JP Crawford was a player who was highly coveted by the Mariners front office for years before they acquired him. He was widely considered as a player with tantalizing tools and supreme athleticism, but had not pieced everything together just yet. Last season, we saw JP grow so much as a player and as a leader; can he take the next step in 2022?
2021 was the first season where JP Crawford showed that he could be an above average MLB hitter, and he did it all from the leadoff spot for a 90-win Mariner team. Crawford posted an OPS+ of 102, and a WRC+ of 103, both over the league average of 100. 2021 was also the first season Crawford posted an OPS of over .700, indicating an increase in power and plate discipline.
All of this may not seem like a huge deal, but for Crawford, his improvement has been showing up every year. Zips has Crawford projected for 2.6 WAR, a step down from his 3.0 fWar (FanGraphs) in the 2021 campaign. Overall, his offensive numbers are projected to be very similar to 2021, as Zips has him projected for a .260/.329/.379 season.
JP Crawford is a pivotal piece of the Seattle Mariners moving forward.
Crawford controlled the zone exceedingly well from the leadoff spot last season. He has a chase rate in the 87th percentile, a K% in the 77th percentile, and a Whiff % in the 93rd percentile according to Baseball Savant. All of these are excellent indicators that if things click in his swing, Crawford could be in for a breakout season.
However, there are many red flags when looking at JP’s batted ball profile. Although he controlled the zone well, he did not strike the ball with much authority. He ranked in the 8th percentile of both Hard Hit % and average exit velocity according to Baseball Savant. He did however seem to show more ability to get extra base hits in 2021, but this was likely due to his ability to use the entire field. His usage of the middle of the field went up almost 8.3% from 2020 to 2021, a result of pulling the ball less and staying on offspeed pitches to the entire field.
You see, the thing about JP Crawford is the Mariners just need him to be average to above average at the plate. His defense is among the very best in the game, making eye popping plays night after night. He compiled 8 DRS in 2021 according to Fangraphs, and was a finalist for the Gold Glove once again. Crawford is a top 3 defensive shortstop any way you slice it, and combining this with an above average bat and leadership qualities lands him as a key piece moving forward.
Crawford is likely not a leadoff hitter for this team in the long run. However, his performance in 2021 was impressive, and he completely embraced his new role as the leader of the team. His defensive capabilities are as good as it gets, and even if there is not much to suggest an offensive boom is coming, there is not much that suggests regression. His overall pedigree as a prospect and an athlete should inspire some confidence that a breakout may be plausible, so enjoy him folks, he is here to stay.