THE DYNASTY GURU’S 2024 PLAYERS TO AVOID: SHORTSTOPS
ELLY DE LA CRUZ, CINCINNATI REDS (AGE: 22, RANK: 5)
“A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again, But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether.”
A quote by Roy H. Williams.
(By the way, don’t come after me for Roy only mentioning “men” in this quote.
This quote just worked for the crux of this piece…
Trust me, I know women are a LOT smarter than men.)
* This is a companion piece to our 2024 Dynasty League Rankings. The opinions below are my own and do not reflect the TDG consensus.*
I wouldn’t call myself much of a fantasy baseball expert and from the sound of that statement above it doesn’t sound like TDG thinks I’m one either. I can’t really blame them for that though. If you read my previous stuff you are probably nodding in agreement. Well, you aren’t perfect either, a$$hole.
So with that newly added layer of anxiety from that vote of confidence, I decided to follow that quote at the top of this piece and find myself a “smart” person to help me with this subject matter. There are a plethora of people in this industry that are more than qualified to meet that standard but there is one that I primarily follow. That person is the smartest guy I know and my fellow Guru, Phil Barrington (@Barrington_Phil on X) but unfortunately he is too busy writing accounting books to help me so by default I went with another Guru and also the co-creator of the Scout the Statline website, Mr. Ross Jensen (@RJensen12 on X). Regardless of that inauspicious endorsement, I’m sure many of you know that Ross is one of the best analysts in the industry and the only thing larger than his ego is the number of people who listen to his advice which, says a lot. I mean… he has overcome a lack of charm, charisma, and if we are being honest, good looks like yours truly, and still somehow miraculously ascended to become one of the faces of this industry on the basis of his profound knowledge. Don’t worry, I know Ross pretty well and all he focused on was that I wrote he has “profound knowledge” in that entire sentence.
So with all that, it finally brings me to the young man who had The Queen City in a tizzy last season, making analysts foam at the mouth with the raw talent and loud tools he possesses – Elly De La Cruz. I’m sure I lost some of you by saying that he is the shortstop to avoid this coming season and beyond. I’m also sure most of my fellow Gurus feel the same way since De La Cruz made our Top Five of our consensus rankings. I just like starting shit.
But, seriously something Ross said stuck with me when De La Cruz hysteria was happening as he set MLB ablaze during his first six-ish weeks. On his podcast Bats & Stats, Ross (with Shanks) gave a player evaluation of De La Cruz before the season and said this after he reviewed De La Cruz’s 2023 Triple-A stats,
“I think you can often find these kinds of guys and they don’t end up making it. They eventually get exposed by pitchers that are smart which all pitchers at the MLB level are along with being the most talented. They are going to learn how to exploit (his weaknesses) and he will need to (adjust after that) to have a successful MLB career with his strikeout rate (in ‘23 Triple-A).”
Here is the link if you would like to check that:
- You don’t need me to tell you that De La Cruz’s speed and power tools are special along with elite fielding skills and arm strength. In 2023, he finished in the upper percentiles in all of these impressive categories: Avg Exit Velocity (79th percentile), Hard-Hit% (75th), Base-running Run Value (97th), Sprint Speed (100th), Fielding Range (85th), and Arm Strength (98th).
- With the speed he possesses, he can be a top-three fantasy baseball shortstop for the next ten years if he can get on base consistently. He will have the green light whenever he gets on and even with a horrible OBP percentage (.300) he still finished with 35 stole bases (Top 10 in MLB). I have no clue how this kid got caught eight times with a sprint speed of 30.5 ft/sec. (Top speed in 2023). He should only put up bigger and better numbers for the next several years.
- In his first 135 MLB plate appearances, he hit .325 with 4 HRs, 16 RBIs, 16 SBs, and 28 Runs. Along with a ridiculous .440 BABIP and .524 SLG during that stretch.
- He hit impressively against change-ups (that he saw 16% of his at-bats) with a three-run value and an outstanding six-run value against cutters that he saw 9.6% of the time. Both those values landed him in the upper tier of MLB.
THE BAD (or THE AVERAGE)
- Even though his terrible on-base percentage and my dislike of the approach he takes during most his plate appearances. He did finish with a surprisingly decent BB% (8.2%) which landed him in the respectable 46th percentile.
- He also had a decent Barrel rate at 8.5% landing him in the 51st percentile.
- Also, like most young hitters, De La Cruz struggled against non-fastball pitches with a 36.1% Whiff against breaking and 34.4% Whiff% against offspeed pitches which isn’t great but not Pedro Cerrano’s numbers. Hey! I’m at least trying to stay somewhat positive before the wheels fall off.
