Do the Mariners Have a Cruz Problem?

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Cruz in his earlier years attempting to field(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Cruz in his earlier years attempting to field(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The first series of the year is behind us with the Mariners winning 2 of 3, and you know what that means, folks! Yep, it’s time to completely over-react to what we saw in small sample size this week. Time to congratulate Robinson Cano on his pending 200 Home run season! Then follow that up by complaining about how King Felix is on pace to lose 30 games.

Even back at Texas, Cruz couldn’t catch (theknuckleblog.com)

Yes, Baseball is a game of statistics and this early in the season they’re fun to look at. Leonys Martin is in the running for the batting title with a .400 average, and when else will that be true? But that’s not exactly what I’d like to focus on.

In 2 of 3 games so far, Scott Servais has sent Nelson Cruz out to play right field to start the game. This is an extremely troubling site to behold, as Cruz is…unpredictable with his glove in the field. By any fielding metric, and I’ll get into that, he’s an extremely negative impact on the defense of the team while out there. It flies directly in the face of the effort this off-season to improve a defense that was terrible last season.

SABRE-Rattling

My colleague Ian Loney, Co-Editor for baseball here at SSU, will probably wince as he reads this. I’m about to dive into his shady domain of Sabermetrics. He’s the one who lives and dies by these obscure metrics, but for today I’m borrowing his toolbox.

Cruz-UZR?

UZR, or Ultimate Zone Rating, is one of the most widely used tools for measuring defensive value of a player. It takes into account multiple factors, including how many runs the player saves with their arm, the amount of range a player has and their error rate at the position. It’s a very complicated metric that’s tough to formulate without a slide rule, an abacus and a calculator. The result is typically a number between -20 and +20. The lower the number, the worse a player has done.

Nelson Cruz’s UZR last season (in 704 innings) in right field was a -6.2. What that means is that he was worth roughly 6 runs less than an average right fielder. He split time at DH, and if he hadn’t, he was projected out to be a -11.1 UZR over the season, which is extremely poor fielding.

This means (d)WAR

Defensive Wins above Replacement (dWAR) level is another neat little stat. It basically posits how effective defensively a player is compared to a replacement player.  That replacement level player would have a value of zero.  A good fielder has a positive value and poor defender has a negative value.  For example, if we look at former Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders, he had a 0.4 dWAR.  That means he never really helped or hurt the M’s when he played defense.

Nelson Cruz has a lifetime -7.3 dWAR.  Last year, he had -1.8 dWAR in an atrocious year that saw him run around right field like a giraffe on roller skates.  A minus rating means that Cruz is surrendering runs at a insufferable rate.  He must be replaced!

Better options available defensively

The solution is within our reach, it is one Franklin Gutierrez (chatterfromthecheapseats.com).

There are all kinds of defensive metrics available to today’s baseball fan, and experts constantly debate about their effectiveness. Some are more subjective to certain conditions and situations than others, but they all seem to conclude that Nelson Cruz is a poor right fielder. With Franklin Gutierrez on the roster, it makes you wonder why Guti was at DH on Monday and Nelson was in right field.

Guti is a Gold Glover with an incredible lifetime .991 fielding percentage (compared to Cruz’s .983).  Guti has a lifetime dWAR of 7.5, which speaks to his steady work rate and understanding for how to roam the wide expanses of outfield. Although Guti has lost a step, he is miles ahead of Cruz as a defender.

Conclusion

If this team is seriously committed to quality defense as part of their new program, then Nelson Cruz shouldn’t see right field more than 1 game in every 5. If he exceeds that, it can really begin to hurt this team. By switching Guti and Cruz we can seriously upgrade the defense while still utilizing Cruz’s bat in the order.

The question is, will the Mariners’ new management team be smart and limit his time in RF or will they continue to send a well-below-average glove into right field?

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