Elly De La Cruz Is Running in His Own Category

Elly De La Cruz is breaking boundaries with his speed

As a general rule, it’s always healthy to keep yourself in check when adopting certain strategies as they pertain to fantasy baseball. For instance, as clever as we think we may be, it’s healthy to maintain a certain level of skepticism. What are people seeing that I’m missing? At the same time, you’ve got to stand your ground and not be dissuaded by the consensus with reasons that might not resonate terribly well with you, but still feel as though they should be counted. What are people missing that I’m seeing?

All of this is context to work into the conversation of a certain player in the middle of a breakout campaign and why you should not feel guilty about missing out on him. Elly De La Cruz is lighting the world on fire, but as well as he is performing, chances are, you didn’t make an unforgivable error passing on him at his ADP during draft season.

Going back to the conversation about being mindful of leaning too heavily one way or another, it is a well-known fact that certain players will drastically underperform or outperform their ADP. The point of the question is to understand when that is playing into their range of outcomes and when it does not.

Take, for instance, Tyler Glasnow. The man has always hovered around the highest levels of dominance in the sport (when healthy). The question was just about durability, and so far, so good. Now, anyone was aware Glasnow could be SP1 on the list, such as he is now. It was all about the willingness to cover that risk.

Now, why don’t we talk about Ronel Blanco? Did anyone even draft him? Probably not. The way in which you can realistically discuss his current performance as a possible range of outcomes for Blanco before the season started only exists in the sense that anyone can reasonably do anything. But realistically, it was just not expected in the slightest, most likely not even for the Astros’ front office.

Those two are just a wide range of examples we often have to cover. So, how does all of this relate to the production of Elly De La Cruz and our guilt (or lack thereof) about missing out on him? To first understand that, we need to acknowledge where he was drafted, and for that, we look at his ADP on NFBC (23.49).

Whatever way you felt about his upside, that’s pretty high for a guy with a low-.700 OPS in his first season in the big leagues, all while running a 33.7 K%.

This is not an article to discuss how Elly is doing what he is doing, but more to understand what’s affecting his value, and how it was all sort of the window of upside and risk we foresaw with that ADP.

Three main things have carried De La Cruz to the next level in 2024.

  1. He is running at a ridiculous pace, even for wildly fast individuals. This is a perfect match of team and player, well-suited to each other. The Reds are one of the more free-running teams in the majors. Spencer Steer shareholders say thank you for that. Elly De La Cruz actually has almost double-digit more steals than any other player in baseball, and we’re in May.
  2. Take this in for a second. If we count doubles, walks, and singles, the Reds’ shortstop has gotten on base 64 times. He has attempted a stolen base 29 times (25 successful ones and four caught stealing). Considering the number of times he reaches base with someone ahead of him, it stands to reason that at any point De La Cruz gets on base, he is more likely than not to attempt a steal.
  3. He is walking a lot, which translates into one very important thing: he’s hitting at the top of the order (batting second a lot), which is something that wouldn’t have been possible with last year’s plate discipline numbers.

Granted, De La Cruz is still chasing a ton of pitches, and he is still striking out more than a healthy amount, but the good news is that we don’t really need those things to go down to see him succeed. Ideally, yeah, it’d be better if he could keep that at like 28.5%, but for now, we’ll take the improvements where we’re getting them, and that walk rate in particular cannot be understated.

Now, outside a stint with fewer than 200 at-bats in Triple-A last season (this includes his entire rookie year) De La Cruz was never a guy with a walk rate above 10%. To be fair, it’s not like this is a must to hit high in the order. However, it is a must if you strike out as much as he does. The current batting average of .262 is about as good as it gets with this current outlook. When the inevitable slumps arrive, a solid walk rate provides a better foundation as a floor, particularly for a guy with game-changing speed.

Taking all of this into consideration, Elly De La Cruz currently ranks as the number 14 hitter on Scott Chu’s hitter list, and I tend to agree with that. A ranking that puts him among players like Yordan Alvárez and Bryce Harper.

Ultimately, yes, you may regret a particular choice over him in a few second rounds. But all the risk that took him away from being a first-round no-doubter with this level of power-speed combo, is all still there. It is far too early to even discuss not overcorrecting down the line, but just be mindful that the industry as a whole didn’t sleep on Elly De La Cruz as much as we’d like to think.

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