MLB Star Power Index: In praise of Nelson Cruz and the Twins’ sacred home run robe

Welcome to the MLB Star Power Index — a weekly hootenanny that determines with awful authority which players are dominating the current zeitgeist of the sport. While one’s presence on this list is often celebratory in nature, it can also be for purposes of lamentation or ridicule. The players listed are in no particular order, just like the phone book.

One can argue that this particular laurel wreath should go to Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson, who recently presented his teammates with high-fashion respite-wear. It’s veteran cloutsman Nelson Cruz, however, who brought those high-fashion robes into full public view and put them to their proper use. In doing so, Mr. Cruz has rescued the sports robe. 

Boxing is to blame for the prior corruption of the sports robe. Fighters very often wear robes to the ring in advance of righteous sanctioned combat — i.e., before their work is done. This is in violation of the spirit and sacred intentions of the robe. “Behold the robe,” said Increase Mather, who invented the cozy robe in 1679. “The robe? ‘Tis for those who have consummated their toil or better still given their toil the miss altogether.”

The robe is not a totem of preparation or a signifier of labor onset. It is not a wearable punch-card time clock. Rather, it heralds the arrival of Sofa Time, which is the reward for those who have completed assigned tasks and duties or appraised assigned tasks and duties and found them avoidable. The robe is military-issue only if one is a foot soldier in the army of Relaxation Nation — ideally a member of the 101st Chairborne. 

In those senses, it is fitting that Mr. Cruz restored the robe to its intended purpose on a day in which he was not in the lineup. This allowed him to loan out his own robe to those he deemed in need of leisured unwinding. Please witness, assuming you can even be bothered: 


The dugout is the beating heartland of shared baseball experiences. Nelson Cruz was not the author and finisher of these particular baseball moments captured above via the magic of technicolor, but as someone who’s donged 417 home runs — 260 of them since turning 33 and 16 of them this year — he knows the territory they’re mining. And he knows that after such labors are completed, the body and soul yearn for a cape of bonded fleece. If that cape bears upon the broad back the name Cruz and the No. 23, then you know what it’s like to earn your rest in the manner of the baseball warrior-poet. 

No one else can be Nelson Cruz at the plate, but, lo, this I tell you: anyone, so long as the robe is on and lashed at the waist in a clove hitch knot, can be Nelson Cruise. 

It is said that moments before author and philosopher Jean Paul-Sarte was laid to rest in Paris’ Montparnasse Cemetery, a mourner accidentally fell in his open grave. 

This naturally brings us to Padres port-side reliever Drew Pomeranz, who as you see above has an ERA of 0.00 this season. He’s also allowed no runs at all in 2020. No other pitcher this season has worked as many innings as Pomeranz’s 18 without allowing a run. Indeed, Ryan Sherriff of the Rays is in second place when it comes to most innings pitched without allowing a run, and he’s all the way back at 8 2/3 frames. Pshaw at Ryan Sherriff trying to be Drew Pomeranz. Pshaw. Any other moundsman to allow not a single run manages but a sparse and passing comparison to Mr. Pomeranz, the undisputed Exchequer of Zeroes for this season. For this he is to be praised, and — would you look at that — he is presently being praised. 

As it turns out Pomeranz has a chance to make history. A spelunking through the record books reveals that just three pitchers including the hero of this story have worked 18 or more innings in a season without allowing a run. The other two are Cleveland’s Tyler Olson in 2017 (20 innings) and the Dodgers’ Karl Spooner in 1954 (18 innings). As you may have already surmised, Pomeranz has a shot at setting the all-time mark for most innings in a season without allowing a run. 

Since moving to bullpen full-time on the Brewers’ watch last season, Pomeranz has been able to whittle down his repertoire to a fastball-curve combo, and the sparkling results have followed. Another way of saying this is that Pomeranz — remade to suit the narrower job description — is himself the mysterious force that nudges the batter into the open grave of a French existentialist. Help him out of there. He does not deserve to be buried with Sartre. 

Causation is dirge — evocative of burdens and the inexorable march of time. But correlation? Correlation you can dance to. With that in mind, we present you, the reader, with two relevant #AstrosFacts from the 2020 season: 


Furthermore, we would point you to the man up top, Jose Altuve. The former MVP and six-time All-Star from his bust-out season of 2014 through 2019 batted .327/.380/.497, but this year he’s “hitting” .225/.288/.341. Perhaps it’s the erratic nature of the 2020 season, lingering effects of the knee injury he suffered earlier in the season, or a function of the still somewhat small sample size (198 plate appearances), but Altuve has plainly reached unforeseen depths as a hitter. What has caused the relative struggles of Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Yuli Gurriel cannot be pinpointed with accuracy. What correlates with those struggles, however, is the Astros’ emergence from the cheating scandals of 2017 and (allegedly) beyond

It’s far too tidy to say the Astros are struggling at the plate because they’re finally on the up and up and no longer know what’s coming. Horse sense will tell you it’s coincidence, and indeed it probably is. However, this is Internet Street, and nuance and sober consideration are not welcome here after dark. It is a matter of factual record that the Astros are punchless offensively, relative to their recent standards, in their first year clear of the scandal. (Recall that Kurt Suzuki accused the Astros of stealing signs during the 2019 World Series.) It correlates, you see. This thing is happening, and this other thing is happening at the same time. No one can argue otherwise. 

Contrary to received wisdom, the forbidden dance is not the Lambada. Rather the forbidden dance is using tidy correlation to amend history to one’s liking. If you’re so inclined, the offensive struggles of Altuve and Houston in 2020 give you ample cause to drive along Internet Street until you come to foot of All-Caps Mountain. You’ll ascend its heights and bellow from the upper reaches that if the Astros weren’t massive cheaters then they would have had a better offense in 2020. “SO I’M TO BELIEVE THEY JUST HAPPENED TO STOP HITTING AT THE SAME TIME THEY STOPPED GETTING THE SIGNS FOR NO REASON,” you yell into the inky night. 

“Thus, ergo, and therefore, their triumph in the 2017 World Series is no longer acknowledged,” you hoarsely conclude as dawn breaks hours later. 

In large measure, you may thank Altuve — he of the suspicious ambushing of Aroldis Chapman’s slider — and his 2020 struggles for this opportunity. Without his wee production, your hips would not presently be whipsawing into aghast strangers as you dance to the throbbing beats of The Correlation. 

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