He’s not the best player on his team — or maybe even the second-best.
But there’s an unheralded star enjoying a career year on the Seattle Mariners this year, blasting past preseason projections while reaching his best-ever offensive production and remaking his baseball identity in the process.
J.P. Crawford is a Top-10 shortstop in the league this season, and he’s done it by essentially becoming a player who is unrecognizable from his prior self. Long known throughout the league as a defense-first glove guy who got on base at respectable rates for a shortstop, Crawford decided he was done with that this year.
The Mariners’ Gold Glover is enjoying his season yet, slashing an OPS over .800 for the first time as he barrels his way toward doubling his career-high single-season home run totals. He’s been a vital piece of a very solid Seattle offensive core that is battling for playoff position, emerging as a hero on Thursday night after a walk-off hit to beat the Rangers.
Let’s look into how he got here.
Following Crawford’s move from the Mariners to the Phillies via trade prior to the 2019 season, he posted four seasons that were remarkably — almost eerily — similar.
From 2019 to 2022, the shortstop posted a combined .252/.333/.358 slash, good for a 99 wRC+ and 7.7 fWAR, mostly off the back of stellar defensive play. His reliability was rewarded ahead of the 2022 campaign, when Seattle gave him a five-year, $51 million extension.
At the time, it seemed like a bit of a high price to pay for a defense-first shortstop.
Now, it’s looking like a massive bargain.
Crawford’s production has skyrocketed this year, just as he had settled into one of the more predictable offensive profiles in the league. He’s up to a full slash of .265/.380/.435/.815 this year, which translates to a remarkable 133 wRC+ and 4.7 fWAR.
A quality shortstop with an OBP in the .380s and legitimate power is the type of player that gets would get paid handsomely in a free-agent market — think Corey Seager.
What’s the biggest difference in Crawford’s profile? He’s started to punish fastballs. Long a hitter who struggled with the heater, he’s revamped his approach this year, selling out more for power. It’s safe to say it’s working.
As Davy Andrews of FanGraphs noted in late August, Crawford’s changes are tied to a swing adjustment that has allowed him to tap into some more of his natural rotational power — he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds.
And, as you may have already guessed, Driveline is involved. Crawford worked with the organization this offseason and it appears they’ve helped him orient his swing to harness more of his booming potential.
This kind of improvement would be notable for just about any hitter with a career OPS of .719 but for a player at a premium position? With a Gold Glove already in his back pocket? It’s pretty huge.
Crawford has the highest walk rate on this list and one of the best offensive profiles for a shortstop in baseball, but his barrel rate is surprisingly low. While there’s some indication he’s getting lucky, as his xwOBA is about 20 points below his wOBA, he’s not running a particularly high BABIP — his .314 mark is just 15 points higher than his career average of .299.
The metrics that are particularly telling are his success over the heart of the plate, his pull rate, and his hard-hit rate. He’s finally getting to the pitches over the plate and doing damage, even if his contact quality isn’t the greatest in the world. Crawford’s 36.5% Hard-Hit Rate is the best of his career.
One unfortunate problem that has cast a bit of a shadow over Crawford’s offensive improvement is a marked downgrade across his defensive stats, as Crawford has now become one of the poorer defensive shortstops in the league, per OAA, which grades him at -8. If he keeps going on offense, though, the Mariners will probably take this version of Crawford any day of the week.
Crawford’s ZiPS projections remain bearish on his ability to match what he did this year. After all, he’s barely a career-average hitter. But if he can maintain his elite plate discipline and his batted-ball quality rolls over, he’s in for a big season once more next year.
Welcome to J.P. Crawford’s unexpected prime years.