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Has Nelson Cruz Hit Home Runs?

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

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Way back in December, I wrote a piece entitled "Will Nelson Cruz Hit Home Runs?" Like it was then, the answer to the question in the title of this post is unquestionably, "yes." He has hit 31 of them in fact. The aim of that post in December—and this post—was to try to determine the effect moving to Safeco Field might have on Cruz’s home run output. Spoiler alert: it hasn’t had much of an effect.

Let’s start by revisiting Nelson Cruz’s raw batted ball distance.


Average Fly Ball & Home Run Distance

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Cruz Distance

Cruz has added almost four feet to his average batted ball distance this year. He’s also hitting more than a quarter of his fly balls out of the park; his 27.2% home run per fly ball rate ranks third in the majors this year and is a career high for him. Based on his batted ball profile, if he continues to hit home runs at his current rate, we can expect around 15 more dingers. Forty-six home runs would be a career high for Cruz and would be only the second time he’s surpassed 40 home runs in a single season.

Because his current HR/FB rate is so high and out of character, we might expect it to fall back towards his career norms. Using the same projected HR/FB formula from the previous article, we can use his HR/FB rates from the last two years and his average fly ball distance this year to project his expected HR/FB rate. That formula spits out an 18.6% xHR/FB rate which would give Cruz around 10 more home runs this year. The reality probably falls somewhere in between 10 and 15 additional home runs.

The other aspect of Cruz’s batting profile that has helped him is his ability to hit the ball with high velocity. This year, Cruz has just seven home runs that have left the bat at under 100 miles per hour (per ESPN’s Home Run Tracker). Using the available Statcast data from Baseball Savant, his average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives is the 12th highest in baseball.

But what about how he’s performed in Safeco Field? Just seven of his home runs have come at home and he’s hitting just 16% of his fly balls out of Safeco (his HR/FB rate on the road is an outrageous 34.3%!). This is what Cruz’s fly ball spray chart looks like at home:

Cruz Spray

There are a lot of deep fly ball outs to left field on that chart. Just one of his Safeco home runs has been hit with an exit velocity under 100 mph and two of them were hit under 400 ft. so he hasn't hit many cheap homers at home. Maybe this is proof enough that Cruz hasn't been too effected by the dense air and deep power alley in Safeco Field.

Much of Cruz’s success has come on the road this year and I don’t expect that to change while he’s a Mariner. Cruz has maximized his abilities on the road, making up for some deficiencies at home. But the great thing about being able to hit the ball far and hard is you don’t have to worry about which stadium you’re hitting the ball in; those skills will play no matter where Cruz is batting.