Hollywood has always loved the story of the ugly duckling blossoming into a swan – Mean Girls, The Princess Diaries, Miss Congeniality, Clueless and She’s All That. And why not, because we are all suckers for it. Personally, I like to think that I’ve grown into something suave over the years. *Looks around* Sees that I’m writing fantasy nerd stuff from my mom’s basement. *Sobs* Yes, I’m the sucker. For fantasy sports, we all know who the sexy mofos are. Every once in a while, though, a player gets hot, makes a change to the approach, and becomes very enticing. I remember this girl in high school, who wasn’t anything special, but then I saw her wearing a dress and all done up, and she looked mighty fine. It was that girl who I thought of when I dug into J.P. Crawford of the Seattle Mariners. Is Crawford actually hot or is it just the makeup? Let’s dig in.
Crawford is 28 years old, 6-foot-2, 202 pounds, and bats from the left side. He was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft. In 2019, he was traded to the Mariners.
Throughout his minor league career, the strikeout rate never exceeded 17% while the walk rate was consistently in the double digits. He hit double digit home runs just once while he stole over 10 bases twice. The ISO only got above .150 once.
Crawford did get some major league experience in Philadelphia – 87 and 138 plate appearances. He did not become a full-fledged starter until 2021 with the Mariners. That season, he slashed .273/.338/.376 with an 8.4% walk rate, 16.6% strikeout rate, and .103 ISO in 687 plate appearances. He hit nine home runs and stole three bases. The following season, he slashed .243/.339/.336 with an 11.3% walk rate, 13.3% strikeout rate, and .093 ISO in 603 plate appearances. He hit six home runs and stole three bases.
Not gross, but definitely meh.
So far in 495 plate appearances this season, the slash is .268/.384/.421 with a 15,.4% walk rate and 19% strikeout rate. The ISO is .153, though! That’s translated to 12 home runs. Our ugly duckling has put on some makeup and has become more noticeable.
The batted ball data shows that he’s hitting fewer ground balls and more fly balls. In 2021 and 2022, the GB/FB was 1.48 and 1.44. It’s 1.09 this season. While his approach was balanced the two prior years, he’s pulling the ball way more this season – 41.3% vs. low-30%.
The Statcast numbers look encouraging as well. The average exit velocity is 89 mph. It was in the 85 to 86 mph range the prior two seasons. The launch angle is 14.2 degrees. It was sub-10. The 4.7% barrel rate is a career-high.
The plate discipline numbers have always been good for Crawford, and nothing has changed in that department. The contact rate in the zone is over 90% while the swinging strike rate is only 6%. He’s chasing fewer pitches – 21.2% vs. 24%. That’s the third-best mark in MLB.
I know what you’re thinking. What’s so special about a dude that’s hit 12 home runs and bats .268? Will Crawford be a league winner? Definitely not, especially since he’s almost a zero in the stolen base department. But he has utility. Rudy and I share two teams and he’s always mentioning how difficult it is to find runs. Well, Crawford bats leadoff for one of the best offenses in all of baseball. Seattle is 10th in runs scored. Crawford has an OBP of .384, which is the ninth-best mark in baseball. Runs scored, decent average, and a changed approach for more power. That ain’t bad, yo.