Is Jake Cronenworth close to breaking out of his slump?

Padres Jake Cronenworth

(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

Padres Jake Cronenworth
Credit: AP Photo

Jake Cronenworth is off to a slow start for the Padres this year. A closer look at several advanced statistics reveals he’s close to breaking out.

Through the first three weeks of the 2022 campaign, the San Diego Padres offense has not been consistent enough to support their (mostly) solid starting pitching.

While Manny Machado has been playing at an MVP level, the Padres haven’t been getting enough from players like Luke Voit, Wil Myers, and Jake Cronenworth.

The latter was one of the best surprises in the shortened 2020 season. In 54 games, Cronenworth hit .285 and led all rookies with 15 doubles. After hitting .266 over a full season last year, the Michigan product is off to a slow start – to say the least.

Entering Saturday’s game with the Dodgers, Cronenworth is hitting .160 (8-for-50). Is there reason to be concerned, or is he close to busting out of this slump?

Batting Statistics

On the surface, Cronenworth is taking walks at a 15.9 percent clip, higher than both of his two previous seasons. His 19.0 percent strikeout rate is slightly worse than previous seasons but still in the 64th percentile for the MLB.

Further, his 0.84 BB%/K% rate is the best of his young career. The difference is Cronenworth’s .205 BABIP. Simply put – he’s not striking out at a concerning level, but balls in play aren’t finding holes.

The league average BABIP is typically around .300, and Cronenworth was right there in 2020 and 2021 (via Fangraphs)

Season Team Level BB% K% BB/K AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BABIP
2020 SDP MLB 9.40% 15.60% 0.60 0.285 0.354 0.477 0.831 0.192 0.324
2021 SDP MLB 8.60% 14.00% 0.61 0.266 0.340 0.460 0.800 0.194 0.283
2022 SDP MLB 15.90% 19.00% 0.84 0.160 0.317 0.220 0.537 0.060 0.205
Total – – – MLB 9.20% 14.70% 0.63 0.264 0.342 0.449 0.790 0.185 0.287

The Padres have also faced a fair amount of left-handed pitchers in the early goings this year, and the platoon splits have not been kind to Cronenworth. Last year, he was actually better against lefties, hitting .270 compared to .265 against right-handers. However, Cronenworth is batting a lowly .105 against southpaws in 2022.

Diving into some StatCast and expected batting statistics, Cronenworth’s 5.1 percent barrel rate is the lowest of his career, as is his average 87.2 mph exit velocity. That said, his exit velocity isn’t much lower than in the two previous years.

With an average 15.2-degree launch, Cronenworth could be getting under the baseball too often this year. But it’s not much different than his 10.6-degree and 12.5-degree launch angle in 2020 and 2021.

Despite the lowest barrel percentage of his career, Cronenworth is finding the sweet spot of his bat at a 38.5 percent clip – the best rate thus far.

StatCast models Cronenworth’s expected slugging percentage (xSLG), expected weighted-on-base average (xwOBA), and expected batting average (xBA) significantly higher than his actual values.

As such, his -0.098 wOBA versus xwOBA ranks in the bottom 10th percentile of the league (via Baseball Savant)

Season Barrel % EV LA Sweet Spot % xBA xSLG wOBA xwOBA
2020 10.5 89.8 10.6 37.8 0.323 0.541 0.356 0.398
2021 7.2 88.6 12.5 35.8 0.282 0.449 0.341 0.348
2022 5.1 87.2 15.2 38.5 0.250 0.426 0.259 0.357
Player 7.8 88.7 12.2 36.4 0.289 0.467 0.338 0.36
MLB 6.6 88.3 12.0 32.9 0.246 0.408 0.317 0.316

Plate Discipline

Going back to his 19.0 percent strikeout rate, Cronenworth’s plate discipline has been great this year. Of the 254 pitches thrown his way, he’s chased pitches out of the strike zone at only a 14.3 percent clip.

Of those, he’s made contact 72.2 percent of the time – both better than the league average.

Nothing appears out of the ordinary here. His 87.9 percent contact rate for pitches in the strike zone is the lowest of his career, but it’s not far off from his rookie year and is still significantly better than the 82.0 percent league average.

Season Pitches Zone % Zone Swing % Zone Contact % Chase % Chase Contact % Edge % Swing % Whiff %
2020 754 53.2 58.1 89.7 19.0 61.0 39.4 39.8 16.7
2021 2435 50.4 62.5 92.2 24.0 69.0 43.7 43.2 13.7
2022 254 50.4 51.6 87.9 14.3 72.2 42.5 33.1 15.5
Player 3443 51.0 60.7 91.4 21.9 67.5 42.7 41.7 14.4
MLB 48.5 66.8 82.0 28.3 58.4 42.6 47.0 24.6

Pitch Tracking

Of all the pitches he’s seen this season, Cronenworth is struggling to hit the breaking ball. In fact, he has yet to get a hit in such scenarios. Based on StatCast’s quality of contact modeling, the 28-year-old should be hitting .125 against breaking balls. Still not overly impressive, but this is generally the theme on all pitches that Cronenworth has seen.

One thing that stands out the most is his average 43-degree launch angle (LA) on breaking balls. Added, he has a 50.0 percent whiff rate for this pitch category. Essentially this means that Cronenworth is popping up these pitches or fanning on them altogether.

For reference, he hit .295 on breaking balls last season.

Pitch Type # % PA AB H SO BBE BA xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA EV LA Whiff% PutAway%
Fastballs 169 66.5 40 34 7 6 29 0.206 0.260 0.235 0.388 0.254 0.326 86.8 11 8.3 12.8
Breaking 49 19.3 14 9 0 4 5 0.000 0.125 0.000 0.319 0.252 0.368 84.5 43 50.0 22.2
Offspeed 36 14.2 8 7 1 2 5 0.143 0.363 0.429 0.750 0.295 0.491 92.2 9 10.0 16.7


Conclusion

Cronenworth is off to a lousy start this season, but thankfully, it’s still very early. He’ll need to get back to hitting left-handed pitchers and breaking balls.

However, his .205 BABIP doesn’t appear long-term.

Consider that Cronenworth’s .250 BABIP in the final month of the 2021 season and .224 in the last month of the shortened 2020 season were his lowest in those respective seasons. This is all part of the ebbs and flows of a baseball season.

Instead of ending the season on a poor note, Cronenworth is starting the year in this manner. Balls will start finding the grass as the 2022 season unfolds, and his first month will be an afterthought.

On Saturday, he had two hits, both were off lefty Tyler Anderson, a single and a solo shot. Could be the start of the turnaround?

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Ryan Sikes
Padres writer/editor for East Village Times. LA Kings writer/editor for Hockey Royalty. IBWAA member.

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