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2023 Fantasy Baseball Year-in-Review: Elly De La Cruz

Elly De La Cruz - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

In a year where the Cincinnati Reds had several young players make an impact on the MLB season, including Matt McLain, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Noelvi Marte, and Andrew Abbott, none was more electric than that of Elly De La Cruz.

From his debut on the MLB diamond, you knew that he belonged, and while major league pitching seemed to catch up and exploit holes in his swing, he showed that his speed and defense were also parts of a total package.

In this article, we'll delve into what makes Elly De La Cruz great, where he needs to improve as a hitter, and what fantasy managers can expect from him in the coming 2024 season.

Be sure to check all of our preseason fantasy baseball rankings for Roto, Points, H2H, dynasty, best ball, prospects and more:

De La Cruz Gets the Call

Elly De La Cruz (EDLC) was tearing up the minor leagues before the Reds made the decision to call him up. After a successful 2022 campaign where he hit over .300 at High-A and Double-A, he began 2023 at Triple-A. In 38 games, EDLC hit .297 with 12 HR, 36 RBI, 38 R, 11 SB, and actually saw his walk rate improve from 7.7% to 14.0%, bumping his OBP up to .398. By early June, he had already recorded the hardest hit ball in all of professional baseball in 2023 at 118.8 mph.

With the Reds having playoff aspirations and in need of some offensive help, they called up EDLC on June 6, making his first start that night at home against the Dodgers. In addition to having two walks in the game, he also doubled for his first career hit. The double was the hardest hit ball the Reds had to that point in the season (112.0 mph). His sprint speed of 30.4 mph into second base also proved his wheels were elite.

In his second game, EDLC hit his first career home run and in his third game, he stole his first base. He was off and running, picking up right where he left off at Triple-A, batting .307 with six doubles, two triples, and three home runs while stealing nine bases in 21 games in June (88 ABs).

Major League Pitchers Adjust

With more and more film and data on players, pitchers are able to exploit a hitter's weaknesses. As a result, De La Cruz saw his average dip to .238 for the month of July, .198 for the month of August, and .202 for September/October. So what happened?

EDLC is a switch hitter and is a stronger hitter from the left side of the plate. Here are his splits for 2023 at the major league level:

As you can see, his average was 71 points higher from the left side of the plate and was well below the Mendoza Line (.200) from the right side, striking out an astronomical 40% of the time as a righty. While De La Cruz was able to hit a fastball just fine batting from the left side, it became apparent that he struggled with breaking pitches (i.e. curveball, slider).

As a lefty, he was able to hit .287 on fastballs, .262 on offspeed pitches (i.e. changeup), but just .209 on breaking pitches. So he got a heavy dose of those, with 37.5% of the pitches he saw from right-handed pitchers being breaking balls (32.7% from left-handed pitchers, 34% overall). By contrast, a good breaking ball hitter like Yandy Diaz, who bats from the right side, saw just a 21.9% breaking pitch rate from lefty pitchers (30.1% from righty pitchers, 28.1% overall).

Final Thoughts on 2023

Sure, EDLC came back down to earth hard from July on, but it wasn't all bad. He showed numerous times over the final months that his tools belonged at the major league level and that he will be a superstar in the MLB for years to come.

According to BaseballSavant.com, EDLC has the fastest sprint speed in the majors (tied with Bobby Witt Jr. at 30.5 feet per second). It was on full display on June 11 when a routine out became an infield single:

On June 23, EDLC hit for the cycle in just his 15th big league game, the first cycle for a Reds hitter since 1989:

On July 8, EDLC hit a go-ahead single, promptly stole second, then stole third, then stole home:

Needing to keep their playoff hopes alive, on September 6, EDLC had his first multi-homer game of his young career, with the second traveling a whopping 467 feet:

Want some defense? On July 16, EDLC recorded the fastest infield assist of the Statcast Era (since 2015) with a throw to first registering at 97.9 mph; then a few days later on July 20, EDLC sent a relay throw to home plate at 99.8 mph:

Outlook for 2024

Here is what EDLC's 2023 final line looked like:

  • 98 games, 388 AB, .235 BA, 91 H, 13 HR, 44 RBI, 67 R, 35 BB, 144 K, 35 SB

Here's that same line projected out over 162 games:

  • 162 games, 641 AB, .235 BA, 150 H, 21 HR, 73 RBI, 111 R, 58 BB, 238 K, 58 SB

Now what if EDLC were to reduce his strikeout rate meaningfully (say to 30%) and up his batting average to a respectable .265? This is my estimation as to what that state would look like:

  • 162 games, 641 AB, .265 BA, 170 H, 24 HR, 83 RBI, 125 R, 65 BB, 192 K, 65 SB

For comparison, this was Trea Turner's final 2023 stat line:

  • 155 games, 639 AB, .266 BA, 170 H, 26 HR, 76 RBI, 102 R, 45 BB, 150 K, 30 SB

It's early, of course, but Trea Turner currently has a projected ADP of around 11th overall at various sites, including our very own Eric Cross in his September 20 article, 2024 Fantasy Baseball: Projecting the First Round. Instead of going with Turner in Round 1, you could wait and get similar production out of EDLC at a cheaper price a round or two later.

We talked earlier about how pitchers may have adjusted based on EDLC's weaknesses; however, that doesn't mean batters can't make adjustments as well. Hopefully, for those managers who are bullish on EDLC, he is standing in the batting cage at this very moment, hitting 100 breaking balls a night from the left side of the plate in anticipation of the 2024 season.



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