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Hard-Hit Ball of the Week: J.P. Crawford was having a breakout year. Then he got better.

oh captain, my captain

Seattle Mariners v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

When we did J.P. Crawford Appreciation Week in May, we considered that a quarter of the way through the season, J.P. Crawford had become the best version of himself. We had entries on other aspects of his game, but the most important component was his offensive improvements. To that point, he was up to a 116 wRC+, which, had he continued it over the rest of the season, would have been a career best over his next best mark of 103 (2021 and 2022). Turns out, that he didn’t keep up that pace. Since that article was published, his wRC+ has been 140. That’s the 16th best in baseball out of 138 hitters. For the whole year, that puts him at 131, also 16th. He’s been on a mini-skid the past few games, but over the course of the season, he’s been simply unbelievable.

The biggest mechanical change he made during the offseason was to lower his hands and relax his traps, a change that helped him get behind the ball instead of on top of it. He’s kept that up since May. That change gives him a split second of extra time, which combines with his already elite eye to enable him to pick his pitches better than just about anybody. Walks have always been his calling card, and his 15.1% walk rate this year is a career best (aside from his 87 PAs in 2017).

Even more than racking up free passes, the early sign of his breakout was that he was spitting on pitches at an unheard of rate, another change he’s kept. His chase rate (swinging on pitches out of the strike zone) is the fourth-best in baseball. But he’s not just chasing less; he’s swinging at fewer strikes too. His swing rate is about 4% lower than it had been coming into this season. Rather than make him passive, he’s just hunting his pitches. If he falls behind because he gets a called strike or two, he still has the bat control to protect the plate in two-strike counts.

And that’s set him up to deliver the biggest change: relative to what came before, this version of J.P. Crawford is hitting the absolute bejeezus out of the ball. Picking the right pitches to swing at lets him get to his A swing much more often. His average exit velocity is still below league average, but it’s gone from one of the worst to just a hair under league average. And getting out of the basement has made all the difference. That’s how he’s been able to hit a career-high 15 home runs, like the Play of the Week:

That combination of elite patience and average power makes for a dangerous hitter. I know we covered a lot of this in May, but it’s a pretty big deal that he’s kept this up for an entire season. J.P. Crawford is a core piece of this roster, the contract he signed just before last year’s home opener extended him through 2026. That leaves three years at just $34 million, and that extension might be the most underrated transaction of the past few years in all of MLB.

Honorable Mentions

Cal Raleigh Puts on a Clinic

Maybe it was that Dan Wilson traveled with the team to fill in as the color commentator, but this road trip was a sight to see for lovers of catcher defense: