The Orioles’ addition of Nelson Cruz is the most recent example of General Manager Dan Duquette letting the market play out. Cruz declined the $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Texas Rangers and never found that kind of money anywhere else, settling with the Orioles for $8 million for one year. Two factors that may have attributed to Cruz’s disappointing offseason are his 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal in 2013, and the fact that any team that signed him would lose their top draft pick. The Orioles are getting a proven slugger with enough baggage to lower his asking price, but what do the numbers have to say about his worth to the Baltimore lineup?
In just 109 games with the Rangers in 2013, Cruz hit .266/.327/.506 wth 27 HR and 76 RBI. A potentially great season by the 33-year-old cut short by his connection to the Biogenesis clinic. Whether or not any of his statistics in 2013 (or at any other point in his career) were inflated by performance enhancers remains in question, as he never tested positive for any drug. His affiliation to steroids alone will make it tough to account for what impact it may have had on his numbers, so it really won’t be mentioned again after this point.
The most important aspect of this signing is the improvement the Orioles will see at the DH spot in 2014. Last season, Orioles DHs hit .236/.290/.418. Though they ranked 5th in the AL with 21 HR, they ranked just 12th with 66 RBI. Needless to say, Cruz will be an improvement for the Orioles at DH.
Cruz is not the type that will get on base and set up hitters behind them, as his OBP was just .327 (.001 better than the league average). His main talent is slugging, which will add to an Orioles offense that ranked 3rd in the AL in 2013 with a .431 SLG%. Cruz has a career .495 SLG%, and his .506 SLG% in 2013 would have ranked him second on the Orioles (Chris Davis .634 SLG%) for any player over 300 at-bats. The HR was Cruz’s most alluring aspect, as he hit 27 HRs in 2013 despite his 50-game suspension. In the time that he did play, Cruz averaged a HR for every 15.3 at-bats (would have ranked 8th in AL had he had the qualifying number of at-bats), which adds yet another HR threat to an already homer-happy Orioles lineup.
His mediocre OBP and above average SLG% are not the only aspects of Cruz’s statistics that will help him fit in with the Orioles’ offense, he also struck out a lot. Cruz struck out 109 times in his suspension-shortened 2013 season, and struck out 140 times in 2012. Though the Orioles batters cut down on their SOs in 2013 to total 1,125 (5th fewest in AL), their top sluggers continued to be vulnerable to the K. Though a strikeout is at times more favorable than a groundball-double-play, it depends on the situation.
When it comes to situational hitting, many Orioles fans know all too well how poor situational hitting can disrupt a playoff run. With that said, Cruz’s situational hitting will likely bring a smile to the faces of Orioles fans. With the bases empty, Cruz hit just .248/.318/.479. With a runner at 1st those numbers jump to .290/.338/.551 and with runners at 1st and 2nd he hit even better at .323/.382/.548. Now, the Orioles did well in those situations in 2013 (.281/.323/.462 w/ runner at 1st, .278/.326/.471 w/ runners at 1st and 2nd), but Cruz’s presence will add even more to those situations. With RISP, the Orioles hit .266/.329/.435, which isn’t horrible overall. Last year, Cruz hit .294/.339/.539 w/RISP making him even more valuable to a DH position that saw limited production in the biggest situations. With the exception of his numbers with a runner at 3rd in 2013 (.143/.143/.143), Cruz’s numbers increased with the importance of the situation. Another example of his strong 2013 situational hitting is his hitting with two outs. With no outs, Cruz hit just .178/.232/.318. However, when there was one out, those numbers jumped to .271/.322/.511, and then with two outs, Cruz hit .338/.408/.662. Now, we see that Cruz raked w/RISP and with two outs, and his numbers w/RISP and two outs are no different. W/RISP and two outs, Cruz hit .400/.471/.778. Though these numbers combined with his power numbers may generate a lot of excitement, Cruz will be moving from the AL West to the AL East, which means he will see new pitching in 2014.
In limited plate appearances against Boston, New York, Tampa Bay, and Toronto, Cruz generated power, but at the expense of AVG and OBP. In 21 at-bats against Boston, Cruz hit .238/.333/.571. In 25 at-bats against the Yankees, he hit .200/.310/.480. In 22 at-bats against the Blue Jays, he hit .227/.346/.500. Those numbers, despite a limited sample size, demonstrate the all-or-nothing matchups presented to Cruz. As for the Tampa Bay Rays, there was not much good to take away. In just 16 at-bats against Tampa Bay, Cruz hit just .125/.222/.188. Overall against the AL East in 2013, Cruz wasn’t really too impressive. Though his power salvaged what would otherwise be poor numbers against Boston, New York, and Toronto, there was nothing positive to take away from his ABs against the Rays.
We can clearly see that Cruz hits for power, won’t do much for the Orioles’ OBP, strikes out a bit, and flourished in situational hitting in 2013. His age 33-34 season will likely see more of the same when it comes to power and strikeouts, but situational hitting is often more of a year-to-year statistic. Moving to the AL East may offer some new struggles for Cruz, but the sample size to date is too small to project how he adjusts. Clearly, the Orioles have upgraded at the DH position, but only time will tell by how much.