J.P. Crawford has long understood that spring-training stats are meaningless. Whether you put up outstanding numbers or barely register a batting average, it all starts over on opening day.
But it was how those stats — a .128/.346/.128 slash line with 12 strikeouts and eight walks — were accumulated in spring that had Crawford irritated and in a grinding work mode from the first pitch of the season.
He didn’t feel comfortable in the batter’s box. His timing wasn’t quite right. And he just couldn’t put quality swings on pitches he felt he should hit.
With no intention of carrying that feeling into the regular season, he was in work mode trying to figure it out from the first game with the help of hitting coaches Tim Laker and Jarrett DeHart. In the early games, he just tried to grind through at-bats, work walks and try and find contact. He was going be competitive and he was going to resist striking out.
“When you’re not feeling a certain way that you can get to pitches better, and I wasn’t getting there,” Crawford said. “I had to fix something up. I was just working with JD and Lake and they got me right. I’m going to continue to put in that effort each day and try to put together good ABs each day. Whatever the results come that night, they come, but we’re putting in the work every day. We’re out there working our ass off.”
With a three-hit night on Friday, including his first homer of the season, Crawford came into Saturday with a .267/.336/.343 slash line in 116 plate appearances with five doubles, a homer, 10 RBI, 10 walks and 21 strikeouts.
“Probably the thing that I’ve always said about J.P., he is one of our best competitors,” Mariners manager Scott Servais. “It may not be that pretty all the time, and sometimes he doesn’t feel that great in the box, but he finds a way to compete and get on base and do some things. He’s getting better.”
Servais believes that Crawford can be an example for young players in that regard.
“When you look at our team, we are still very, very young,” Servais said. “And you need to be patient with guys. It takes a while for them to figure out what’s really going to work or how do I make in-game adjustments, or if I have a bad week, what do I need to do to get it back on track. J.P. goes back to competing. He does not like losing. He doesn’t like getting beat by the pitcher. It really bothers him and he works constantly to make those adjustments throughout the course of a game.”
While Crawford has the lowest swing-and-miss rate on pitches (18.6%) on the team, his average exit velocity (84.3 mph) and hard-hit percentage (26.2) are among the lowest in baseball for everyday players.
The Mariners want to see him hit the ball harder. But in past seasons, Crawford tried to up the power level in his game. It was the wrong plan for his hitting profile.
“I never really think it’s a good thing to talk about power,” Servais said. “But frankly, when you start searching for power, bad things happen. I think you need to be a good hitter. Be a really good hitter, handle different pitches throughout the strike zone and then as you mature, you get stronger, things start to happen. If you square it up more frequently and you tend to get a little bit stronger as you’re going through your mid-to-late 20s and then see what happens. We’re not looking for any more power from J.P., just be a good hitter.”
That’s not say that the Mariners want him to be a singles hitter. The possibility for 25-plus doubles, a handful of triples or even double-digit homers are possible for Crawford. He’s shown glimpses of it in past years. The Mariners believe it will come without destroying his high contact rate.
“It’s in there to the pull side,” Servais said. “And that’s where his extra-base hits are going to come from most of the time to the pull side, down the right-field line and right-center gap. He may spray a ball down the left-field line once in a while, which is a good thing, using the whole field. Is he going to hit 15-20 homers? He may at some point. But it’s not something he’s chasing right now.”