The 35-year-old Nelson Cruz is coming off arguably his best season where he hit 44 home runs with a .302 average. By Fantasy Pros consensus outfielder rankings, Cruz is ranked the tenth best outfielder, ahead of players like JD Martinez, Chris Davis, and George Springer.
Cruz’s .302 average was largely driven by his .350 BABIP. His career mark of .306 is higher than the previous four-year average (2011-2014) of .293. Cruz had an above career average line drive rate (good for BABIP) and continued to hit the ball hard. It is likely his line drive rate will regress closer to his career mark. Cruz’s groundball rate increased by four percent and his flyballs percent decreased by 7%. This decrease helped lead to the second highest HR/FB in the league behind Pedro Alvarez amongst batters with a minimum of 350 plate appearances. Once again, we have a prime regression candidate here.
Cruz’s second half was in many ways similar to his first half, and in many ways much different. Primarily, Cruz continued hitting home runs as he had 21 in the first half and 23 in the second half. His average and BABIP were both above average. While his line drive rate remained steady, his groundball rate increased by 7 % from the fist half thus leading to fewer flyballs. His HR/FB in the second half was 41%! For primarily a power hitter, the decreasing flyballs are a definite concern.
Cruz also saw his strikeout rate increase by five percentage points over the previous season leading to a decrease in zone contact. Amongst players with 350 plate appearances, Cruz had the 17th worst zone contact percentage. These two factors, in addition to the increase in whiffs, are all signs of decline. Taking a look at strictly at the second half, Cruz saw a four-percentage increase in strikeout percentage (27%) with his zone contact also down the same amount.
Another intriguing aspect of Cruz is his pull%, which declined from last season, but was right in line with his career. A five percent increase from the first half to the second half likely led to more home runs.
Cruz has had arguably two of his top three seasons the past two years at 34 and 35 with his Isolated Power increasing every year since 2012. He did get a few more walks than last year and he continues to hit the ball hard. While there are some signs of decline, there are some metrics that support Cruz continuing to have another good year. His average flyball distance is also amongst the best.
Cruz has hit a combined 84 home runs the past two years. His age, and his increase in strikeouts suggest Cruz may decline next year. His BABIP will fall leading to a lower average. Expectations should be lower for Cruz this year. Don’t expect a forty homer, .300 average. It will be more like 25-30 homers, with a .260 average. Cruz will be drafted amongst the top 15 outfielders. I think he ends up around where Adam Jones was last year as a top 30 outfielder, but not providing the value you’d want. There are less riskier options being drafted around Cruz such as JD Martinez, Lorenzo Cain, and Justin Upton.