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Nelson Cruz: Complete hitter

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Nelson Cruz definitely hits a lot of dingers... but that's not all!

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Nelson Cruz era of the Seattle Mariners began on December 4, 2014. With this signing, the M's added what they hoped would be a power bat to instill some right-handed thump into the middle of their lineup. Many of us were worried about this acquisition at the time, but so far it's been workin' out pretttttty okay. The Mariners $58M-man has turned out to be much more than a simple slugger; although he is currently second in all of baseball in home runs, he's also in the top-10 in both batting average and on base percentage. What a guy.

For some reference, the chart above shows all of the qualified batters in MLB this season, loosely separating them into one of four types of hitter in terms of their BA and their dinger hitting skills. Players that are further into the upper right quadrant are the best hitters, possessing both pop and the ability to regularly get hits. Cruz, Trout, and Harper have done a good job this season of distancing themselves (in terms of their offensive prowess) from most other players in baseball. Nellie has been so successful this year because, unlike a lot of slugger-type players, he hasn't allowed his K-rate to balloon excessively (21.6% vs. a league average of 20.2%). Additionally, he's been very good at hitting what pitchers are giving him and lining the ball to all fields.

That is a very balanced spray chart. This combination of extreme raw home run power and the ability to pepper the ball up the middle and to the opposite field is pretty rare. Below is a table showing every Mariners player in franchise history who has 31+ home runs, while also maintaining a batting average above 0.300.

Season Name PA HR AVG wRC+
1993 Ken Griffey Jr. 691 45 0.309 164
1994 Ken Griffey Jr. 493 40 0.323 163
1996 Ken Griffey Jr. 638 49 0.303 146
1996 Alex Rodriguez 677 36 0.358 159
1997 Ken Griffey Jr. 704 56 0.304 154
1998 Alex Rodriguez 748 42 0.310 135
2000 Alex Rodriguez 672 41 0.316 158
2000 Edgar Martinez 665 37 0.324 154
2001 Bret Boone 690 37 0.331 149
2015 Nelson Cruz 458 31 0.324 176

We can see that only four other Mariners have accomplished this task. That is some very good company for Cruz to be keeping. Also, looking forward to the rest of the season, Cruz is currently on pace to hit 46 home runs. That's a ton! A player has only hit 46 (or more) home runs in a season 116 times in the live ball era. This list becomes even more exclusive when you add in the requirement of having a batting average of at least 0.324.

Name Season HR AVG wRC+
Adrian Beltre 2004 48 0.334 161
Albert Belle 1998 49 0.328 165
Albert Pujols 3x ('04, '06, '09) (46, 49, 47) (0.331, 0.331, 0.327) (171, 174, 180)
Babe Ruth 8x ('20, '21, '24, '26, '27, '29, '30, '31) (54, 59, 46, 47, 60, 46, 49, 46) (0.376, 0.378, 0.378, 0.372, 0.356, 0.345, 0.359, 0.373) (239, 224, 210, 216, 212, 184, 205, 206)
Barry Bonds 3x ('93, '01, '02) (46, 73, 46) (0.336, 0.328, 0.370) (193, 235, 244)
Derrek Lee 2005 46 0.335 170
Hack Wilson 1930 56 0.356 171
Hank Aaron 1971 47 0.327 191
Jimmie Foxx 3x ('32, '33, '38) (58, 48, 50) (0.364, 0.356, 0.349) (198, 189, 173)
Joe DiMaggio 1937 46 0.346 165
Larry Walker 1997 49 0.366 177
Lou Gehrig 4x ('27, '31, '34, '36) (47, 46, 49, 49) (0.373, 0.341, 0.363, 0.354) (209, 184, 194, 178)
Luis Gonzalez 2001 57 0.325 173
Mickey Mantle 1956 52 0.353 202
Nelson Cruz* 2015 46 0.324 173
Rafael Palmeiro 1999 47 0.324 156
Sammy Sosa 2001 64 0.328 186
Ted Kluszewski 1954 49 0.326 164
Todd Helton 2001 49 0.336 160

*Projected values for Cruz.

This table shows that only 18 men have accomplished this feat (34 separate times) since 1920. These seasons have resulted in 12 MVP awards, and almost 3/4 of these performances resulted in a top-5 finish in MVP voting. This accomplishment is rare and great and deserves recognition. I'm certainly not saying that Cruz should really be in the conversation for AL MVP (THANKS A LOT, Mike Trout), but if he keeps it up he'll likely receive more than just a few votes.

It's entirely possible that Cruz's performance will flag somewhat in August and September. He has had his share of hot and cold streaks this season, so it would not be surprising if he failed to make it to 46 home runs or maintain such a high batting average. However, even if Cruz cools considerably over these last ~50 games, he's still had a hell of a season and has proven himself to be one of the very best, most complete hitters of 2015.