Why this hitter has blossomed with Rockies

July 7th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Thomas Harding’s Rockies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Hitting is often overly deconstructed and overanalyzed, as anyone who watches YouTube videos or pays for instruction can tell you. Yet, as Rockies first baseman C.J. Cron is demonstrating, it is as simple as learning for yourself.

“I wanted to utilize what I thought was the best part of my swing, which was my hands,” Cron said.

Hard work led him to a beautifully simple philosophy, one that from joining the Rockies before last season through Monday (when he homered in a 5-3 loss to the Dodgers) has produced 48 home runs and a .905 OPS.

Even as a longtime part-time player, Cron managed solid numbers playing behind Albert Pujols with the Angels, and had big home run seasons with the Rays (30 in 2018) and Twins (25 in ’19).

Still, he wanted more. By his debut with the Tigers in ’20, he had turned toward the pitcher in his stance, and added a higher leg kick to improve his timing.

If he wanted, Cron could take you so deep into mechanics and so far into the numbers that you’d never escape. His father, Chris Cron, is the Athletics’ assistant hitting coach and has a long background in the subject, and his brother Kevin plays first base for SSG Landers in Korea. C.J. Cron also learned quite a bit from his days playing for the Rays, a most analytical bunch.

But starting in 2020, when he played just 13 games with the Tigers (and knocked four homers) before a knee injury scuttled his year, the approach of trusting his hands led to changes in his setup and swing that have made him a dangerous middle-of-the-lineup bat.

First, though, look at Cron’s Sept. 2, 2018, homer for the Rays at Cleveland. In his stance, the front shoulder is facing the pitcher. Also, he has a short, low stride toward the ball.

He carried the same swing to the Twins in ’19.

Still, he wanted more. By his debut with the Tigers in '20, he had turned toward the pitcher in his stance, and added a higher leg kick to improve his timing.

The goals were to see pitches better and longer, and give him the opportunity to adjust his hands to the pitch. The result is the ability to hit hard to the pull side or to the opposite field. The injury with the Tigers occurred before the adjustments had a chance to take in games, although his .346 on-base percentage in 52 plate appearances served as a foreshadow. But he blossomed with the Rockies.

Two statistical categories show how the changes made him a more complete hitter. Cron batted .281 last season -- 18 points higher than any previous season. He posted a .375 on-base percentage, after not clearing .322 in a full and healthy season.

The key was becoming an all-fields hitter. Last year, the homers and hits went everywhere.

This year, just two of his homers going into Tuesday were to the opposite field. But the hits chart and his batting average show he is using the entire diamond.

And, as he showed with a 486-foot homer on June 17 at home against the Padres, on a night he homered twice, Cron can still drive balls a long way.

Cron’s power was enough to earn him opportunities, even if he had to bounce around for a few years. By showing power and becoming a more complete hitter, he earned his first multi-year contract -- two years and $14.5 million with the Rockies, signed at the end of last season.

It’s all because Cron found himself, and decided not to be anyone but himself.

“If you just look at my stance now, not many people hit like that,” Cron said. “So, it's obviously different. But I wasn't afraid to be different up there. I think I kind of just thought to myself, what am I best at? And I kind of just tinkered from there.”