What Juan Cruz Brings | The Process Report

What Juan Cruz Brings

Now that Juan Cruz is all but ensured a spot on the roster, let’s talk about him some more.

Everyone who has seen Cruz knows what he brings to the table. A blazing fastball, a lethal slider, some wildness, and a face weathered beyond his years. His attributes create the perception that he runs hot and cold. Some nights he looks like a guy with shelves of Rolaids awards, other nights he looks like a guy whose managers have shelves of Rolaids. Recently, Joe Maddon spoke about Cruz and complimented his changeup, favorably comparing it to Joaquin Benoit.

The Benoit comparisons aren’t going away, which is unfortunate. Cruz is not bloody likely to pitch like 2010 Benoit because even Benoit is not going to pitch like 2010 Benoit. It’s a narrative more than anything. Really, the hunt for the next Benoit is a flawed idea anyways. Was Benoit not just the next Grant Balfour or Al Reyes? Anyways, Cruz’s changeup being the focus of verbal romancing is interesting because a glance his platoon splits indicates he struggles with lefties. The traditional slash line clears up the issues a little better. Check it:

RHB: .223/.314/.370
LHB: .257/.375/.394

Walks are the driving force, but not because Cruz cannot throw his changeup for strikes. Since 2008, he’s managed more than 70 percent –the league average mark is near 60 percent. A pitch can be quality for a number of reasons, whether it’s the velocity, movement, location, or sequencing. Whatever Cruz does, he does it well with the change, as it nets the highest whiff rate of any of his pitches (16 percent since 2008). Becoming a serial killer of lefty aspirations does not seem beyond his means, he just has to improve his control –something Jim Hickey has seemingly had a positive effect on with similar one-year rentals. Adding to the fun is his slider (15.2 percent) and heater (11 percent), so he’s got some stuff in the inventory.

Curiously, Cruz’s slider sits in the low 80s. Pitchers with his kind of velocity tend to have faster sliders too. Or, at least, that’s the perception. David Price and Chris Archer can bring the fire on the four-seamers and it carries over into their sliders. Not so with Cruz. Of pitchers who’ve tossed at least 50 innings since 2008, Cruz does have the 12th largest velocity split between his fastball and slider, behind guys like David Hernandez, Brian Fuentes, Daniel Bard, teammate Adam Russell, and CC Sabathia.

There’s some bad to be had here too. Bouts of wildness and flyball dependency can cause quiet innings to explode into a callithump –as the Rays witnessed firsthand back in 2009. There’s also a very good chance Rob Delaney or Cory Wade will be called into action following a Cruz trip to the disabled list. He’s missed at least 20 days in each of the past five seasons. For perspective, Grant Balfour missed about 34 days in his Rays’ career and Joaquin Benoit went to Durham for roughly three weeks last season.

Still, Cruz should be a sub-4 run average reliever this season if his health permits. And who knows, he certainly has the stuff to put together a memorable campaign, but don’t consider it a guarantee.

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