Oh shit! That’s all I had for that part… the wheels are about to fall off. Okay I’m going to snatch the low-hanging fruit since I have his Baseball Savant page already open.
- De La Cruz had an xwOBA in the (20th percentile), xBA (28th), xSLG (27th), Sweet Spot% (14th), Chase% (24th), and Whiff% (23rd). As you can see all of these landed him in the lower percentile on Baseball Savant and by a pretty decent margin. But the ugliest number by far was the 33.7 K% that landed him in the 3rd percentile. Lucky for him, Schwarbs, Eugenio Suárez, and Teoscar Hernández will be playing next season as well.
- And you knew this was coming for all you De La Cruz defenders still left. After June his slash line dropped to .194/.273/.355/.627 with the highest (36.4%) K% during that span in 313 PAs. I can picture Ross grinning like The Grinch as he read those numbers with his beady eyes for all the shit he took for those first six weeks of De La Cruz’s MLB season.
- Now besides spitting out stuff you can find on your own I want to quickly emphasize his poor plate discipline, hitting approach, and pitch recognition that plagued him much of 2023. When he got ahead of the count (1-0 count) which was 168 times at a decent 39.3% clip. De La Cruz had a .357 OBP with a 30.4 K% and in 2-0 counts it rose to a .457 OBP with a 29.0 K% which looks pretty good on the surface but let’s compare a shortstop that some thought had a disappointing 2023 fantasy season in Willy Adames. In 1-0 counts, Adames had a .404 OBP/20.3 K% and his OBP jumped to .541 on 2-0 counts while it dropped to 15.3%. He also did this with 200 more plate appearances in 1-0 counts.
- Even more telling to me was the few times De La Cruz had a 3-1 count he hit .120 with only 20 BBs and a staggering 13 Ks for a scary 1.54 BB/K rate in 45 PAs. When he had a 3-0 count in 19 PAs he had 13 walks but still found a way to strike out three times. I know these are sample-sized numbers but to put that into context, I’ll use fantasy baseball leper Javier Báez who had 11 PAs in which he found himself in a 3-0 count and he had 9 walks with ZERO strikeouts. In 3-1 counts he walked 15 times with THREE strikeouts in 30 PAs for a 5.0 BB/K rate. I’m not even going to bother telling you how De La Cruz did when he fell behind with a 0-1 count. *COUGH* He had a 42.5 K%! *HOLY SHIT!* And 58.5% in 0-2 counts *COUGH*
- And finally, a split that worried me and can be a cause of concern when it comes to playing time, especially in the loaded Reds infield was how badly he hit against lefties as a right-handed hitter. He finished with a slash line of .184/.231/.263/.495 and a .338 wOBA in 122 PAs that led to a -.9.8 Runs Above Average. I can’t imagine him getting many at-bats against lefties in the future if he continues to be that bad.
I try to be one of those people who tries to find the good in something bad. Well, not really but I did come across another noteworthy split that I felt needed to be mentioned.
- Home Games – .199/.282/.354/.636 in 203 PAs with 5 HRs
- Away Games – .266/.317/.459/.776 in 224 PAs with 8 HRs.
With that much of a difference along with his home games being in a launchpad for hitters in Great American Ballpark. I can make the case that De La Cruz could have pressed a bit at the plate at home games which led to some of his struggles. It happens with young players with absurd expectations coupled with such an impressive start to his career. If that was the case then he should be able to overcome that with more experience as he gets more comfortable with the MLB stage.
I tend to lie most of the time but numbers don’t. Of course, this kid is only 22 years old and only has a little over four hundred plate appearances in the majors so he will need some time to get acclimated to the Major League level. He has the tools and talent to make those adjustments to make everything I wrote sound pretty stupid this time next year. But, if you are relying on him to be your starting shortstop and have a huge 2024 season… Eh… then you probably want to roster another capable starting shortstop to see if De La Cruz did make the necessary adjustments to have sustainable success at the major league level.
Don’t worry he will be on every fantasy baseball website’s “Boom or Bust” piece when we get closer to the season so get ready to be talked into or out of liking this kid written by a lot smarter people than me. What might be the real question to ask yourself. Are you willing to risk a spot in your lineup with a player who has the peaks and valleys in production like he did last season? I’m not going to. I’m old and scared of most everything now and think each time I get out of bed is risky… with your Mom in it. Sorry, I had to add a joke for those of you who actually made it to the end of this piece… Thank your Mom for me! No, I didn’t mean it like that! The “thank you” is in regards to your Mom raising a “smart” kid…. Dumbass. You obviously need a “wise” person in your life.