Pittsburgh Pirates: Previewing the Team's Infield

Pittsburgh Pirates v St. Louis Cardinals
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Oneil Cruz has shortstop on lockdown. The talented and towering 6'7" shortstop batted .233/.294/.450 through 361 plate appearances. Cruz hit 17 home runs, owning a .218 isolated slugging percentage. But his plate discipline was lackluster, with a 7.8% walk rate and 34.9% strikeout rate. Still, he had a .320 wOBA and 106 wRC+, coming in as an above-average batter. However, he did end the year on a hot streak.

From August 20th through the end of the season, Cruz batted .275/.352/.523 with a .377 wOBA and 145 wRC+. Cruz walked more often and struck out less. He upped his BB% to 10.2%, compared to just 5.7% when he entered this hot streak, and cut his K% down to just 31.7% after striking out 37.6% of the time in his first many games. He even started to make more loud contact, upping his average exit velocity from 90.9 MPH to 93.2 MPH, which was the seventh best in baseball during this time (min. 150 PAs).

Cruz did outstanding in this home stretch, but this was more than just a hot streak. The most important thing he was doing was adjusting. The towering shortstop had a swinging strike rate of 11.3%, which was nearly the exact league average rate of 11.2% and much better than the 15.3% rate he had before this hot streak. Cruz also cut his out-of-zone swing rate to just 27% (league average was 32.6%), and while his O-contact rate was still below average at 51.7%, it was still a major improvement from the 48.3% rate he had prior to his adjustments. Overall, he was just making more contact, raising his contact rate from 63.6% to 69.5% (the league average was 76.6%).

Cruz had an eerily similar plate discipline profile during his hot streak to Aaron Judge. Judge's contact rate was 72.2%, less than 3% better than Cruz's. They had an identical out-of-zone contact rate and a swinging strike rate separated by just .5% (Judge registered an 11.8% swstr%). Cruz and Judge also had an almost identical o-zone swing rate at 27% and 26.8%, respectively, though Judge was more aggressive when it came to pitches in the zone. He had a zone swing rate of 67.6%, while Cruz only swung at offerings in the zone 54.6% of the time in his home stretch.

Now sure, it's a small sample size of less than 200 plate appearances (167, to be exact), but it's very evident that Cruz was making the much-needed adjustments at the major league level on the fly. Cruz needs to continue making those improvements next year, but he has already shown he can continue to improve, even at the game's highest level. It will be fun to see what Cruz can do next season.