It was a good, bad start for Jake Cronenworth of the Padres
The first seven weeks of this season have provided quite a Cronundrum.
It’s almost impossible to have done so little and so much, the way Jake Cronenworth has for the Padres in 2022.
The Padres offense isn’t good, and part of that is Cronenworth isn’t doing so well.
The Padres’ record is good, and part of that is that Cronenworth is doing just fine.
“He often does things that maybe don’t show up on the stat sheet,” Bob Melvin said. “But they show up on the scoreboard at the end of the game.”
Cronenworth is batting .211/.302/.331 with three homers this season for the team, whose 28-16 record is tied for second-best in the National League.
If there was a mural in Petco Park to depict the players the Padres pinned their oft-stated belief that their offense will happen because “guys have track records” on it, Cronenworth would stand out the most.
He entered this season having hit .271/.343/.464. The list of players who started their careers with the Padres and had better numbers after 206 games is short.
Only Fernando Tatis Jr. is ranked higher in all three categories. Johnny Grubb, Tony Gwynn, Gene Richards and Bip Roberts all had higher average and on-base percentage than Cronenworth, but not higher slugging percentage. Tatis (.996), Grubb (.813) and Gwynn (.811) were the only players with higher OPS than Cronenworth (.808) after 206 games.
Cronenworth hits a lot more but also walks a little more than he did in his first two seasons. It is difficult to determine exactly where he struggled. He always took a lot of shots, although he generally didn’t miss as many swings as he did this year. His batting average on balls in play is .258, down 35 points from his first two seasons.
He has repeatedly explained that he just didn’t “feel good” at home plate.
But the problem with Cronenworth is that the Padres didn’t give a second thought to him not being in training virtually every day. He started all but one game and did so at three positions in the field and as a designated hitter.
Defensively, he has always been close to perfection and at times practically transcendent.
We need only look back to Monday’s 3-2 victory over the Brewers and Cronenworth’s diving game on a base-laden pitch in the middle that was far more spectacular than it even seemed at first glance.
Cronenworth, playing shortstop while Ha-seong Kim rested, was positioned left of second base at the edge of the dirt. His knowledge of left-handed hitter Kolten Wong and the type and location of the pitch Nick Martinez was throwing prompted Cronenworth to move slightly to his right when the pitch was thrown. This meant he had to change course and swing back to his left when the ball was hit on the other side of second base instead.
Cronenworth lay down in a dive on the grass, grabbed the ball and in a fluid motion that took less than a second, he swung his body into a position in which his right knee was on the ground while his left leg was outstretched and his chest was pointed at first base as he simultaneously transferred the ball from the glove to the throwing hand. At that time, his throw to first base from the ground was a foregone conclusion. Wong was two steps out.
It was the kind of game that could be watched 10 times and enjoyed for 10 different moments. There was probably no more eloquent way to sum it up than what Martinez said after the game: “What a game. What a (expletive) play.”
Cronenworth’s five defensive points saved fourth among MLB second basemen. He also ably assumed the spot in shallow right field previously occupied by Manny Machado in the shift and is the infield policeman.
Since arriving at spring training in 2020, Cronenworth has amazed teammates and coaches with his baseball knowledge — stats, analytics, salary history, where players went to college or high school and, most importantly, , the instincts and intricacies of the game on the pitch.
“He knows the game very well,” said Eric Hosmer. “For our infield, he’s the one that moves everyone. He constantly communicates with everyone. It’s the kid at school you cheat on his homework. I’m telling you, he’s the guy you know is going to do his homework and get it done right.
Players like Tatis are said to rarely crumble because of their speed.
Cronenworth hasn’t been able to shake off his crunch this season, but it’s a crunch wonder.
He’s only got .302 on-base percentage, but he’s second on the team in runs scored. (For whatever the Padres’ offense is missing, they rank 12e in marked points.)
He will bring a four-game hitting streak and an eight-game scoreless streak to Friday’s game against the Pirates. Earlier this season, he put together a 16-game on-base streak.
“There’s something he does every day,” Hosmer said.
Well, maybe not every day. But that it can be said without it being taken as nonsense makes it quite true.
It’s only been one streak this season that Cronenworth has gone more than one game without a hit. It was a 0-for-23 slip in a seven-game series, but it’s still ridiculous that a guy who flirted with Mendoza’s line would get hits as often as Cronenworth. There have only been seven games this year in which he hasn’t reached base via hit, walk or pitch. Add receiver interference, and there are only six games he hasn’t won.
One particular skill that Cronenworth has shown is his ability to save a day. He reached base in his last plate appearance in 15 games. The game was within a point in four of them and within two points in two others.
It reached a point recently that Melvin actually showed Cronenworth a stat sheet as he assured him of his value to the team.
“It’s just reassuring, especially when it comes from a guy like him,” Cronenworth said. “The reminder helps. Obviously, everyone in this clubhouse, whoever it is – Manny (Machado), Hoz, a rookie – you’re going to be hard on yourself no matter what. But at the same time, when it happens, I don’t mean it eases your mind, but I think it just gives you the freedom to go out and play and know that yeah, I know my numbers don’t match. don’t flaunt but I actually help the team.