2013 in brief: Sigh. /pops out
2014 status: Someone else’s problem.
Oh, lord. This isn’t going to be fun. I’ll say this for Luis Cruz, anyway: while I never really thought he was going to work out, I also never expected him to be that bad. I mean, he was so atrocious that April wasn’t over yet before we were openly calling for Juan Uribe to playing ahead of him, and while Uribe is now everyone’s favorite Uribear, do remember what we thought of him prior to the season.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves here. For all the uncertainty around Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Hyun-jin Ryu, and others headed into the season, there was really no bigger question than what Cruz was, because there wasn’t really a backup plan once Scott Rolen turned them down.
That’s why we had a January post titled, conveniently, “No Bigger Question Than What Luis Cruz Is“:
Honestly, it puts us all in a very awkward position. Sure, we all hope that Cruz is for real, that he’s a solid player who helps this team win — an example, essentially, of “found money”, as opposed to the millions of real dollars spent on uncertainties like Carl Crawford. But objectively, it’s difficult to think that six weeks of good play — without walking, ever — overcomes 12 years of mediocrity, and the issue is that tons of fans aren’t thinking about this objectively — they’re 100% certain in their hearts that Cruz is the next big thing, that he’s the hard-working fighter who made his way through years of obstacles to finally become a local hero after getting the “chance he deserved”.
For the sake of winning Dodgers baseball, I sincerely hope we’re wrong about Cruz in 2013. For the sake of being able to trust any of our objective analysis in the future, it’d be a small measure of relief if we’re not. And for the sake of having different types of Dodger fans not be at each other’s throats, I hope it’s a happy medium — preferably one that involves having Cruz being a useful utility player while a more reliable option is in the starting lineup. Of course, that’s unlikely to happen at this point, so we’ll hope for the best.
Cruz actually had a pretty eventful spring, hitting four homers, starting a brawl in the World Baseball Classic, and striking up an unlikely friendship with Ryu, but as soon as the season started, all of our hope fell flat pretty much immediately. Cruz started the first five games, and he managed exactly zero hits in his first 19 times up.
With Hanley Ramirez injured, Justin Sellers struggling, and Uribe not yet clear of his 2011-12 stench, Cruz still received his fair share of playing time between short and third. Still, no one needed to get off to a fast start more badly than he did, and so it took only until April 22 (at which point he had a .087/.122/.087 line and 169 consecutive plate appearances without a non-intentional walk) that I’d already given up:
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.
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.
Yet he managed to keep on surviving, in large part because everyone else kept getting injured just when you thought his time had come — for example, when Ramirez, Mark Ellis, and Jerry Hairston were all injured.
By the time they finally cut him loose on June 29, he’d been thoroughly buried by Don Mattingly as Uribe (and to a lesser extent, Nick Punto & Hairston) took over third base duties, and had played just once in the previous 13 days. He refused an assignment to Triple-A and ended up signing with the desperate Yankees, where he hit just .182/.224/.200 while missing a month with a knee injury before being cut loose by them on August 19. I wanted to say that his combined .169 wOBA would have been the worst in baseball for players who received at least 150 plate appearances — and it is, by a lot — but for some reason, he’s not appearing on the FanGraphs leaderboard. You hear that? Cruz was so terrible that he broke FanGraphs.
Cruz’ light shined very briefly with the Dodgers in 2012, but it was a really fun month for him and us. Mostly, I’m just glad this particular story is done with, because it got oddly personal with a lot of his fans. So long, Luis. Good luck, but don’t ever come back.
Next! Jerry Hairston? Man, I’m sick of third base.