Throughout recent months, fans have been able to track this year’s MLB Hall of Fame election results thanks to Ryan Thibodaux and his HOF Tracker team. Through his work, it’s easy to follow the results as they are released in real time. There are still four more years before Joe Mauer will be eligible for the ballot and there is plenty of time to debate his case, but is there another Hall of Fame player on the current Twins roster?
Hall of Fame players are not one-size fits all and, for many, the path to the Hall includes excellence over a long period of time. Nelson Cruz’s play over the last decade is certainly going to warrant some consideration for the Hall, but there could be some obstacle awaiting him on his path to enshrinement.
Obstacles Facing Cruz
Designated hitters have struggled to be elected by the baseball writers and Cruz has been a DH for a large chunk of his career. Entering the 2020 campaign, he has played 970 games in the outfield and he has been a DH for 696 games. Minnesota will likely use him as a DH for over 100 games this season and that could put those numbers even closer together.
Cruz was also a late bloomer in terms of MLB players and that will hurt his career numbers because of his lack of longevity. At the onset of his big-league career, it seemed almost impossible for him to hit over 400 home runs, but he crossed that mark last season. He didn’t debut until age 24, his first home run came at age-26, and he wouldn’t be a full-time player until age 28.
The other elephant in the room is the fact Cruz was part of the largest mass suspension in baseball history. Back in 2013, he was part of the Biogenesis drug case and he was forced to miss 50 games. His excuse for taking a banned substance was an “error in judgment.” He had lost 40 pounds due to a stomach infection and he was trying to get ready for the 2012 season.
JAWS and Peak Performance
One way to measure a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness is the scoring system known as JAWS. According to Baseball Reference, a player’s JAWS is their career WAR averaged with their 7-year peak WAR. To examine Cruz, one must compare him to other players at his primary position, right field.
There are 26 Hall of Fame players at this position, the most of any non-pitching position, and their averages are a career WAR of 71.5, a seven-year peak WAR of 42.1, and a JAWS of 56.8. Cruz falls well below all those numbers because of his late debut. He has a career WAR of 37.9, a seven-year peak WAR of 30.0, and a JAWS score of 33.9. JAWS ranks him closely to Juan Gonzalez, Kirk Gibson, David Justice and Roger Maris.
During the 2010’s, it’s hard to argue with the numbers compiled by Cruz. MLB.com named him as the DH on the All-Decade Team. Among players over 30, he has the 10th most home runs all-time and the list includes some of the game’s most prolific home runs hitters like Bonds, Ruth, Aaron and Mays.
Cruz was the best player at his position for most of a decade, but his late arrival as a full-time player likely means his Hall of Fame chances are slim. He might continue his late-career renaissance and play well into his 40s and that would still likely leave him on the outside of the Hall.
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