The average career span of an MLB player is 5.6 years, meaning most players are out of the league by age 30. Nelson Cruz was 38 at the start of last season, so that makes what he did even more impressive. Not only was he still starting at that age, he was putting up a career season.
Despite not being an all-star, Cruz’ second half was so electric he gathered MVP votes, finishing ninth in the end. Cruz put up a career high in OPS, which is a good statistic that looks at overall hitting success. OPS is on-base plus slugging percentage, meaning how good a player is getting on base, while still hitting for power. Cruz’ OPS was 1.031, which was fourth in the league in 2019, behind some scrubs such as Christian Yelich, Mike Trout, and Cody Bellinger. Oh, and remember, Cruz was 39 years old in the second half.
The Success Isn’t Surprising?
Although Nelson Cruz putting up insane numbers at age 39 is astonishing, it is easy to see why he is finding success. In Minnesota, the 2019 Silver Slugger is in almost a perfect position to put up gaudy stats. He did not play any games in the field last season, so as a DH he was able to focus on hitting and really shine at the dish for a record-breaking Twins team (most homers in a season). Cruz was able to tack on 41 homers to that record. The 6-time all-star has done that twice before, but his .311 average has only happened one other time. A .300 average and 40 homeruns has never happened for Cruz in the same season though. Only Yelich, Bellinger, and Arenado completed that last season, putting Cruz, once again, in elite company.
Cruz has never been a very good defender, as showcased by his negative Defensive WAR (Defensive Wins Above Replacement). I believe if that Cruz was still stuck playing mediocre-bad defense, his hitting would slow down as well. With the universal DH now in play, Cruz will be able to play most games this season with the Twins. The 2014 homerun leader hit over .300 for against both lefties and righties last season for the first time in his career. That consistency really allowed Cruz to hit the ball to all parts of the field. He still dominated lefties, slugging an absurd .783 off them, but his drastic improvement against right-handed pitching turned a good season into a great one.
Where does this Season Compare to Other Veterans?
Of all players aged 38 or older, Nelson Cruz has one of the best seasons of all-time. As almost the oldest MLB player, behind the pedestrian Pujols, his stats are still superb. Among players not named Barry Bonds, who will be excluded because of his unique balanced breakfast, Cruz’ 1.030 OPS is the best since 2000. The only season that even remotely compares is David Ortiz’ retirement tour. Ortiz torched the league for 38 homers, and a 1.021 OPS, which led the league. Cruz topped both of those numbers, which truly showcases how incredible his season was. Ortiz is the only who even compares with an age 38+ season. A legendary stretch of hitting will occur if Cruz can continue this reign of terror for a few more seasons.
Where does Cruz go from here?
Earlier this year, I mentioned Cruz as a top candidate for MVP and so far throughout 2020, he is raking. He may not have MVP type numbers, but at age 39, his production is almost unheard of. Cruz is currently hitting .329, which would be a career high. His power numbers are not quite at the same level as last year, but his .948 OPS would still be the third best of his long, grueling career.
If his hot 2020 start is any indication, then the power-hitting righty doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. Other than Barry Bonds, Nelson Cruz has proved to be one of the biggest ageless wonders in baseball. With the Twins still on the rise, a World Series might be the next thing Cruz wants in his career. If the Twins ever do get over that hump, a phenomenal hitting season from the 40-year-old will be a major part of that.
My latest article on Christian Yelich’s slump