To say that J.P. Crawford has gotten off to a slow start this season would be an understatement.
Crawford, in his first full season manning shortstop for the Phillies, has collected only one hit over his first 23 at-bats. He’s slashing .043/.083/.043, and, of greater concern, the advanced approach and plate discipline that made the 23-year-old one of the game’s elite prospects not so long ago has been noticeably absent. He has drawn only a single walk to go along with eight strikeouts.
Crawford’s sudden lack of approach was noticeable in his at-bat during the sixth-inning of yesterday’s game, and it perfectly illustrates this troubling development:
Crawford has some technical issues with his swing, and it is showing in his confidence now with this full count approach. pic.twitter.com/jUz9DsvfiM
— BWanksCB (@BWCrossingBroad) April 8, 2018
This is a swing suggestive of a tentative hitter. Crawford doesn’t possess elite power and or an off-the-charts hit tool. His strengths are his patience and pitch recognition, so his success will be predicated upon his capacity to recognize and capitalize on hittable pitches. Here, Crawford recognizes the pitch is out of the zone too late, and the result is an excuse-me swing at a 86.5 MPH cutter from Miami’s Odrisamer Despaigne for strike three. While the above video is of the put-away pitch, the rest of the at-bat is also of concern:
1. Crawford didn’t see a single pitch in the strike zone, yet swung and missed three times to get himself out.
2. He fell behind 0-2 by chasing two nearly-identical pitches outside of the strike zone.
3. Five of the six pitches he saw were cutters between 85.6 MPH and 86.8 MPH, yet Crawford still failed to adjust.
None of that is particularly good. If Crawford is going well, he’s ahead in the count 2-0, dictating the terms of his plate appearance. On a positive note, he did battle back from an 0-2 hole to run the count full, so there’s something to build upon here. But if you want to know, in part, why the player that you think/thought is/was going to be the next Jimmy Rollins isn’t right now, well, this is a big reason why.
I also have concerns with his positioning. Here he is last Thursday against the Mets:
This is what I wrote last week:
Look at catcher Kevin Plawecki’s target and then look at Crawford’s placement in the batter’s box. It is extremely difficult for him to get his hands and barrel from the starting position down to a pitch executed in this zone. The result, in this particular case, was a lazy fly ball to straight-away center field. There needs to be some type of modification to this swing, or Major League pitchers will continue to take advantage of what is a sizable weakness.
Saying a hitter is “too far from or too close to the plate” is in and of itself an oversimplification, but mechanics, in relationship with positioning, combine to validate such a statement. Some subtle changes to his setup from a year ago exacerbate the ineffective mechanical change:
On the left, you see his setup from yesterday. Notice his knees are more bent and his front elbow is extended slightly further away from his body than it is on the right.
What does this mean?
To me, it makes for a more rigid swing, one that has less flexibility and hampers his ability to get his hands to the baseball. In short, it’s a less athletic and more limiting swing. I’m not sure why these changes were implemented or at whose suggestion, but the early returns suggest that they were ill-advised.
None of this is to say that Crawford won’t eventually become a good player, or that he won’t turn it around this season, month, or week. His next start might yield a three-hit performance that gets him going. Maybe he never looks back, but I think that will be difficult without these issues getting cleaned up.