Nelson CruzAs of this writing, there are 19 players in baseball who have hit at least 20HRs this season. One of these guys has sat out the last three games. Is he hurt? No. He’s just fine, thank you. Is he being punished? Not to my or the media’s knowledge, no. Then why is Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers being benched?

Beats me.

Texas Manager Ron Washington is basically stating that he’s playing the hot hand. Because Andruw Jones has been on such a tear of late (5 HRs in the last six games), the skipper wants to pencil him in at DH. And seeing as Jones is slugging .571 so far this year – albeit in only 190 PAs so we are still talking about a pretty small sample size – I’m actually kind of OK with this for the time being. And of course, you have to play Josh Hamilton because, as we all know, the man can now do no wrong and Jesus will kick you in the groin if you disagree. And Marlon Byrd, while an inferior offensive player, has something that Cruz doesn’t – the ability to play a decent centerfield. But then why is Cruz stuck behind David Murphy of all people?

While Cruz will probably never be among the most patient hitters and will always swing and miss more than his share, his power is undeniable. His .266 Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) ranks ninth in the AL and his home/road splits over the past two seasons haven’t shown him to be merely a product of hitter-friendly Arlington (.563 SLG at home vs. .538 away). While it’s true that his .328 OBP this year has been a hindrance, if  his BABiP returns to normal (currently at an unlucky .276), it shouldn’t be a problem in the future and will certainly be enough to justify having his power in the lineup.

David Murphy simply does not have a bat as potent as Cruz does. Both men rack up strikeouts and neither are exactly known for their ability to walk. But it’s clear to anyone that Murphy’s power does not hold up to a comparison. And you might be surprised to learn that defensively, Cruz is also the superior player. Despite looking like a man that could have been the third member of The Natural Disasters, Cruz has some speed. In 2009, he’s stolen 13 bases in 14 tries and shown good range in the field with a 9.4 Ultimate Zone Rating and leads all American League RFers with 50 plays made outside of a typical fielder’s zone this season.

This is not a man who should be used as the righty-bat in a platoon – especially considering that, oddly enough, Cruz has had better numbers against righty pitchers over his entire career (may well be one of these fluky things, but hey, it’s the truth).

I understand that Ron Washington has a choice to make. He’s got five guys to put into four spots in the lineup.  But are the other players of such a caliber that the guy left in the cold is the one who slugged .609 in 2008 and is now proving that he wasn’t exactly a fluke? I don’t think they are. Not by a long shot.

Cruz has been in this position before. Before coming to Texas, he had already been in two different organizations (A’s and Brewers, though he was initially signed by the Mets out of the Dominican). In 2006, during his tour in the Brewers system, the then 25-year old Cruz had a .907 OPS against AAA pitchting and was coming off of two straight seasons in AA and AAA where he was mashing the ball. But the big league club never gave him a chance. He had a very brief cup of coffee in 2005 (7 PAs) and was shipped off to Texas as part of the Carlos Lee deal in July of 2006. For one reason or other, organizations seem to doubt that this guy is for real.

Look, he’s certainly not the second coming of Albert Pujols. But even with his faults, the guy currently has a weighted on base average of .370 (again despite having a lower than expected BABiP), which is far superior to many guys who receive all the playing time they want. And factoring in his range, the choice should be clear. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

So what am I missing? Why is Nelson Cruz all of a sudden just a part time player?

UPDATE: This is too good. Now the Rangers have an All-Star bench warmer, with Cruz replacing the injured Torii Hunter on the AL roster. So today, Ron Washington will have to congratulate Cruz in front of the media while simultaneously keeping him out of the lineup for the fourth straight day because the Rangers are facing another righty. Awesome.

Nelson Cruz 2

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