2013 Dodgers in Review #14: 3B Luis Cruz

90topps_luiscruz.127/.175/.169 128pa .156 wOBA 1hr -0.4 fWAR F

2013 in brief: Sigh. /pops out

2014 status: Someone else’s problem.

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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.

EephusBlue’s GIF skills are legend

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.

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Next! Jerry Hairston? Man, I’m sick of third base.

The Luis Cruz Saga Mercifully Comes to an End

luis_cruz_looks_inLuis Cruz is a human being with a family and friends and feelings, and know that I’m aware of that. That said…

LUIS CRUZ IS DFA’DDD YESSSSS FINALLLY YES YES YESSSS! FINALLLY THANK YOU FINALLY!

Now I feel kind of bad about that, because by all indications Cruz was a nice enough guy who had a surprisingly fun run over the last six weeks of last season, making him a flashpoint between “uh, he was stuck in the minors for 12 years for a reason” and “WHOOO CRUZ IS BEST!” With the Dodgers unable to upgrade at third base and unwilling to commit — at first, anyway — to Juan Uribe, they reluctantly turned to Cruz again, and it just really couldn’t have gone worse.

And by “couldn’t have gone worse,” I mean that – he’s the worst hitter in baseball this year. If not for the endless infield injuries to Hanley Ramirez and Mark Ellis and Jerry Hairston and the failures of Dee Gordon and Justin Sellers to stick, Cruz would have been gone long ago. Today, finally, as Scott Van Slyke is reinstated is the day. In the last 20 days, Cruz has five starts and one hit. It’s time. It’s beyond time.

I’ve always found this to be a pretty difficult situation, as I’ve said a few times here going back, because it put me in a tough spot as far as rooting interest. Obviously, I’m a Dodger fan, so I wanted more than anything for him to produce and help the team win. But I’m also a baseball writer, and pretty much everything I know about this game said that he was almost certainly going to be a flash in the pan.

Or as I said in January

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.

That didn’t happen, unfortunately. Of course, I’d have been more than happy to eat crow every single day if it had meant better production out of the third base black hole.

But I’ll say this… there’s a better than even chance we haven’t seen the last of him. The Dodgers have ten days to trade or release Cruz, and I can’t imagine anyone is going to bother to check in on him. They can then try to send him back to Triple-A, and if he accepts, he’ll probably go there and mash in Albuquerque, because that’s what happens there. Then he’ll come back up when rosters expand in September, be good for three weeks, and we’ll start this whole cycle again in the winter. Just you wait.

For now… finally.

The Fine Line Between Panic and Inactivity

mattingly_mcgwire_arizona_2013-04-13Fire Don Mattingly! Terminate Sue Falsone! Recall Yasiel Puig! Bring up Zach Lee!

Panic moves, one and all, and yet it’s in no way surprising that they’re the kind of moves many Dodger fans are clamoring for. Most of these fall under this this ill-conceived equation:

1) The team absolutely must do something
2) Fire/Recall/Cut {person name} is something
3) Therefore, the team should fire/recall/cut {person name}

I think you can see that there’s a lot of missing pieces there in that line of reasoning. It’s May 6 and the team is four games under .500 while dealing with an endless stream of injuries. I won’t pretend that time is infinite here — losses in April & May count just as much as they do in September — yet it’s far too soon to make major, irrevocable moves for the sake of making them.

I consider firing Mattingly to fall under that category. If you look back through the site’s archives, you’ll see that I don’t have endless love for his work, and in fact I was disappointed that he was selected over Tim Wallach in the first place. While I admire his ability to run a clubhouse and am far from blind to the awful ownership conditions he had to deal with in his first two seasons, if he’s let go at some point, I won’t be too broken up about it. (If that happens via some sort of bunt-related communication, all the better.)

But to do so now, on May 6, sends the wrong message. It shows panic at a time when keeping calm is paramount. It shows that the manager’s decisions have more impact on the team’s failures than the absences of Zack Greinke & Hanley Ramirez or the struggles of Matt Kemp. It might actually scare off future candidates, and it almost certainly doesn’t help for 2013 because there’s little coherent case anyone can make that Wallach or Davey Lopes or Trey Hillman are clear upgrades.

It’s too soon to panic. Now, all that being said, this malaise can’t go on forever, and I’m sympathetic to those who insist that a message must be sent. Disabling Mark Ellis for Chris Capuano, as they are likely to do today, isn’t enough. At least one move that’s based on performance rather than injury needs to be made, and that just has to be to DFA Luis Cruz, hitting .091/.116/.091 in 70 plate appearances. You can argue that his slick glove warrants his job, but that holds less water on a team that has Juan Uribe & Nick Punto; you can argue that it should be Justin Sellers, yet that move brings less impact. Cruz came into the season as the starting third baseman and has been a dreadful flop, and it’s time to send a message that even on a team as battered as this one, certain standards must be kept. Whether that means you add Scott Van Slyke or Tim Federowicz or Peter Moylan matters little to me; it’s the intention that does.

If not, as seems likely? Well, the one move I’d be in favor of approximately 365 days a year is to make some changes in the general manager’s office. Unfortunately, that seems as unlikely now as it ever has. Something has to give, while the season still has legs.

