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Appreciating Nelson Cruz

Because, my goodness, did you SEE that homer?

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Los Angeles Angels
Admiring his beautiful creation.
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Before you do ANYTHING ELSE: watch this.

I mean, it’s a thing of beauty.

What Nelson Cruz did yesterday was stunning. It’s almost unfathomable. He hit the ball so hard, so far, that he BROKE STATCAST.

Seriously - just ask Ryan Divish.

My good friend John covered the homer in his recap yesterday, but this kind of a blast deserves its own post - and, more importantly, in the midst of so much else happening, our own Boomstick Baby needs some recognition as a hitter of titanic proportions, someone who can change the game with a single swing of his bat and who has been a central cog in the Mariners’ MLB-best lineup this month - not to mention the entire length of his contract.

But before we get to that, let’s talk about The Shot.

The Pitcher

Alex Meyer is one of those guys that prospect junkies kept saying, “He’ll be good, just you wait!” A first-rounder in 2011 out of the University of Kentucky, he’s got the kind of body that scouts drool over: a huge 6’9”, 225 lbs. frame, plus a strong right arm. This ain’t your typical pitcher, but a mammoth human placed on a pitching mound ready to wreak havoc. Meyer is a power pitcher created in a lab, Frankenstein’s monster trained in throwing a four-seam fastball since Day Zero.

In his four minor league seasons, he’s pitched a bit like Frankenstein’s monster might as well. Sure, there are a whole lot of strikeouts - more than a strikeout an inning. But there are also a lot of walks, with a walk rate above 11%!! in each of the past two seasons. Yeah, a LOT of walks.

He also barely has any major league experience, with just 13.2 innings pitched in the big leagues. Yesterday was his third career start.

The Pitch

See that #5, right on the inside part of the plate? That’s not a good pitch - honestly, a pretty bad pitch - but not the worst pitch possible. Nellie saw a curveball in basically the same spot two pitches earlier. This one, a 92.8 MPH fastball, was not going to be missed.

Yet here’s the thing: Against righties, this is exactly where NOT to pitch to Nelson. Check out Cruz’s ISO against lefties and righties, based on where the pitch is.

Against lefties, Cruz doesn’t like those down-and-in pitches. Meyer’s fastball was right on the edge of that .477 and .187 border. Against righties?

Hello and welcome to Mr. Cruz’s Wheelhouse! Mr....Meyer, is it? Please, come to the front of the line - it’s your turn to be served!

The Swing

I’m no swing doctor, but what I can tell you is you should watch this again.

Jose Rivera

Cruz opens early, gets ready, and takes advantage of Meyer completely missing his spot. He then unleashes a ridiculous uppercut hack, the kind that gets you sent to the back of the bench when you’re eight years old, but when you’re NELSON CRUZ, you can do these kinds of things.

The ball barely stayed fair (though admittedly it’s hard to tell, given that it WENT OVER THE FOUL POLE). Yet this is, perhaps, the best home run I’ve seen in quite some time. I can watch it over, and over, and over, and over again.

The Hitter

And now we’ve come full circle, back to the Mariners’ All-Star designated hitter. Cruz has put together an impressive season, a year after an incredible season, two years after a ridiculous season - and this after he was practically left for dead on the free agent market.

Between 2011 and 2013, Cruz played in 392 games and was worth a total of 3.7 fWAR. His wRC+ fluctuated between 106 and 122, definitely solid but not quite what would be desired of a bat-first, bat-second, and bat-third player.

Even his amazing 2014 season, where he led the American League with 40 homers, was dismissed by many as a steroid-infused dream, an aberration. The Mariners gave him $58 million over four years in a bet that he’d make it back.

Now, based on the free agent market in recent years, the cost of one fWAR has been roughly $8 million, meaning Cruz would need to produce a total of 7.25 fWAR to be worth that massive (in real-world terms) contract.

Some numbers, for your perusal:

  • In 2015, Cruz was worth 4.8 fWAR, or $38.4 million in value.
  • In 2016, Cruz has been worth 3.3 fWAR, or $26.4 million in value.

For those of you keeping score at home, he’s been worth an astonishing $64.8 million in value - that’s more than his entire contract! Of course, these sorts of deals have risks inherent to them, and the Mariners’ price is appropriately discounted to account for that risk, as is every multi-year free agency contract.

Of course, those numbers don’t even include the value of having a guy like Cruz in the clubhouse. Here’s someone who turned his career around in his late-20s, who wasn’t even a major league regular until he was 28, who can relate to guys from the Dominican Republic and mentor young contributors-in-the-making. That value is essentially impossible to quantify.

Furthermore, Cruz’s value as a right-handed bopper smack-dab in between two lefty superstars gives the Mariner lineup balance. It prevents teams from mowing through the order with southpaw after southpaw. It just plain scares pitchers.

And it’s just plain fun to watch.

Nelson Cruz, even though you’ve inspired the “Boomstick Baby!” shouts, even though your defense in RF leaves something everything to be desired, even though you occasionally go through seemingly never-ending slumps, you’re quite the player. Keep it up, Nellie, and take this team to the playoffs on your ridiculously broad shoulders.