Pittsburgh Pirates: Oneil Cruz’s Surge to End the Season


After a rough start to his 2022 rookie season, Pittsburgh Pirates Oneil Cruz had a superb late season surge, making plenty of improvements along the way

When the Pittsburgh Pirates promoted Oneil Cruz to the major leagues in June of this past season, things didn’t start off quite well for the talented middle infielder. By the all-star break, Cruz had a horrid 74 wRC+. While it took Cruz a while to adjust to major league pitching, he suddenly took off in mid-August.

Through his final 167 plate appearances of the season, Cruz posted a magnificent .278/.353/.523 line. With a .877 OPS, .377 wOBA, and 145 wRC+, Cruz was one of the best hitters down the stretch. He ranked among the top 15 in the MLB among all three stats through this late-season stretch and top five in the National League (min. 160 PA’s). His isolated slugging percentage of .248 was surpassed by only Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Santander, and Mookie Betts.

Cruz walked 10.2% of the time and struck out in 31.7% of his plate appearances. His strikeout rate was extremely high, but also a major improvement to what he was doing before. Cruz had a 37.6% strikeout rate in his first 194 plate appearances and a 5.7% walk rate. Cruz simply became more selective. He swung at pitches at a 37.2% rate compared to 43.8% prior to his hot streak. His 51.7% out-of-zone contact was mediocre at best, but his 84.5% zone contact was right around the league average. He only swung at pitches outside of the zone 27% of the time, compared to the average league rate of 32.2%. He also had an 11.3% swinging strike rate, which again is almost identical to the league average.

Overall, Cruz had a 69.5% contact rate, which, while still noticeably below the average of 76.7%, is still much better than his 63.6% contact rate at the start of his season. Even better was his 72.2% contact rate and 10.5% swinging strike rate from September 15 through the end of the major league campaign. Again, that is an even smaller sample size, but a decent improvement nonetheless.

His plate discipline profile from August 20th through the end of the year is eeriley similar to Carlos Correa’s overall seasonal profile. Cruz and Correa are within 3% of each other when it comes to out of zone swing rate, contact rate, and swinging strike rate. Correa is a pretty good comparrison if you ask me.

The question many had with Cruz when he arrived was if he would strike out too much, and while a strikeout rate over 30% is worrying, he made noticeable improvements throughout the year. By the last month of 2022, he had whittled his K% down below 30% to 29.4%. Even if Cruz has an average contact rate, he’ll be plenty good based on how hard he hits the ball when he makes contact. After all, his 93.2 MPH exit velo though this late-season surge, was the sixth best in baseball.

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Cruz had a great home stretch to the 2022 season. Not only was he one of the best hitters in major league baseball and a top 5 hitter in the National League, but he made massive improvements to his overall plate discipline. He struck out less, walked more, and made more contact. Here’s to hoping he can continue to build off what he started this past year and become a top slugger in the sport.