PITTSBURGH – On Tuesday, Nelson Cruz of the Seattle Mariners became the first Major Leaguer with two streaks of five consecutive games with a home run in the same season since Chase Utley in 2008, and one of just four players to accomplish that feat in the past 45 years (Barry Bonds, 2001), (Frank Thomas, 1994) and (Harmon Killebrew, 1970).
As Greg Johns of MLB.com wrote, the five consecutive games with a home run equals Cruz’s career high set from April 11-15 and he joins the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson as the only player in the Majors with two home run streaks of four or more games this year. Furthermore, Cruz currently has a 16-game hitting streak with multiple hits in his last six games.
Cruz, who led the majors with 40 homers last year for the Baltimore Orioles, has hit 24 of his homers on the road with his new team, just five shy of the Mariners record for a full season set by Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997.
While it comes as no surprise that Cruz is enjoying the majority of his success away from the pitchers park du jour that is Safeco Field, it is staggering to see the numbers behind his home/road splits.
According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, five of Cruz’s seven home runs at Safeco have been the ‘no doubt’ variety and would have been home runs in all 30 MLB stadiums. Cruz only trails Edwin Encarnacion with 10 ‘no doubt’ HR’s, compared to Encarnacion’s 12.
Conversely, of Cruz’s 24 home runs on the road, only 11 would have been HR’s in all 30 MLB stadiums.
While it’s safe to assume that these batted balls would likely have been outs in Safeco, it’s also safe to assume that a certain subset of fly ball outs hit by Cruz in Safeco would have been home runs on the road.
In looking at the specifics relative to his splits, Cruz’s HR/FB rate is 34.3% on the road, while it’s just 15.9% at Safeco. Furthermore, he holds a 36.4% HR/FB rate at home versus lefties, compared to 9.1% versus righties at home.
However, on the road, Cruz’s HR/FB rate versus righties is 37.7%! Four times higher than it is at home.
Simply put, if you don’t want to give up a home run to Nelson Cruz, it would be in your best interest to be a right-handed pitcher throwing in Safeco. Otherwise, the ball is leaving the yard one out of every three times Cruz launches it in the air.
After a home run barrage to start the season, Cruz went from May 29th until June 20th without a HR.
During a period of this home run drought (May 29th until June 7th), Cruz faced the following pitchers at home: Trevor Bauer, Shawn Marcum, Danny Salazar, Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, Erasmo Ramirez, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome and Chris Archer.
Each of these nine pitchers are all right-handed.
Not surprisingly, Cruz went without a home run during that stretch. While it’s a small sample, it does suggest that the 9.1% HR/FB rate versus righties at Safeco isn’t a fluke.
During his most recent hot streak, Cruz hit all five of his home runs on the road versus Minnesota and Colorado with four of the five HR’s coming against righties – the only non-righty home run was against Twins’ relief pitcher Glen Perkins.
In taking a look at Cruz’s home run spray chart below, there is a very even disbursement to all fields for his home runs – especially for a guy who is the prototypical power hitter.
However, all eight of his opposite field home runs have come on the road. So while Cruz is enjoying another incredible season in the power department, it would be interesting to see just what he could be doing if he wasn’t playing half of his games in Safeco Field.