A huge topic of discussion in the realm of Padres’ baseball this season has been the perceived disappointment that has been Jake Cronenworth. After a stellar 2021 campaign where Cronenworth slashed .266/.340/.460 with 21 home runs and a 116 wRC+, the ‘Friar Faithful’ exuberated enormous amounts of confidence in the 28-year-old as a potential cornerstone of this team.
Things haven’t gone par for the course this season, however, as 495 plate appearances into the 2022 campaign Cronenworth is slashing .239/.341/.387. A dip in batting average and power have dropped him to the bottom of this lineup on a regular basis and generated plenty of question marks from the fans about his long-term potential for this team.
Before we truly jump into this, know that the defense of Cronenworth doesn’t come without criticism. He’s striking out almost six-percent more this year than he did last and it’s obvious that he’s not performing up to expectations. Regardless, Cronenworth is by no means having a ‘poor’ season and he’s definitely been a valuable asset to this Padres team.
We’ll start offensively where a lot of criticism has taken place, and likely rightfully so. As mentioned above, Cronenworth is striking out relatively significantly more than he was last season and a large part of that can be attributed to his lack of success against fastballs, particularly up in the zone. Last year, Cronenworth batted .272 with a 9.1% whiff rate against heaters, an output that has dropped to .239 and 11.9% respectively in 2022.
He’s not hitting fastballs nearly as well, or as hard enough, as he was the season prior, and there’s reason to believe that it’s because he simply isn’t capable of catching up to upper-quadrant heaters due to his bat path.
On average last year, Cronenworth’s launch angle on fastballs was 11 degrees, a number that’s jumped up to 20 degrees this year. Watch him on video and you’ll see a much steeper approach to the baseball than previously, and it’s definitely hurting him more than it’s benefitted. Players with steeper bat paths tend to swing-and-miss more, which may also be a reason why Cronenworth’s strikeout numbers have increased.
Though he’s having a down year for his standards, it’s not like Cronenworth has provided the Padres with zero production. He’s walking nearly three-percentage points higher than last year (10.7%) and is still reaching base at around the same mark despite a 30 point dip in batting average. He’s also driven in 59 runs and scored 70 on his own, equating to a 110 wRC+ currently, only six digits lower than last season.
Perhaps Cronenworth’s biggest asset to the team is his defensive prowess, particularly how good he is with the glove and his ability to move around the diamond. He’s one of the game’s best defensive infielders, per StatCast, and can play virtually anywhere on the diamond exceptionally well, shifting to first base and shortstop on occasion. Because of his glove, Cronenworth’s accumulated 3.2 WAR this year despite the offensive struggles, ranking 15th amongst National League position players and third at his position.
In his current state, Cronenworth isn’t going to be a star player on a championship caliber team, but to say he hasn’t been productive or brought value to the table just isn’t true. He’s one of the best defenders in baseball and you’re no longer asking him to produce at the top of the lineup, so there’s not as much pressure on him offensively anymore. And, given all of that, he won’t reach free agency until after the 2025 season, having not even started arbitration yet. He’s not a superstar, but Cronenworth can definitely be a contributing piece to San Diego’s World Series aspirations.