Mariners Year in Review: Nelson Cruz

brianhelberg
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The Seattle Mariners entered 2015 with huge expectations, and they failed miserably. Jerry Dipoto replaced Jack Zduriencik as general manager in September, and skipper Lloyd McClendon was given his walking papers after the season ended. However, in the midst of all the disappointment, Nelson Cruz flourished.

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The M’s were noticeably lacking a power threat in the middle of their order during the 2014 season. The M’s signed Nelson Cruz to a 4 year deal worth $57 million dollars last December in an effort to solve this issue. After playing just one season in Seattle, Cruz is arguably the greatest free agent signing in franchise history.

Cruz brought the fun factor to the 2015 M’s. I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time in the Mariners’ clubhouse in August, and no one was having a better time than Nelly. The 35-year-old always has a smile on his face, and his enthusiasm is infectious. Cruz does a fantastic job interacting with fans, both in person at the stadium and online via social media. He is a difference maker on the field, and in the locker room.

The Good

Nelson Cruz led the big leagues with 40 home runs with the Baltimore Orioles in 2014. Many anticipated that number would drop dramatically playing his home games in the pitchers paradise known as Safeco Field. However, Cruz proved the skeptics wrong, hitting 44 dingers and making the All Star team in his debut season with the M’s.

The Dominican Republic native posted a .302/.369/.566 slash line across 152 games. Cruz tallied 22 doubles, 1 triple, 93 RBI and swiped 3 bases. He led the M’s in nearly ever statical category, including walks (59) and runs scored (90). Cruz would have generated some serious American League MVP buzz had it not been for the Mariners lackluster season.

Aug 10, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners right fielder Nelson Cruz (23) catches a fly ball for an out against the Baltimore Orioles during the first inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle hoped they would get an impact bat when they signed Cruz last winter, but few people expected him to be an effective outfielder. Originally penciled in as the M’s everyday designated hitter, Cruz ended up playing 80 games in right field. He may not win the Gold Glove this year, but Nelson proved himself to be a steady defender.

The Bad

It is extremely hard to be disappointed in the way Nelson Cruz played this season with the Mariners. He did everything Seattle asked of him and more. However, consistency is one facet of Cruz’s game that could have been a little better.

After getting off to a torrid start in April and May, Cruz hit a meager .239 with 1 home run and 8 RBI through 25 games in June. He managed to get back on track in July and August, but once again fell on hard times in September. Cruz hit .233 with 5 home runs and 11 RBI during the final month of the season.

Many assume Cruz will be the M’s full-time DH in 2016, but it’s worth noting that he seems to hit better when he is given the chance to play defense. Cruz hit .337 with 31 home runs and 59 RBI through 80 games in right field. He also posted a .402 on base percentage and slugged .670. However, he hit just .265 with 13 home runs and 34 RBI in 72 games as the M’s DH.

The Future

Nelson Cruz will be 36 years old next summer, and many of the top baseball prognosticators are anticipating regression in 2016. Baseball Reference is projecting Cruz will hit .274 with 24 doubles, 35 home runs and 86 RBI. The brainiacs at FanGraphs think Nelly will post a batting average of .254.

The baseball reference projections seem very reasonable to me. A .274 batting average with 35 home runs would be another great season for Cruz. However, it is completely unrealistic for FanGraphs to predict a .254 batting average. Cruz is a .273 lifetime hitter, and he has not posted an average lower than .260 since 2007.

I am very optimistic that the middle of the M’s order will rebound next season. I am hopeful Robinson Cano will be the guy who dominated in the second half, and Kyle Seager will take the next step towards stardom. If Cano and Seager can have strong seasons, Cruz should have another big year.

I predict Nelson Cruz will hit .272 with 38 home runs and 100 RBI. More importantly, I think Nelly will bring postseason baseball back to the Emerald City for the first time since 2001.

Next: Mariners Hire Scott Servais as their new Manager

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