One of the biggest storylines during the second half this season has been Nelson Cruz’s incredible performance. Since the All-Star Break, he’s batting .360/.443/.930 with 17 home runs (most in the majors) and 34 runs driven in. His wRC+ during that time is 244, meaning that he has created runs at a level 144 percent above the league average!
Cruz had a solid first half as well (.279/.367/.554 with a 137 wRC+ and 16 homers), but his second half play has been unbelievable. He has hit one more home run in the second half than he did in the first in 146 fewer plate appearances. His batting average since the break is almost higher than his on-base percentage was in the first half. His recent breakout can be attributed to a multitudes of changes in approach.
At the starting position of his swing, he’s lowered his hands significantly and his front elbow is tucked closer to his chest. As a result, his bat is angled at what appears to be a 60 degree angle as opposed to a 10 degree angle. This has assisted Cruz in raising his launch angle, which he’s increased by 50 percent in the second half (beginning of season – 7/7: 12.3 degrees; 7/12 – 8/20: 18.5 degrees).
In increasing his launch angle, he’s generating fly balls at a higher frequency (50.6 FB% compared to 37.1% in the first half), which has in turn translated into more home runs.
Crux is also raising his front foot higher than he did in the first half, which could be allowing him to tap into some more power (95.1 mph average exit velocity during the second half [94.0 mph through the All-Star Break]).
By the time Cruz’s front foot is dropped to the ground, he is starting his swing at an earlier point, likely in an effort to further enhance his timing.
Through refining his timing, he’s been able to pull the ball at a higher rate.
Hitting more fly balls at the expense of ground balls and pulling the ball more regularly makes perfect sense when you consider his career splits pertaining batted ball events…
Cruz is also crushing the soft pitches he sees, especially curveballs and changeups…
He leads the majors in runs above average against curveballs (15.59) and changeups (18.84) dating back to July 8th. In the first half, he was just mediocre in both regards…
|Pitch Values per 100 pitches [FanGraphs]||1st half percentile (minimum 200 PA)||2nd half percentile (qualified hitters)|
His 43.6 percent HR/FB is conclusively unsustainable (his career average is 20.9 percent HR/FB), but there’s no question Cruz will continue to contribute massively to a historically strong Minnesota offense.
Nelson Cruz, who has made numerous mechanical adjustments, looks to carry the Twins to their first AL Central divisional crown since 2010 with the Indians still looming in the shadows.
*All Pictures and Video via Baseball Savant