Well, the Seattle Mariners season is over and fans are already beginning to think about next year, including me. Despite ending the drought, there are plenty of question marks for next season; J.P. Crawford’s role in 2023 is one of those topics.
Based on what has recently been said, it got me interested in J.P. Crawford’s defensive numbers and how viable it would be for him to move to second base to clear that position for a free agent. Here are my thoughts and how I got down this road.
Jerry Dipoto’s Confidence and Respect for J.P. Crawford
There are notable shortstops on the free agent market this offseason and fans are dreaming of signing the likes of Trea Turner or Dansby Swanson. Of course, plenty of teams could use a top-tier shortstop, and the prices will only rise with the competition.
Around a week ago, Jerry Dipoto addressed the media on this topic and J.P. Crawford. The Mariners President of Baseball Operations would prefer signing a shortstop willing to play second base. This happened the last off-season when Trevor Story agreed to play second base for the Boston Red Sox in order to fit in with Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts.
Dipoto expressed his confidence and respect for J.P. Crawford as a shortstop, leader, and his connection to the fans. Although Dipoto clearly stated that J.P. is our shortstop and will be on the opening day lineup card at the 6.
I am probably reading into Dipoto’s statement too deep, like a conspiracy theorist, but I can’t help this feeling that it’s not set in stone. He said “we feel like [J.P.] does a very good job in anything that we asked him to do,” and this only got me thinking that Crawford might just be the type of person who might just be willing to do what’s best for the team.
J.P. Crawford’s History
J.P. Crawford was the 16th overall pick by the Philadelphia Phillies back in 2013 and got quite the praise from scouts as a high schooler. A few sites had Starlin Castro as a J.P. player comparison and most sites agreed that his hitting was solid, but lacked power. There were definitely no questions about whether he could “pick it” at shortstop.
Bleacher Report wrote that his “athleticism and quickness are on display at shortstop; smooth, fluid actions; above-average range by lengthy strides and long arm.” They also noted that he has a plus arm with accuracy.
Fueled By Sports, a website I am not too familiar with said he has a quick release and long arms to help his range. They also ranked his arm strength on the stronger side.
Baseball Prospectus, another site I am not familiar with said Crawford is one of the most defensively polished players who came through the GCL and FSL. In regards to arm strength, the site said his arm strength is a fringe-plus and his release can get sloppy when rushed.
As you would expect, the Seattle Mariners infielder has mostly played shortstop during his professional career. In the minor leagues, J.P. Crawford only logged 42 innings at second base, and 78 innings at third base according to Baseball Reference. In the big leagues, J.P. played 32.1 innings at second, and 174.2 innings at third.
J.P. Crawford’s Error Metrics
It’s pretty clear that J.P. Crawford doesn’t have a whole lot of experience playing second base but the fact that he has logged some innings interesting to me. It at least gives me the idea of how adaptable he is and how his skill sets really apply anywhere up the middle.
So, this led me to look into his defensive metrics. There is no question that J.P. Crawford is a great shortstop given he won the Gold Glove in 2020. But, I became a bit worried about his defensive performances this year. This is totally an eye test so I don’t have clear-cut numbers to back this up, especially in comparison to other shortstops around the league.
This year, it felt like I saw Ty France move off the bag to catch a ball from J.P. more frequently than before. Again, I don’t have great proof of this and I know that doesn’t make my argument stronger.
However, according to Fangraphs, J.P. did have 7 throwing errors this year, which ranks the 11th among all qualified shortstops. Those 7 throwing errors accounted for half of his 14 total errors. In 2021, J.P. had 12 errors and 9 of those were throwing errors.
With all that being said, I don’t think anybody is ever worried about whether the Mariners infielder can field a ground ball or make a diving grab. But, I am a bit worried about his throwing numbers.
J.P. Crawford’s Outs Above Average Numbers
I, unfortunately, could not find a good site that has throwing accuracy data. So, I am going to share his Outs Above Average (OAA). The definition from MLB.com: “a range-based metric of skill that shows how many outs a player has saved. Prior to 2020, OAA was an outfield-only metric. But it has been expanded to include infielders.”
According to Baseball Savant, J.P. Crawford had a -11 OAA, which was 36th best among 2022 shortstops in the MLB. Dansby Swanson led with a 20 OAA, followed by Nico Hoerner and Francisco Lindor with a 13 OAA. In 2021, J.P. Crawford posted a 0 OAA and ranked 19th.
I would also encourage you to look at Baseball Savant’s OAA Illustrator. It helps you visualize the estimated success rate and OAA based on where the defender is on the field, not just by the position they are playing. Here is a link to J.P. Crawford’s 2022 season.
In summary, the Baseball Savant Illustrator shows that J.P. posted:
- -9 OAA at shortstop – 373 attempts
- -2 OAA at third base – 57 attempts
- 1 OAA at second base – 92 attempts
Again, I am being nit-picky with the data since most of his plays are in the shortstop area. But, I think it does show an overall trend.
When you look at his entire career for OAA, here are the numbers:
- -8 OAA at shortstop – 1479 attempts
- 0 OAA at third – 168 attempts
- 3 OAA at second – 321 attempts
Why J.P. Crawford at Second Base Makes Sense
First off, I want to clarify that I love J.P. and I think he’s a good shortstop. He deserves respect and should be viewed as the starting shortstop for the Seattle Mariners, right now. However, I think his numbers suggest that he could be utilized elsewhere on the lineup card.
Again, I understand that I don’t have the best data to give me 100% confidence in saying this. But with what is out there, I think this is enough for me to suggest that J.P. Crawford could be a great starting second baseman in 2023 for the Mariners.
Playing shortstop isn’t always about how hard one can throw a baseball but it does come into play more frequently than other positions. In 2022, J.P. ranked in the 37th percentile in arm strength according to Baseball Savant. He finished 30th in arm strength among shortstops who threw at least 100 times.
Baseball Savant takes the average of the top portion of a player’s throws, to leave out lobs and such.
J.P.’s averaged 83.3 mph per throw. For context, Oneil Cruz had an average of 93.9 mph (feels like a bit of an outlier), Willy Adams averaged 89.9 mph, and Bobby Witt Jr. averaged 87.4 mph. For second baseman, the leader in 2022 was Romy Gonzalez who averaged 87.2 mph, followed by Jean Segura at 86.5 mph.
Now that we covered arm strength, another reason why I see Crawford as a good fit for second base is the new defensive shift rule. In 2023, what we know now as shifts will be a thing of the past. Starting next season, two infielders have to be on each side of second base.
This change will make a difference for the offense but it will also be interesting to see defenses adapt to the new rules. One thing I know for sure is that having good infielders with speed and athleticism will be more important.
The Mariners won’t be able to stack three infielders on the right side for a pull-heavy left-handed hitter anymore. They will need to figure out how to defend with just the second baseman and first baseman. So, wouldn’t it be a premium to have J.P. Crawford be the everyday second baseman to cover the right side along with Ty France?
What Should the Seattle Mariners do?
I am a big fan of J.P., and I like what Jerry Dipoto said. Crawford should be viewed as the starting 2023 shortstop but I don’t think the organization should downplay the idea of moving him to second base. If Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, or Dansby Swanson don’t feel like moving to second base, having a conversation with J.P. Crawford seems reasonable to me.
This offseason should be an interesting one and I am excited to see what Jerry Dipoto and Justin Hollander will do this offseason, and how that may impact J.P. Crawford and others. Stay tuned for free agent profiles by our team this off-season!