Making Sense of Elly De La Cruz’s Latest Slump

With Elly De La Cruz of the Cincinnati Reds mired in another slump, what is it going to take to snap out of it?

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 31: Elly De La Cruz #44 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on against the Chicago Cubs during the seventh inning at Wrigley Field on May 31, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

DENVER — Ask Major League Baseball fans to name the one place that a hitter should visit in order to break out of a slump and it’s very likely that Coors Field will be at the top of many lists.

On Monday night, Elly De La Cruz of the Cincinnati Reds had what might be considered by many a tailor-made opportunity to snap out of his slide that saw him post a 7-for-60 stretch at the plate while slashing .117/.197/.150 with just two doubles and 28 strikeouts as a part of those 60 at-bats.

When you’re in a slump, however, good things at the plate are hard to come by. Even when De La Cruz connects with the ball, it seems to find the opponent’s glove. In his first at-bat against Colorado’s Ryan Feltner on Monday night, De La Cruz sent a curveball to right field with an exit velocity of 109.7 mph. However, Hunter Goodman brought it in on the warning track, turning a loud crack of the bat into a harmless out.

The next at-bat, however, showed the athleticism and flip side of De La Cruz as he sent Feltner’s first pitch into the left-center gap for an RBI double, his first extra-base hit since May 23.

Ad – content continues below

De La Cruz ended up 1-for-4 on Monday night, with that double being his lone hit and only real offensive contribution in Cincinnati’s 13-3 victory. That double also snapped an 0-for-16 streak.

Naturally, when you’re not on base, it’s hard to steal bases, which has always been one of De La Cruz’s calling cards, both in the minor and major leagues. While De La Cruz entered Monday with a league-leading 32 stolen bases, he has just two in his last 16 games.

This isn’t the first time that the 22-year-old phenom has encountered a skid during his first two seasons in the Majors. Take a step back and look at last season’s statistics and you’ll see that De La Cruz was causing plenty of buzz in his first 30 games (slashing .325/.363/.524 with a BAbip of .441) and plenty of questions in his last 68 games of the season (slashing .191/.272/.355 with a BAbip of .277). He struck out in 44 of his 106 July at-bats (41.5 percent) last season and 32 of his 89 at-bats in September and October (35.9 percent) during his downturn.

This season has seen some of the same roller coaster, with a .279/.385/.577 slash line in his first 30 games (104 at-bats) followed by a stretch that included the 7-for-60 span discussed above.

So is there a correlation between last year’s statistical dip and this season’s?

“I think there was some fatigue there last year. I don’t see that this year,” Cincinnati manager David Bell said.

Ad – content continues below

With De La Cruz, it’s early in his career and certainly way, way too premature to put any kind of “bust” label on him. After all, he’s yet to even play a full 162 games in the Majors. The Reds are going to not only give him every chance to find his way at the plate, but also give him the resources to make it happen.

“Sometimes when you’re struggling, when you’re searching … I do think every time he takes a step forward and has a good stretch like he did, he has that in his experiences to kind of draw from,” Bell said. “I hate to see him struggling, but we know he’s going to get through it.

“We’re looking at everything every day. It definitely doesn’t look like he’s lost or has no chance up there. Usually, it’s a mindset and if there’s anything mechanically that’s slightly different, I think the mindset comes first. But I don’t care how good you are, when you’re struggling, you doubt yourself a little bit. That’s what he has to get through.”

While it’s early and a smaller sample size, it’s clear that it is the offspeed pitch that has troubled De La Cruz the most this season. When an opponent unleashes a fastball (heading into Monday’s action), De La Cruz is hitting .284 with 12 of his 33 hits going for extra bases. When that pitcher throws an offspeed pitch, the batting average drops to .128 with just two extra-base hits and three singles.

Last season, De La Cruz hit .238 against offspeed pitches while whiffing 34.4 percent of the time on one of those pitches. This year, the whiff rate is up to 40 percent.

But while De La Cruz hasn’t been contributing to the Reds at the plate, he has contributed on defense. De La Cruz leads Cincinnati with 4 Outs Above Average at shortstop, a number that ties him for sixth among all MLB shortstops.

Ad – content continues below

“It’s so important, his ability to still help us to win games when he’s not swinging the bat like you know he will, especially at that position,” Bell said. “It’s vital. It’s so important. He’s making great plays and making all of the routine plays.

“We put too much emphasis on the offense but, at that position at times, it’s even more important just because you can be consistent and control it a little bit more. He’s done everything he needs to do. He keeps getting better.”

However, as seems to be the case with De La Cruz on all sides of his game, there is more to his defense than just the positives. His fifth-inning misplay on Monday night raised his error total to 11, tying him for the most errors among all MLB players, helping to put his Defensive Runs Saved at minus-1.

At 22, there is still plenty of room for growth in De La Cruz’s skill set. There is also plenty of hope that the dramatic ebbs and flows that have plagued De La Cruz at the plate will even out in the months to come. When will that happen? When will things consistently click? For Cincinnati and its young core, the stabilization of De La Cruz and the answers to those questions are keys to getting the Reds back to the postseason for the first time in a full 162-game season since 2013.