France following Crawford's lead in hopes of bounceback year

This browser does not support the video element.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- A wholesome moment manifested on Saturday, when Ty France discussed J.P. Crawford being his inspiration for his extended offseason work at Driveline Baseball, in an effort to bounce back after a disappointing season.

“Honestly, what he did last year, it was special,” said France, who ripped a double in his first Cactus League at-bat. “So, like I've said before, if I was going to start somewhere, he kind of had the answer. So I'm very, very grateful for that.”

After a brief pause, Crawford -- who was sitting at the nextdoor locker -- and a handful of reporters each echoed: “Aww.”

The Mariners’ inseparable duo took their on-field friendship to another level at the advanced facility in suburban Seattle, because after Crawford credited his career year to the work he did there the previous winter, France wanted in. And France, who was embarrassed with how he finished 2023, feels like he unlocked something.

“I think that I'm obviously a really good player, if I can get back to where I was, but I think there's more in the tank,” France said. “Almost my whole career, I was mechanically hitting wrong. So, to be able to clean all that stuff up this offseason and kind of just add to my swing, I feel like, honestly, I couldn't tell you what I'm capable of. If we get back to what I was, great -- but I think there's more.”

France has always been able to hit. His 79.3 percent contact rate since joining the Mariners in 2020 is second best on the team, behind only -- you guessed it -- Crawford. That tool helped him blossom into an All-Star in '22, when he slashed .308/.376/.470 in the first half that season. But his line of .247/.323/.379 since has been stark, to the point where it looked like he might be a non-tender candidate this offseason, particularly as he was due a notable pay raise in arbitration, to $6.775 million million.

France’s contact ability never subsided, but he wasn’t optimizing it like before. Playing through injuries certainly contributed, but France also recognized that pitchers were exploiting him at his weakest parts of the zone, particularly inside.

So, for the first time in his pro career, France put his swing into the hands of outside counsel.

“It's crazy to see how bad my swing was on a mechanical aspect,” the first baseman said.

Specifically, France felt he was hitting too much with his hands and not leveraging the rest of his body, most notably his lower half. Utilizing Driveline’s biometric data and other technology, France estimates that he added 3.5 mph of bat speed. Conditioning and trimming down was a big part of the plan, too, after he ranked in the seventh percentile in Statcast’s sprint speed.

France has always had power, topping out at 112.7 mph in exit velocity last season, but it’s come in short spurts, with a homer on just 7.3 percent of his fly balls last year, by far the lowest on the team and down from 14.1 percent in 2022.

“The biggest thing is just my posture,” France said. “I know once I get enough at-bats under my belt, the swing will be there. ... I've noticed with inside pitches, I'm able to get to them a little better and stay on them longer. So if I'm pulling the ball correctly on hard stuff in, my swing is in a good spot.”

For all the Mariners’ offseason turnover, perhaps their biggest addition could be in-house. France also won’t have the pressure of hitting high in the lineup as in years past and is probably slated somewhere within Nos. 6-8 holes. He’ll also have some defensive backup in the form of Luke Raley to allow for off-days, something not afforded last year when he played in 158 games.

“When you train that way, it brings a certain confidence along with it,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It’s like, ‘I've worked so hard, I know this is going to pay off.’”

If anyone can say as much, it’s Crawford.

“You could tell there was a different mode this offseason, within like a different gear that he took,” Crawford said. “You could tell, he was in the weight room almost every day. I haven’t ever seen Ty in such great shape in my life.”

More from