Jake Cronenworth hitting a new level for Padres

May 1, 2024; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres first baseman Jake Cronenworth (9) celebrates after hitting a grand slam home run against the Cincinnati Reds during the seventh inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Cronenworth had a rough 2023. The difference between his first year moving to first base and now are stark, in a good way.

Remember when Jake Cronenworth was a throw-in to the “Tommy Pham trade” with the Tampa Bay Rays?

Since then, Cronenworth has played four different defensive positions (not counting that one time he pitched) and been named an All-Star twice.

However, 2023 was not the Michigan native’s best year. The Padres acquiring Xander Bogaerts meant Cronenworth would shift full-time to first base. Typically, that is a position where you are expected to be a prolific producer at the plate. Especially with power. Not to mention, he received a seven-year, $80 million extension, which added to the pressure. Last year, Cronenworth’s transition to first base was a rough one with the glove and bat.

At the plate, he hit .229 with a paltry .689 OPS and 91 OPS+. Defensively, he ranked in the 33rd percentile for Outs Above Average at first. Which is surprising, given he is more athletic than your typical first baseman.

Now, in 2024, he looks like a new man.

The power has returned, which looked sapped entirely last season. His five homers and 24 RBI are already half of what he had all last year in just 137 plate appearances. He is a career .421 slugger, yet this season he is currently slugging .470. His 137 OPS+ would be a new career high and, frankly, should be considered All-Star level if he can maintain it.

His peripheral numbers also tell the story.

Per Baseball Savant, his 2023 page was very “blue,” meaning he ranked in the lower percentile in most categories.

Compare that to now, where you see much more red. He ranks in the 90th percentile or better in most offensive categories. He is hitting the ball harder than almost ever before in his entire career. His max exit velocity this season was a batted all at 110.8 mph. That ties his career high set in 2021.

He is hitting line drives at a 24.2% rate, which is his highest since his rookie year of 2020. His 12.1% barrel rate also rates as a career high.

So what happened?

Diving into his plate discipline, he is whiffing and chasing pitches far less than last year. His swing rate on pitches outside the strike zone is down over seven percent from last season. His overall swing percentage is also down. It appears the lefty is being more selective about when and where he swings at pitches.

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Also, as an added bonus, his defense went from poor last season to borderline elite so far in 2024, ranking in the 88th percentile for Outs Above Average. He already has 2 Defensive Runs Saved at first base this season when he had just 1 all last year.

It appears Cronenworth is a rejuvenated player in 2024. He punctuated his recent hot stretch with what became a game-winning grand slam to seal a series win over the Reds.

Will he maintain this hot pace? It’s so hard to do that in Major League Baseball over six-plus months. He likely will hit a cold spell. Even so, he is hitting the ball harder and being more disciplined at the plate than ever before. If that holds true, it might be a party in the Crone Zone all year.

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