On August 29th of last season, the Dodgers went to Colorado and jumped out to a 10-1 lead against the Rockies, nearly blowing it by allowing seven runs in the eighth in a game better remembered for an A.J. Ellis grand slam and for being the final one Kenley Jansen pitched before his cardiac issues came up again.
As it turns out, none of those otherwise noteworthy items would end up being the most remarkable memory from that game. In the top of the eighth, Luis Cruz led off against 27-year-old Colorado rookie Will Harris, pitching in his ninth major league game. Harris walked Cruz on six pitches, putting on the first of three leading up to the Ellis grand slam.
Cruz hasn’t walked (unintentionally) in 169 plate appearances since. It’s becoming an enormous problem.
As we all remember, Cruz became something of a folk hero last year, hitting .323/.339/.447 after August 17 as the rest of the Dodger offense crumbled around him. Despite our worries that he never walked, that a .340 BABIP in that time was unlikely to be sustained, and that more than a decade of truly lousy minor league performance carried with it more weight than six weeks of admittedly very good play in the bigs, Cruz’ fans were among the most vocal of anyone, insisting that he’d earned his job and that we were all blind for having missed him.
Yet here we are, nearly a month into the season, and we’re not here to merely talk about how Cruz has underperformed expectations. We’re unfortunately going to have to have a conversation about just how bad this has been on a historical scale. He’s already in the top six of post-integration Dodgers as far as most consecutive plate appearances without a walk, and at least Steve Garvey had 23 extra base hits (including eight homers) when he was somehow going two months without a walk in early 1982.
Let’s start with just this season so far, and…. oh, that’s not great.
So Cruz is the worst hitter in baseball this season among regular players, and it’s not even particularly close. Wonderful.
Yet it somehow gets even darker, because Cruz has done something none of those players has. Not only does he not have a single unintentional walk, he doesn’t have an extra base hit. His four hits are all singles, and that puts him in some rough company. Dating back to 1993, there’s only been a few instances of players to start their season with at least 50 plate appearances of walk-free, extra base hit-free, ball…
|Rk||Strk Start||End||AB ▾||H||2B||HR||BB||BA||OBP||SLG||OPS||Tm|
At the top is Adam Kennedy. Of course it’s Adam Kennedy, and Cruz has about two more games to avoid being at the top of this list. Even then, at least some of these guys were dropping some singles in, because I don’t think anyone would be complaining if Cruz was hitting .250. Instead, he’s at .087/.122/.087, and you can thank a Jeremy Affeldt intentional walk and a Darren O’Day hit by pitch for that slight boost in OBP. Even fantastic defense, which Cruz has admittedly provided, can’t make up for the kind of black hole performance at the plate we’re seeing by a player who is popping up approximately 140% of the time.
I get, of course, that the reaction might be “you can’t always talk about small sample size, especially when saying not to call up Dee Gordon or Yasiel Puig, and then put undue importance on only 50 plate appearances.” That’s fair, but the small sample size here isn’t the first month of the season. It’s the six weeks of 2012 that stands out as being the outlier, because there’s 12 years of minor league performance that says that he’s not a major league hitter. If you’re Matt Kemp, with years of top performance on your resume behind you, you get slack to work through your issues. If you’re Cruz, with a .296 career OBP in the minors, it’s not quite the same.
It’s not working, and the team needs a change. So what’s to be done? He’s out of options, so he can’t simply be sent to the minors without being designated for assignment first, though it’s arguable if anyone would claim him. Frankly, I’m not sure that’s the right choice anyway, given that it’s not yet time for Gordon — though that could change if he keeps playing well in ABQ, but the thought of a Gordon / Hanley Ramirez left side sounds just awful from a defensive point of view — and it’s not like calling up Elian Herrera or Alfredo Amezaga or Rusty Ryal is really worth anyone’s time.
As much as I hate to say it, Nick Punto and Juan Uribe deserve playing time as much — if not more — than Cruz does right now. Though he does provide solid defense, so do they. At some point in the next ten days, Ramirez will return to replace Justin Sellers, and that will further diminish the left side playing time for everyone. That won’t solve the problem, however; either the Dodgers will be convinced that Gordon is the answer, or they’ll need to trade every non-Puig prospect in the system for Chase Headley. (Seriously, the cost for him will be astronomical. Think Zach Lee, Joc Pederson, & Garrett Gould, then add someone else, too.)
If Cruz does happen to turn it around in the next few games, I’ll be happy to listen to his vocal defenders and eat crow on this. But I don’t hear much from those fans these days, and we’ve seen little to indicate that Cruz is anything more than a Quad-A type who had a nicely-timed hot streak. It’s time to accept that reality.