Thursday, January 28, 2010

Top 15 Pitchers: #13 Joseph Cruz

Joseph Cruz
6'4" 190 lbs DOB: 7/20/1988
Right-Handed Pitcher
Bats: Right | Throws: Right
2009: Bowling Green Hot Rods
Acquired: Acquired: 2007 Draft, 30th Round, 905th Overall

Without the dazzling stuff of Matt Moore or the draft pedigree of Nick Barnese, Joseph Cruz flew under the radar in Bowling Green's rotation despite a very solid season.

In fact, his 2009 numbers with the Hot Rods are very close to the numbers he posted in 2008 with Princeton: His 1.39 WHIP was identical while his 10.1 H/9 and 2.4 BB/9 were as close as it gets(10.2 and 2.3 in 2008). His strikeout rate dropped from 10.3 to a still-impressive 9.1 and he allowed just five home runs in 98 innings. He did a decent job of keeping the ball on the ground, with a 1.26 GO/AO.

It's tough, then, to explain how his ERA rose from 3.17 with Princeton to 4.04 with Bowling Green. Despite the drop in strikeout rate, FanGraphs his 2009 FIP(fielding-independent pitching) at 2.70, lower than 2008's 3.00. FIP isn't an end-all stat, but it does indicate that was the victim of bad luck in terms of allowing runs. My best guess is that he was unlucky in terms of relief pitchers letting inherited runners score. Opponents hit over .050 points higher against Cruz when the bases were empty as opposed to having runners on. It should be noted that his BABIP the past two seasons has been .383 and .372. BABIP is generally a stat that fluctuates, but the 150 innings are basically all we have, and the BABIP has been (very) high twice. Definitely something to keep an eye on for 2010.

So while we can't isolate what exactly caused the inflated ERA, we can accept that he got unlucky in some regard(theories, again: inherited runners and BABIP, though the latter stat actually fell from 2008 while his ERA rose). Moving forward, then, Cruz might possibly be the most under-rated player in the system. He has a very live arm(92-93 with the fastball), he's projectable, and does a good job of throwing strikes. The higher hit rate may be because hitters could sit on his fastball, since his secondary stuff still needs work.

He'll be bumped to Charlotte's rotation for 2010, where again he'll begin the season in Moore and Barnese's shadow. But if his breaking pitches and change-up improve and he runs into some better luck, he should have no problem making a name for himself. If he develops even one out pitch besides his fastball, he could be a potential back-end reliever with his arm. As a starter, he's yet to crack the 100-innings mark, and given his slender frame, we'll have to see if he can maintain his stuff throughout a full season's worth of starts.


  1. I didn't want to editorialize in the post too much, so I'll do it here:

    I think this guy's under-rated. He was actually ranked #13 last season, and despite two graduations(Price and Niemann), two players out of the system(Houser and Talbot), and a player falling off the top 15(Rollins), Cruz dropped a spot in the rankings. It's a testament to just how much pitching system has.

    The rankings are done well in advance of the write-ups(except for the occasional tweaking), but I almost wanted to go back and move Cruz up a few spots. But it's tough to move any of the guys in front down, so I'll just say this: The next four guys ranked(10-13) are amazingly close to each other and could reasonably be placed in any order.

    I know Cruz is one of Doug's favorite(he ranked him #15 overall, while he's just #14 on the pitcher's list), so hopefully he'll pop in the comments section with his take on him.

  2. Kevin did a good job of explaining what I like about Cruz, the live arm and projection (6'4", 190). I hadn't noticed that he had dropped from last year even with the guys who are gone. We'll have to look at the 2 lists in depth once the Top 15 is done.

    If you like advanced stats, StatCorner (the tRA guys) felt Cruz was the best pitcher on the Hot Rods last year, even better than Matt Moore! Link:

    From a purely statistical standpoint (leaving out stuff, draft pedigree, projectability, etc.) I like to start with the SO/9 and BB/9. Obviously the higher the SO/9 and the lower the BB/9 the better. This shows the ability to make hitters miss while maintaining good control. From there I like to look at OPS-against which will show you how much power hitters are getting on pitches, BABIP-against which shows a little about luck, and then things like FIP or tRA.

    Looking just at SO/9 and BB/9, an outstanding season is over 9 SO/9 and under 3 BB/9. To expand it a bit, lets lower it to 8 SO/9 and keep BB/9 at 3 or less. Here are all the pitchers in the Rays org who met that criteria in 2009 who pitched at least 50 innings:

    Winston Abreu - age 32, so not really a prospect anymore
    Jeremy Hellickson - a Top 50 in all of the minors
    Justin Garcia - I'm his biggest fanboy
    Josh Satow - lots of fans around here
    Kyle Lobstein - I had him #6 overall on my list
    Joseph Cruz - I had him #15 overall
    Mitch Talbot - gone
    Calvin Medlock
    Neil Schenk
    Wilking Rodriguez - getting alot of attention recently
    Darin Downs - only drawback is age, tremendous 2009

    Here is the list from 2008:

    Joseph Cruz
    Justin Garcia
    Jeremy Hellickson
    David Price
    Omar Bencomo - I've been know to overpromote him a bit

    So three repeats, Cruz, Garcia and Hellickson. Anyway, Cruz is in good company with the Prices, Hellicksons, Lobsteins, etc.

    The hit rate and BABIP are worrisome. As we've shown before, defense improves as you move up through the minors. Maybe with some better defense in Charlotte Cruz' BABIP and H/9 will drop, and if the maintains the SO and BB rates, look out - major breakout. If the hit rate doesn't improve, he may be headed for the pen in the future.

    Time will of course tell, but with everything considered (stuff, body, age, stats) I think he's underrated and a great sleeper to watch going into 2010.

  3. Having Tim Beckham as his shortstop probably raised his BABIP like 250 points, so 100 is a realistic expectation going forward

  4. Before I made the comment about Cruz' BABIP I should have looked at the rest of the team. Here is everyone on BG's BABIP who pitched 50+ IP in 2009:

    Hayes, Tyree - .370
    Cruz, Joseph - .363
    Schenk, Neil - .355
    Dyer, Shane - .355
    Bagley, Jamie - .335
    Echeverria, Diego - .324
    Fleming, Marquis - .311
    Moore, Matthew - .308
    De Los Santos, Frank - .292
    Jarman Michael - .285
    Satow, Josh - .274
    Andujar, Chris - .252
    Barnese, Nick - .247

    Bowling Green Hot Rods Avg - .310
    South Atlantic League Avg - .314

    Maybe it was just Cruz, since the other four primary starters were all below league average, with Andujar and Barnese way below.

    So if I can't blame the defense, I guess I'll just have to blame bad luck. :)