Prior to this year, Nelson Cruz has been known as strictly a power hitter. He averaged 27 home runs per season from 2009-2013 and then made the most of his one season in Baltimore by leading the league in round-trippers last year.

His game-changing power is what earned him a four-year, $57 million contract last December, but in his first 36 games as a Mariner, he has still shown plenty of power—he leads the MLB with 15 homers—but he is also displaying tremendous skill in other areas at the plate.

First off, it must be noted that opposing pitchers are throwing Cruz fewer good pitches. So far in 2015, he is seeing only 43.9 percent of pitches in the strike zone, which is a career low, but he has adjusted admirably. 

His O-Contact%, which measures the percentage of times a batter makes contact with a pitch out of the strike zone, currently sits at a career-high 63.2 percent. The rest of his hitting metrics are similar to his career average.

So Cruz is seeing fewer pitches in the strike zone so far this season, but he is overcoming that by expanding his zone a bit and finding a way to be productive with pitches out of the strike zone.

That is a testament to the strides he has made in his overall hitting approach. He continues to be among the most feared power hitters in all of baseball, even in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field in Seattle.

As far as the best hitter in baseball right now, it is hard to argue against what Nelly has done to this point.

He leads the MLB with 15 home runs—an achievement that is even more impressive due to the fact that he plays all his home games in Safeco Field—and 30 RBI. He has also maintained a .340 batting average, which is among the best in the game.

Cruz also leads the league in slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, wRC+ and total bases. His .466 wOBA ranks third in the MLB, per FanGraphs.

And it’s not like Cruz is getting lucky with cheap home runs, either. He is making them count, as he is tied with fellow power stalwarts Giancarlo Stanton and Edwin Encarnacion with six no-doubt home runs, according to ESPN Home Run Tracker.

He has been one of the most productive players in clutch situations, too. He has two walk-off hits this year—one off of flamethrower Neftali Feliz and one off of Junichi Tazawa— each one coming with two outs and two strikes, and in games where he had struck out at least twice in that game.

But he’s bound for plenty of regression after this hot start, right?

Not according to his manager, Lloyd McClendon, who believes greener pastures still lie ahead for the 34-year-old Dominican, specifically in the home run column. McClendon said via Mariners Musings of

To be truthful, I don’t think he’s gotten hot to the point where it’s just ridiculous. He’s grinding at-bats out and getting his hits, he’s going the other way. If they make a mistake, he’ll hit it out. But I’ve seen him to the point where he’ll get hot and hit good pitches out of the ballpark and that hasn’t happened yet.

I think home run hitters, when they get hot, they hit home runs in bunches and he hasn’t done that yet. His have been spread out. A few here and a few there. He did have a streak where he hit [six] in five days or something like that, but there’s a big streak in there that hasn’t come out yet.

Cruz is hotter right now than any hitter in the game except maybe Bryce Harper, and if his statistics stay consistent and his manager proves correct, he should easily add another 40-homer season to his resume and may have a shot at American League Most Valuable Player, an award that has been hogged by Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout for the past three years. 

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