Exploring the struggles of Padres’ Jake Cronenworth

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Cronenworth is off to a miserable start to his 2023 season, mirroring the team as a whole. What is going on with the two-time All-Star?

There is plenty of blame to go around as to why the Padres are floundering below .500 as the calendar approaches July. The Padres are the worst-hitting team, with runners in scoring position. Their lineup and bullpen are both top-heavy, with stars at the top and black holes near the bottom of the depth chart. It seems like most, if not all, of the hitters, are underperforming to what we have seen previously.

Jake Cronenworth is no exception. In fact, he might be the most glaring. After being a throw-in to the trade that merited the Padres Tommy Pham from the Rays, the left-handed infielder burst onto the scene in 2020. Between 2020 and 2022, Cronenworth put together a .770 OPS, 118 OPS+, with a combined 10.5 WAR. His 9.8 fWAR in that timeframe is third only to Jose Altuve and Marcus Semien among full-time second basemen.

Then he made the move to first base to start this season. This was necessitated by the Padres signing Xander Bogaerts, shifting Fernando Tatis Jr. to the outfield, and Ha-Seong Kim to second base full-time. The thinking was, with the new rules with shift limitations, having an athletic first baseman like Cronenworth would be beneficial.

Defensively, he has been average. He owns 0 Defensive Runs Saved and is actually poor in regards to Outs Above Average at first, in the 8th percentile. The transition to first base has not been as smooth as most predicted, on either side of the ball. Perhaps one is affecting the other.

At the plate, it has been even worse. To put it bluntly, Cronenworth is one of the worst-hitting first basemen in the league this year, ranking 29th in batting average and 24th in wRC+.

Batting Average
2020-2022 .256
2023 .210


2020-2022 .770
2023 .663


2020-2022 114
2023 87


K %
2020-2022 16.5
2023 21.4


Barrel %
2020-2022 6.9
2023 3.8

There has been a dramatic drop-off in power and quality contact with Cronenworth this season. He is getting less than half of the barrels he did before while striking out five percent more often.

The biggest difference seems to be where he hits the ball.

Pull %
2020-2022 33.7
2023 38.9


Oppo %
2020-2022 28.7
2023 23.2

After this review, it appears there has been a change in philosophy. Whether that is by his own doing or based on poor advice from the Padres’ coaching and analytics staff is unclear. He is pulling the ball more, going to the opposite field less, with less authority. His barrels-per-plate appearance rate has dropped from 3.8 last season to now 2.5.

He’s trying to pull the ball more, and it is resulting in weaker contact. This is also displayed by him grounding into seven double plays already this season through 77 games. His career high is eight.

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It’s unclear why this change in approach took place. Clearly, Cronenworth is trying to pull the ball more, which is resulting in weakly rolling over pitches. The two-time All-Star is at his best when he is looking to drive the ball into the gaps, especially the left-center gap, for extra bases. It appears he is stuck trying an approach that doesn’t use his best traits.

Cronenworth is trying to be someone he is not- a power-hitting, pull-happy first baseman. That simply is not his game.

His overall swing rate has increased as well. From 2020 to 2022, he swung 41.9% of the time. Thus far, in 2023, that rate is up to 45.6%. He is batting .190 against four-seam fastballs this season. That is a far cry from the .316 mark in 2021.

The Michigan native is swinging more often, pulling balls more often, with weaker contact, while also striking out more. It is a concerning trend. It’s up to him and the Padres’ player development staff to turn it around quickly.

Simply, the Padres need Cronenworth just about as badly as they need anyone else in the lineup to get it going.

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