When he is not in the batter’s box, Nelson Cruz is donating and providing to his hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz in the Dominican Republic. From his donations to fire, police and medical departments in the community, Cruz picked up the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award ESPY this past Sunday.
Through his charitable donations, the 15-year MLB veteran’s impact off the field will forever resonate with those who hail from his hometown.
However, with the Minnesota Twin turning 40 on July 1, his impact on the field might not be seen in a positive manner. With father time swiftly looming, it is fair to assume the “Boomstick’s” bat has declined and will only continue to do so as the 2020 season gets underway.
One would think.
When looking at his most recent season, there are actually areas where he has not declined, but has, instead, kept pace with the younger stars of the game.
In fact, he has not solely kept pace. He has lapped them.
To begin, it is best to look at his base numbers from last season. Per Baseball Reference, Cruz slashed .311/.392/.639 with 41 home runs and 108 runs batted in during 2019. Cruz’s 41 home runs were tied for seventh in all of baseball last season with Alex Bregman, Nolan Arenado and Ronald Acuna, Jr. The ranking alone would be impressive in itself, but Cruz only played in 120 games last season. The other three players Cruz tied with played an average of 156 games last season. To make the feat even more impressive, the average age of the three players Cruz tied with was 25. Cruz was 38 at the start of the 2019 campaign and turned 39 July 1. His 41 home runs would be the most among all players at that age or older since Barry Bonds hit 45 home runs in 2003 and 2004 as a 38 and 39-year-old, respectively. However, in both of those seasons, Bonds played in 130 and 147 games, respectively. Cruz played in 120. The total gives Cruz the recognition of being the only player to hit over 40 home runs as a 38 and 39-year-old in less than 130 games.
Oh, wait, there is more.
Per Baseball Savant, Cruz’s Average Exit Velocity (which measures the speed of the baseball as it comes off the bat) was 93.7 miles per hour. The number would rank higher than MVP’s from both leagues last season (Mike Trout and Cody Bellinger both had an aEV of 90.7 mph). In fact, the 93.7 mph aEV would be the highest among all qualified batters last season. Additionally, Cruz’s Barrel% (the percentage of balls hit that are at least 98 mph off the bat) was 19.9%, was also first among all qualified batters. However, while Cruz’s aEV barely beat out Franmil Reyes for the top spot (Reyes had a 93.3 EV), his Barrel% beat out the next best batter by a much heftier margin, Trout’s 18.6. With Cruz ranking first in both areas, it is no wonder that he was also first in Hard Hit Percentage (51.5%).
From this, the numbers emphasized that Cruz did not just make contact that led to extra-bases or home runs, he made extremely hard contact, which was the best in the majors.
Of course, this was all production in 2019.
It is possible Cruz’s age will still catch up to him as the 2020 season gets underway. One could even make the argument age was already catching up to him last season. Despite the explosive production, his 25.1 Strikeout Percentage (K%) was his highest since 2007 (26.1%). Additionally, injuries hampered Cruz last season (hence why he only played in 120 games, which was his lowest total since 2013), and during Spring Training before COVID-19 paused baseball. However, if Cruz is able to hit the ball extremely hard and fast off the lumber, he will still launch balls into the gaps or seats, which can mitigate and lighten the strikeout issues he might face. When combined with the depth and protection Minnesota’s high-octane offense has to offer (which added Josh Donaldson in the offseason), the slugger will have protection and depth to weather the storm should he need multiple days off to remain healthy.
Cruz will always be remembered for his past and continued support to his native community. His impact away from the field will be forever cherished by those from his community.
His impact on the field might still have a trick up its sleeve. From looking at his impact on the field last season, father time might have to wait in line just a bit longer.
After all, there still might be some boom left in the “Boomstick”.