As Mariners' quarterback, Crawford calls audible

Shortstop changes offseason regimen to enable adjustments in the batter's box

February 25th, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- insists that he and the Mariners have moved on from the tense postseason series against the Astros last year. But Seattle’s fan-favorite shortstop believes the club can still channel that angst into inspiration. 

“I’m still pissed off about it,” Crawford said. “We were so close and just thinking about how close we were, it hurts even more. You go into all your workouts in the offseason with that chip on your shoulder and just want to get back out there and just get going again.”

Crawford’s commentary isn’t cliché, either. His workouts took new heights after a thorough evaluation of his swing movements -- and how to better exploit his strengths -- from experts at Driveline Baseball, the high-tech facility in Kent, Wash. For Crawford, who always had returned to his native Southern California every winter, the logistics were easier because he bought a house in the Seattle suburbs and made it his permanent home. 

And the takeaways were eye-opening, especially given that Crawford in years past had trepidation about visiting such facilities.

“I’m just trying to get to use my body better to create force or more power from the ground up,” Crawford said. “Better sequencing with my lower half.”

The first results of Crawford’s adjustments manifested in his first Cactus League at-bat on Friday, an opposite-field single off Nick Martinez in the Mariners’ 3-2 win over San Diego. It was trademark for Crawford, the on-base machine, slapping the ball to a gap, but it also featured loud contact -- something he hopes is a bigger part of his hitting profile.

“It's a game of adaptation,” Crawford said. “Pitchers have adjusted to us, and we have to do our job to adjust back to them. They're not pitching down. They're not throwing sinkers anymore. So swinging down at the ball isn't going to work, and that's what I've been taught my whole life. You've got to get out of that. You have to change.”

This isn’t the same objective that Crawford had two years ago, when he arrived at camp 20 pounds heavier intending to add more slug. It’s more about leveraging his lower half better and finding a smoother feel for his swing, which, admittedly, became long as the season wore on.

Crawford posted a 2022 slash line of .243/.339/.336 (.675 OPS) and was worth 2.0 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs, seeing a 39-point dip in OPS and 1.3 dip in WAR from 2021. At a premium position, especially after the club committed $51 million to him and for two offseasons in a row stayed away from the loaded shortstop classes in free agency, Crawford and the Mariners recognize the need for more production in ‘23.

“He’s kind of the quarterback of our team, so to speak, but he's got room for growth, room for improvement,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He wants to get better, and credit to him for stepping out and understanding to maybe train a little bit differently.”

Part of Crawford’s struggles -- especially in the final two months, when he slashed .200/.340/.259 (.599 OPS) in 53 games -- could’ve also been a byproduct of being as banged up as any “healthy” Mariners player down the stretch. He suffered back, pectoral, leg and knee ailments but never hit the injured list and played in 145 games after playing 160 in ’21.

The Mariners saw the toll and now plan to use more regularly as a backup middle infielder for Crawford and new second baseman . The club also believes doing so will better bring out Moore’s strengths after he slashed .224/.368/.385.

“He wants to be out there every day even if he's not at 100%,” Servais said of Crawford. “As a manager, I certainly appreciate that. I have a ton of respect for that. But I think it's also really important that we understand you know where he's at and the value of giving him more days off.”

Said Crawford: “The numbers, they weren’t there last year. But I stayed on the field. I wasn’t 100 percent, but I stayed on the field and tried to help my team in any way I could. That’s what leaders do. There are no complainers out there. Just go out, do your job and help your team.”