Also this walk-off single. (0.406 WPA)
  • This go-ahead solo shot in the top of the tenth inning. (0.420 WPA)
  • This go-ahead three-run blast in the top of the ninth inning. (0.485 WPA)
  • And this come-from-behind three-run DINGER in the top of the eighth inning. (0.586 WPA)

That is a lot of big knocks. In fact, Cruz is on pace for the second best season-long WPA in team history!

# Season Name WPA -WPA +WPA Clutch wRC+
1 1995 Edgar Martinez 7.58 -8.80 16.38 0.90 182
2 2015* Nelson Cruz 6.82 -10.40 17.23 0.67 157
3 1996 Edgar Martinez 5.62 -9.61 15.23 -0.14 163
4 2000 Alex Rodriguez 5.26 -9.42 14.69 0.23 158
5 1984 Alvin Davis 5.23 -10.79 16.02 1.58 140
6 1989 Alvin Davis 4.54 -9.09 13.63 -0.57 155
7 1998 Alex Rodriguez 4.51 -12.17 16.68 0.63 135
8 1999 Ken Griffey Jr. 4.50 -10.93 15.43 1.05 140
9 2001 Bret Boone 4.50 -10.58 15.08 0.41 149
10 2009 Ichiro Suzuki 4.33 -10.61 14.93 1.70 125

*These are the numbers that Cruz is on pace for this season.

Unsurprisingly, this is a list of Very Good players having Very Good seasons. And look at Nellie sitting there, projected to rank at number two! Any time you're sandwiched in between accomplishments by Edgar Martinez is a good time. (This table also serves as a reminder that Alvin Davis was very good during his time with the M's. He had two seasons that were better than Griffey's best season in terms of improving the M's chances of winning. That's nuts. Maybe some of you don't need this reminder, because you're a little older or because you go spelunking into Mariners history more often than I do, but man was that guy good.)

Of course, Cruz has cooled recently. It should be noted that he put up a little more than half of his season-long WPA in his absolutely crazy month of April. It's quite possible that he won't come anywhere near Edgar's magical '95 season. That being said, with his WPA already above four, it seems likely that he'll at least crack this top-10 list (unless he absolutely tanks in August and September). There have been almost 200 qualified player seasons in Mariners history; ranking in the top-10 would be a very impressive accomplishment. Cruz is definitely putting together one hell of a season thus far. His signing might be a bummer for the Mariners in a year or two, but right now he's more than pulling his weight. If only a few more of his teammate's could start doing the same...

Go M's.