Nelson Cruz' (and the M's OF) Defense
Our cleanup hitter will be happy to take a cut at RF


Doctorb Kelly sez, in the Cruz thread,

UZR continues to claim Nelson Cruz is one of the worst defenders in ML baseball, but many of those who watch the games see him as average/acceptable.  I was curious and procrastinating, so I went to fangraphs and the web to figure the situation out.  The end result? I think it is safe to say UZR is useless and Inside Edge says Nelson Cruz is an average RF.  If you care how I came to that conclusion read onward.


First of all, UZR claims Nelson Cruz range has cost the M's 7.3 runs compared to an average RF in 44 games worth of innings in RF.  Note, this is just the cost due to his range and does not include throwing arm and error deficiencies. 

That seems like a lot of runs in 44 games even for a bad fielder, so I started to wonder how many missed catches this represents.  My understanding is that UZR uses the average run value for a fly ball to get an estimate of the cost of a misplayed ball, but I could be wrong.  I read up on UZR and found that they assign a 0.83 run difference between catching or not catching a ball hit in the air to the outfield.  On aggregate, this would mean that Nelson Cruz missed 9 balls in play compared to the average RF in just 44 games, or a catch every 5 games.

Fortunately, fangraphs also has their Inside Edge fielding data where the each play is binned by the likelihood that a ML fielder would make the play, where the bins are 90-100%, 60-90%, 40-60%, 10-40%, 1-10%, and 0%.  Taking out the 18 balls in play deemed impossible to catch (the 0% bin), Nelson Cruz has had 104 playable balls hit his way and made 90 catches.  So we are only talking about 14 balls he had a chance to catch, but did not do so, according to Inside Edge.

The additional aspect of Inside Edge that is fun is that I can find the actual average performance for RF in 2014 on balls in each zone and use this performance to predict how many plays this mythical average RF would have made if they had been standing in RF for the M's instead of Nelson Cruz.  The answer? 90.8 catches, 0.8 plays better than Nelson Cruz at a value of 2/3 of a run.  My guess is most of you gave up on UZR a long time ago, but it is fun to put the truth to a common misperception; there is no evidence that Nelson Cruz is a liability in the outfield.


Thanks for the legwork!  And is this the same Dr. K that we'd come to know and love?  ... don't matter...

(1) I like the Inside Edge bins really well but am wayyy too lazy to add them up vs. UZR at any given time.  If Cruz only had 14 HYPOTHETICAL extra catches available to him -- that's 14 extra catches if he were The Flash from DC comics, then there's no way in the world that he deserved a -7 runs credit for 1/4 of the season.  By the way, this is a staple Bill James reverse engineering logic, one he's used 500 times if he's used it once.  Sound as a dollar.

(2) Dewan does have Cruz for -8 plays ... but +5 baserunner kills.

(3) James had Nellie's back on ESPN.

(4) You guys all see Cruz flying down the line on infield grounders, right?   How many runs is it costing a team when their cleanup hitter RF hits a grounder, the shortstop lollygags it, crow-hops twice, and is nails him by five steps?

(5) The Mariners now have VERY advanced metrics, and they run him out there over several reasonable options.  This (5) is pretty tough to push back against, because they are simply a lot better informed than we are.


UZR is great.  Provided that you use it as one camera angle, and provided that you keep a sense of proportion when it says somebody is worth +50 or -50 defensive runs (as Big Blog did on Mike Cameron one year).  None of the single stats are absolute truth; they're all worth considering. 

Personally I would pay non-SS, non-C defenders for 5, 10, or 15 runs per year (either way) depending on my best triangulation.  That was the consensus at SSI a year or two ago.


By the way, Dewan does have the Mariners as -16 runs in the defensive outfield, and if that's true, it hurts.  Especially when was A-Jack out for a while, you had three dubious OF defenders together and THAT, you don't want.

Nobody at SSI pooh-pooh's defense; the 116-win Mariners had a spooky BABIP against them.  ... today, Miller kicked a tough DP ball that cost the M's two runs; if you had Taylor in, that's two runs right there.


But yeah.  Dr. D from the third deck, after an early opinion of "almost average," has settled in on Cruz as a "moderately below average" defender in 2015 -- you do see marginal plays he doesn't get to -- but -25 runs per season?  The MOST I'd dock him for, as a GM, is a range of -8 to -12 runs over 155 games.  And that's if I was worried about it.  ... which I kinda am, given the M's overall OF defensive makeup.

Thanks amigo.



OK, we run James Jones out there in RF for the rest of the season.  Let's say he's +5 runs over that time.  You would then sit Trumbo and lose the potential benefit of his bat.  Not that we're seeing any of that potential right now, mind you.  Nelson Cruz is a better hitter as a RF than as a DH, over a long career, so you loe a bit of his bat.  And Jones doesn't hit, if you will remember.

Would you gain anyting by DH'ing Cruz and putting a + glove in RF?  You would if Trumbo contiues to hit like he is.

You could run Guti out in RF every day, but then you lose the platoon in LF AND you expose Guti's vR bat.  Did you know that Guti is precisely as advertised:  Not good vs. righties (0-6) and VG vs. lefties (4-8).

You could give Trumbo a DL stint, for some phantom-injury, move Cruz to DH....and bring up Romero, I suppose.  He's killing the ball in Tacoma.  But DL'ing Trumbo is unlikely.

So we get Cruz in RF, where he has been just fine....regardless of UZR, which long ago we all began to suspect.

BTW, the discussion on the air about Edgar's tweaking of Trumbo was interesting......but I thought a pretty technical fix to implement in the middle of the season.  Trumbo has been terrible as a Mariner, 1 for his last 27 as we speak (my goodness, his OPS is .361 and his OPS+ is 4!!!),  but he's likely slumped before and figured it out.  If we're attempting tweaks that he's never used before, well then I'm not optimisteic we get full benefit.  He's an experienced pro with some slugging pedigree, what has worked before will likely work again.  And it will be something that he has buy-in on.

Edgar was a great hitter, but his success at a hitting coach will revolve around his ability to simpiify his instruction.  The hardest skill to "master" in sport may be hitting a MLB pitcher; if you're approaching the plate with a bunch of technical thoughts bouncing around in your head then you're lost.  I dn't know much about hitting a baseball, but I know more than a bit about teaching/coaching.  KISS, Edgar.

And at some point, the best solution may be to sit Trumbo for a few games and let him get hitting out of his head.  I think right now I would actually tell him, "no BP for you!"  The guy has come to the plate almost 2500 times in his career.  It is unlikely he has forgotten how he hit decently for the 2400 PA's before he came to Seattle.  He's 29 years old, it is unliklely he's suddenly became physically enfeebled.  

Perhaps Sims and Blowers overcomplicated Edgar's teaching approach.  Perhaps Edgar is having him think about one simple thing in order to achieve something physical and Sims/Blowers referenced the physical thing that Edgar/Trumbo are hoping to achieve.

I hope that is it.  

When Edgar told Ackley to "be greedy!" after two previous hits, I loved that approach.  

A ripping Trumbo would help cure a bunch of our ails.  

Go team.


I like the Guti-Jackson-Cruz OF vs left handed starters quite a bit. I would still be sure to give him regular DH days to keep him fresher. 


Hi Jeff -- Same guy, but I had a hard time getting a new password for the old name.  The new name is a tribute of sorts to the old Simpsons and Doctor Nick.  He had a hotline 1-800-doctorb.  The 'b' is for 'bargain'.


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