What do the Astros have in Rhiner Cruz? He throws in the mid to upper 90’s, has the ability to dominate hitters, and was drafted first overall in the 2011 Rule 5 Draft, so having some optimism is understandable. However his 6.05 ERA and 1.71 WHIP from last season do not do much to generate hope. But is that fair to Cruz?
For starters Cruz did spend all of last season with the Astros aside from the time in early May spent on the DL and subsequently in AAA rehabbing his ankle injury, but that is thanks to the Rule 5 rules (in order to retain Cruz, the Astros had to keep him on the major league roster all season or offer him back to the Mets). This year, that is subject to Cruz’s performance as now he can be sent to the minors without incident. Currently Cruz is positioned to retain his role in the bullpen but everything with the 2013 Astros is up for debate. So what do we make of Cruz’s 2012 campaign and what can we expect from him for this season and perhaps beyond?
Cruz started off last season with a 2.08 ERA in his first 8.2 innings prior to his ankle injury while striking out 8 batters. Upon his return in May, Cruz encountered some resistance but June and July were just brutal for the rookie reliever as he recorded ERA’s of 14.63 and 10.24 respectively. He then rebounded somewhat in August (4.63 ERA) before closing off the season dominating hitters once again. We can simply breakdown Cruz’s season into 3 sections.
- April and September: Cruz dominated with ERA’s of 2.08 and 1.08 respectively while striking 19 batters in 16.2 innings. It does not get better than that for a relief pitcher. To play the pessimist, Cruz’s BABIP was a season low .286 in April and .333 in September which was pretty close to his season total of .339. Cruz had a Strand Rate of 80% in April which is repeatable but his 90.9% in September can be repeated.
- May and August: These months were more reasonable for a rookie reliever with ERA’s 4.15 and 4.63. Here Cruz’s peripherals seemed to normalize some but he had control issues with 14 walks in 19.2 innings which made things a little rough for the rookie but is to be expected from a Rule 5 draftee.
- June and July: This is when Cruz truly imploded and BABIP’s of .379 and .406 are to blame, coupled with Strand Rate’s of 44.8% and 47.6%. The short answer here is that bad luck is to blame, but control and command were also in short supply.
When looking at Cruz there is no easy and simple answer. He has talent, throws hard, and has good stuff which allows him to dominate hitters. These are all the qualities one looks for in a potential late game bullpen option, but the problem is that he was not able to do it consistently last season. In flashes he was able to exhibit good control, but it was with interruption. Aside from the control issue, I would feel a little better about Cruz if it weren’t for his 25% line drive rate last season as that led to trouble for him, compared to his 39% ground ball rate.
If Cruz turns some of those line drives into ground balls, harnesses his control some more, and you account for the bad luck he had at times last season, we could be looking at a late inning relief threat. Cruz will need to have a strong Spring Training this year to make the team, but I am not sure he will be slotted in as much more than a 6th or 7th reliever at least to start the season as it is also possible he sees some time in the minors. You will see flashes of both the good and bad Cruz this season but likely not to the extremes of last season. There is still some optimism for the future, but that depends on whether he can harness his control to take advantage of his potential dominance. What we need to remember, is that he is a young pitcher who is still learning.