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.
|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|
|1997||Ken Griffey Jr.||704||56||0.304||154|
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.
|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)|
|Jimmie Foxx||3x ('32, '33, '38)||(58, 48, 50)||(0.364, 0.356, 0.349)||(198, 189, 173)|
|Lou Gehrig||4x ('27, '31, '34, '36)||(47, 46, 49, 49)||(0.373, 0.341, 0.363, 0.354)||(209, 184, 194, 178)|
*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.