Then, of course, Cruz came out and hit 10 home runs in April and another 8 home runs in May. Through his first 46 games (May 27), Cruz was hitting .341 with a .395 on-base percentage (OBP) and .687 slugging percentage (.687). He had 18 home runs, 38 RBI, and 31 runs scored. Suddenly, that contract didn’t look so bad. As a team, the Mariners were 23-23.
That was the high-water mark of his season so far. Since then, Cruz has hit .253/.349/.307 with 1 home run, 5 RBI, and 5 runs scored. He’s continued to get on base at a good clip (.349 OBP), but hasn’t hit for any power. During his swoon, the M’s have gone 9-14.
So what’s going on with Nelson Cruz?
There are a couple things that stand out in his batted ball profile. At Fangraphs.com, batted balls are classified as soft, medium, and hard and divided by the percentage of balls that fall into each category. For his career, Nelson Cruz has a hard hit percentage of 35.4%. Cruz has been in the Major Leagues since 2005 and has over 4000 plate appearances. There are 122 players with at least 4000 plate appearances over the last 11 seasons and Nelson Cruz’ 35.4% hard hit percentage ranks 18th on that list. He’s within a percentage point of Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira, and slightly ahead of Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria, and Justin Upton. When it comes to regularly hitting the ball hard, Cruz has been among the best in baseball over the last 11 years.
This continued in April of this year, when Cruz had a hard hit percentage of 40.6%. Since then, though, he hasn’t been nearly as good.
The other noticeable problem with Cruz is a big increase in the percentage of ground balls he’s hit. His career ground ball rate is 40.6%. In April, he hit ground balls 33.3% of the time. He hit more fly balls than he usually does and many of them left the yard. In May, his ground ball rate jumped to 49.3% and is even higher so far in June, at 52.4%.