Oneil Cruz not only has the potential to be the best modern season for a shortstop in Pittsburgh Pirates history but also be one of the best shortstops in the franchise's history
Pittsburgh Pirates’ shortstop Oneil Cruz has a ceiling that reaches the stratosphere. Going into 2022, many saw Cruz as a potential Rookie Of The Year winner. While Cruz had his struggles, he also showed off his potential at the plate, especially in the home stretch during August and September. Cruz was on track to make a massive impression to 2023 and got off to a strong start, but an unfortunate fibula injury sidelined him in the second week of April. However, Cruz’s potential still remains, and he could have the best season and career out of any modern Pirates shortstop.
Well, first, the bar for Cruz to surpass is low. Since integration, there have only been five seasons where a Pirates shortstop had a qualifying number of plate appearances and a wRC+ above 110. Jay Bell stands atop the single season wRC+ leaderboard for Pirates shortstops for his 1993 season when he batted .310/.392/.437 with a .371 wOBA and 125 wRC+. Bell also posted a +6.6 fWAR this season, the most by a Pirates’ shortstop since integration.
Overall, the Pirates haven’t had that many good shortstops in their franchise history since integration. Only four have more than +10 fWAR, that being Bell (+24.5), Gene Alley (+21.7), Dick Groat (+20.2), and Jack Wilson (+12.7). Heck, Cruz already has the 17th most fWAR by a Pirates’ shortstop since ‘47. He’s at +1.5 and counting. There are also very few good-hitting shortstops that have played with the Pirates since 1947. Bell is the only one with a wRC+ of 95 or greater.
Cruz could definitely post a wRC+ above 125 in a full season. In his mid-August through September streak, where it looked like he started to figure things out, Cruz batted .275/.353/.523 with a .377 wOBA and 153 wRC+. If Cruz were to even manage to post a 130 wRC+, it would be the single-best performance with the bat by a Pirate shortstop since Arky Vaughn in 1940, which predates MLB’s integration. If we get extremely optimistic and say that Cruz maintains a wRC+ of at least 150 (which, keep in mind, is considered MVP caliber), you have to go back another four seasons to Vaughn’s 1934 season.
Cruz has already hit a couple of milestones. His 17 home runs in 2022 were the third most by any Pirates shortstop in a single season and the most since integration, and that was only in 87 games. He needed three more to surpass Vaughn’s 1935 season when he hit 19 in 137 games. His .218 isolated slugging percentage in his rookie year is also the best single-season rate for a Pirates shortstop since 1947 (min. 350 plate appearances).
I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say that Cruz may end up being the best Pirate shortstop since Arky Vaughn in the 1930s and post single-season best numbers since the game of baseball became integrated in the United States. He is only 59 more home runs away from leading all Pirate shortstops since Vaughn’s departure after the 1941 season. Even if Cruz only manages a 110 wRC+, he’ll lead all Pirates shortstops in their careers. Of course, Cruz can potentially have a wRC+ above 130 and 30+ home runs a season. He is +23 fWAR away from the most since Vaughn. All of these are very much within reason, and I could easily see Cruz hitting multiple milestones in 2024 and beyond.