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In praise of J.P. Crawford, the Mariners’ Ghost-Star

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sorry the Mariners only get one shortstop a decade selected to the All-Star Game apparently, best of luck in 2028

When J.P. Crawford wasn’t selected as the Mariners’ MLB-designated representative for the All-Star Game, many Mariner fans were disappointed, but not entirely surprised. By now everyone knows how All-Star voting works; it’s a popularity contest, driven by whichever team’s front office is most insistent on marketing their candidates that year (remember #SendSegura?) and fans who are invested in a burgeoning or dynastic team’s success—see the Blue Jays-heavy representation in voting this year, or the 2015/2016 Oops! All Royals voting. The Mariners, as a smaller-city west coast team whose lack of relevance in the playoffs for the past, oh I don’t know, ever, don’t generally perform well in fan vote situations (2018 standing out as the exception), meaning the Mariners rep is more often chosen under MLB’s “if you bring a treat you have to bring enough to share with the entire class” rule.

It also doesn’t help that shortstop is a top-heavy position in the AL, so much so that there are two AL reserves at the position this year. Xander Bogaerts, who makes an All-Star team once every three years, apparently, is due; a fully-healthy Carlos Correa is having a career year before likely hitting the free agent market this off-season; Bo Bichette is the lightest-hitting of the trio even as his violent swing runs into the highest HR/FB% in Baby’s First Ballpark, but also has all of Canada and parts of northern New York voting for him. Even beyond that there’s Tim Anderson, who’s about neck-and-neck with J.P. in offense, maybe with a little more firepower.

But unfortunately, offensive stats are what talks in All-Star voting, not just from the fans but also per the version of MLB that Rob Manfred, who has a chest piece tattoo that says sponsors dig the long ball in six-inch Olde English font, wants to push. J.P. doesn’t barrel the ball up, nor does he hit the ball hard. If he sneaks a dinger over the wall, Twitter won’t immediately explode with gifs and flame emojis and breathless recitation of Statcast data. Even defensive metrics have somewhat abandoned J.P. this year; he somehow has an OAA of 0 (????), with a negative UZR rating (???????) despite collecting 9 DRS, second-highest among shortstops, and you know what maybe it’s just time to throw the whole defensive statistics away. Anyone who watches the Mariners day in and day out knows the role J.P. plays in the infield as the primary initiator of/participant in the Mariners’ league-leading number of double plays such as this one:

Of note: while plumbing MLB’s Film Room looking for sweet J.P. double plays, I noticed a bunch that were solid, but fairly routine-looking; perhaps even more refined positioning is partly responsible for J.P.’s low UZR rating? Hard to build up range factors when you don’t have to range at all. But of course there are still these kinds of plays:

Maybe defensive statistics just haven’t caught up with J.P.’s vertical.

There’s something else the dedicated Mariners-watcher knows about J.P. that doesn’t necessarily show up in his offensive stats relative to the rest of the league: how clutch he has been. J.P. just ended a 12-game hitting streak that had him tied for sixth-longest in the league, and is still working on a 22-game on-base streak that ties him for 6th-longest in baseball. He is second in all of baseball in FanGraphs’ Clutch metric, at 1.71, and that’s by a lot; it’s Willy Adames (1.76) and J.P., and then a gap until...J.P.’s teammate Kyle Seager, at 1.56, and then a really big gap until you get to Boston’s Alex Verdugo at 1.23 (interestingly, Verdugo’s teammate J.D. Martinez is the next on the list; maybe hitting really does come in bunches). J.P. played off his role in the walkoff win over Texas, saying that when the stadium is chanting your name, you have to come through; I mean, certainly you would like to come through but there’s a long road to travel between wanting to and actually doing it, a distance J.P. closed with one T-Mobile-shattering swing of the bat.

That points to another thing about Crawford, something MLB should be interested in: he’s one of the more quotable players in the game today. So many ballplayers parrot the same clichés, but J.P. interviews always allow some of his personality to shine through, and with that, quotes like “Bring it on, I’m gonna rake your face.” MLB talks a good game about letting the kids play and wanting to showcase a broad range of players so fans of all different backgrounds can feel represented in the game, and making J.P. Crawford an All-Star not only would have led to a memorable mic’d up segment, but would also have maybe (definitely) been the first time we’d seen rasta wraps in an All-Star Game:

Crawford’s laid-back, West Coast cool, with his reggae walkup songs and style of play—always making the plays but never looking like he was actually exerting himself to do so, gross—would have been an interesting counterpoint to Fernando Tatís Jr.’s high-energy, extreme-athleticism style. Probably J.P. wouldn’t have hit a bomb in the All-Star Game; maybe he wouldn’t have gotten a ball out of the infield against Yu Darvish and Brandon Woodruff and co. But Mariners fans who have been watching him these past few seasons know he would have done something, because J.P. has a knack for big moments and isn’t shy of the spotlight. Maybe that thing would have been getting on base via a walk and letting one of the bajillion big boppers elected to the ASG drive him in with a bomb; or getting on base when an infielder was slow on picking up a ball and tossing to an unfamiliar first baseman, then stealing second and using his plus speed to lope home on a single. Almost definitely he’d make an impact play on defense, because that’s what J.P. does. But none of that will happen, because baseball has settled on a vision of itself, a branding that excludes players like J.P., even as Seattle baseball fans witness day in and day out how valuable a player like that can be.

But hey. Even if All-Star voters and MLB itself don’t appreciate J.P.’s skillset, Mariners fans sure do. Nothing but respect for my All-Star.

Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images