The Luis Cruz Experiment Just Isn’t Working Out

luis_cruz_looks_inOn 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.

2013 lowest wOBA, min 50 PA
5. Dustin Ackley, .174
4. Clint Barmes, .155
3. Aaron Hicks, .148
2. Jeff Keppinger, .137
1. Luis Cruz, .089

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
1 Adam Kennedy 2005-05-02 2005-05-22 56 14 0 0 0 .250 .263 .250 .513 LAA
2 Shea Hillenbrand 2007-04-02 2007-04-25 56 13 0 0 0 .232 .246 .232 .478 LAA
3 Emmanuel Burriss 2011-04-28 2011-06-11 53 14 0 0 0 .264 .264 .264 .528 SFG
4 Anderson Hernandez 2006-04-03 2006-09-11 53 6 0 0 0 .113 .113 .113 .226 NYM
5 Nyjer Morgan 2012-04-06 2012-04-27 51 9 0 0 0 .176 .208 .176 .384 MIL

 

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.

Is Ted Lilly Actually More Appealing Than Chris Capuano & Aaron Harang?

92topps_tedlillyI’m fully aware of the source here, so take it with a giant grain of salt, but I have to admit I was surprised to see this from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe this morning:

Ted Lilly, LHP, Dodgers — Growing interest in the lefty, who missed most of last season after May, as he makes his way back from shoulder surgery. There seems to be more interest in the 37-year-old Lilly than in Aaron Harang or Chris Capuano, two extra Dodgers starters who also could be dealt. The Dodgers are holding on to all of them until they are assured that Chad Billingsley is 100 percent ready after undergoing treatments to his elbow this offseason that enabled him to bypass Tommy John surgery.

The bit about Lilly apparently receiving more interest than Capuano or Harang is shocking to me, given that Lilly is A) older B) coming off a season ruined by arm injury and C) much more expensive than either. Teams can’t really have been fooled by numbers like “5-1, 3.14″ when they masked some of the worst peripherals of his career, can they? I sure hope not, but I’ve also assumed he’d be the most likely of the trio to stay just because he’d be the hardest to move. If that’s not accurate, then that’s a deal to make, quickly. For reasons we’ve discussed before — namely, his tendency to give up homers and inability to hold runners on base — he’s an imperfect relief option.

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Of course, the big news from last night was the brawl between Canada & Mexico, which was mostly precipitated by Luis Cruz essentially ordering Mexican pitcher Arnold Leon to throw at Canadian outfielder Rene Tosoni. As I sat in Madison Square Garden watching the video on my phone during halftime of the Knicks game, my first thought was, “I certainly hope Adrian Gonzalez isn’t at the bottom of that pile.”

Gonzalez was fine, but I’m trying to figure out what’s more indefensibly stupid here — Cruz’ actions over a stupid bunt by a slow-footed catcher in a situation where run differential matters, which Chad Moryiama details perfectly, or the WBC’s reasoning behind issuing no suspensions:

Because at least one club — and potentially both — will not advance to the second round, WBCI has determined that disciplinary measures would not have a meaningful corrective impact.  Thus, discipline will not be imposed beyond today’s seven game ejections.  It is our firm expectation that the members of Team Mexico, Team Canada and all the tournament’s participating teams will learn from this incident and set a better example — one that befits the sport they share — in the future.

So, you can order a beaning, start a brawl, throw a punch, and nothing happens? Awesome. You might as well just outright tell players that kind of behavior is acceptable. Mexico was eliminated when the United States beat Italy last night, but Canada plays the Americans today. You’d think that having Canadians missing today’s game, or maybe even having some Mexicans being ineligible for the first game of the next WBC, might have some sort of “meaningful corrective impact.”

Fortunately, it’s unlikely that any of this affects the actual MLB season, so Cruz should still be in the lineup on Opening Day. Both Gonzalez and Cruz should rejoin the Dodgers tomorrow.

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Dodgers
Rockies
SS
Gordon
CF
Fowler
2B
Schumaker
2B
Rutledge
CF
Kemp
RF
Cuddyer
1B
Uribe
C
Rosario
3B
Herrera
3B
Nelson
C
A.Ellis
SS
LeMahieu
RF
Castellanos
1B
Wrigley
LF
Amezaga
LF
Parker
P
Kershaw
P
Francis

Today’s Dodger game against Colorado is being broadcast only by the Rockies, but it can be seen on MLB.tv without blackout restrictions for those of you lucky enough to have it. (It’ll also be on Dodger radio, both KLAC & KTNQ.) You’ll notice that Clayton Kershaw is not only on the mound but in the lineup as well, as the team moves away from using the designated hitter so their pitchers can get some action at the plate. Matt Kemp starts in center and Yasiel Puig is expected to enter in reserve, so it’s a game worth watching if you’re able.

Also, the team has added a minor-league “B” game against the Reds today, partially due to the rain shenanigans that cost innings on Friday. Steve Ames, Stephen Fife, & Matt Magill will all see time in that game, with Matt Wallach catching.