Like many of you, I still remember last year’s roster shakeup. I remember the surprise. I remember the shock. The outrage. It was the reason I started Trop Talk.
At first it was a way for me to educate friends and family, many of whom were casual fans who consumed much of their Rays news from local sports radio and Marc Topkin articles in the Tampa Bay Times. I knew they deserved better.
A year later, I have become part of a community. A community that also knows that fans of the franchise deserve better. And this is why I need to make the case for Rays first baseman CJ Cron.
Popular opinion suggests that the Rays are ‘likely’ to move past Cron before the November 30th non tender deadline. That he will be a casualty of this year’s shakeup. But the funny thing about said popular opinion is that it’s coming from the same guys who were sure the Rays were tanking, and, moreover, were sure they would lose 100 games this year. If we learned one thing, it’s f@!$ those guys!
That’s not to say there’s nothing counting against Cron. His defense is questionable, he doesn’t walk much, his splits were large in 2018 (more on that later), and his 30 HR for a first baseman aren’t really all too impressive (or were they?). Worse yet, he’s projected to get a pretty hefty raise via arbitration. On the surface, you might say it’s a no brainer for the penny conscious Rays to move on. To be honest, I fell for it as well.
But if you dig a little deeper, it’s more of a no brainer to keep him.
Let’s first remember that, by many measures, both traditional and advanced, Cron was the Rays’ most productive hitter in ’18, not including the 2nd half acquisitions of Tommy Pham and Ji-Man Choi. With that said, it’s hard to imagine any world where the team is ‘likely’ to let him go. But let’s not stop there.
Here is a list of things that Cron led American League first baseman in in 2018:
- Home Runs
To name a few.
So he was better than guys like (in no particular order) Jose Abreu (who made $13 million in 2018), Yonder Alonso ($8 million), Yuli Gurriel ($9.5 million), and let’s not forget Chris Davis (too much. just. way too much). If you include the National League, add guys like Carlos Santana, Eric Hosmer and Ian Desmond. All of whom will make at least close to or double what Cron is projected to make next year.
Even with those numbers, there are still questions. First, his splits; the biggest argument against him.
In 2018, Cron slashed .231/.300/.467 against righties and .300/.376/.553 against lefties. Even with that disparity, he was still 2nd among AL first basemen against righties in homers (22), 4th in SLG (.467) and 4th in wRC+ (110), which make him far from unplayable, debunking the notion that the Rays would be overpaying him to be a part time player. Looking beyond 2018, his splits are actually much closer, nearly identical.
There’s one other thing that comes to mind. CJ Cron had a career year in 2018. Sell high! It’s the Rays way, right? That may seem like the right instinct, but again, we must dig a little deeper. While it may be true that Cron broke out in 2018, saying he had a ‘career year’ suggests a regression is coming. And as I look into his numbers, I don’t see anything to suggest that would happen in 2019.
Let me explain by using fellow Ray Tommy Pham as an example. When acquired by the Rays at the trade deadline, Pham was slashing just .248/.331/.399. He seemed like a shadow of his MVP like 2017 self. But his average exit velocity, hard hit rate, xwOBA and relatively low BABIP all suggested he had been running into some bad luck, and that a turnaround was likely. The second he put on a Rays uniform, it happened, and he mashed his way to a Miguel Cabrera-in-his-prime-esque .343/.448/.622.
Which brings us back to Cron. To suggest a regression for him in 2019, there must be something indicate it. Like a large gap between his expected stats vs his actual stats, for example. A high and unsustainable BABIP perhaps. We should see numbers opposite of Pham’s, right? Well, lets take a look.
Cron’s BABIP in ’18 was .293, which is right around the league average and actually below his career mark of .297. His xwOBA and actual wOBA are an identical .347. His SLG (.493) is just barely above his xSLG (.488). Finally, his average exit velocity, an even 88 MPH, was again right around the league average.
What all of this means is simply this: CJ Cron’s 2018 was more reflective of his true talent, rather than him overachieving. All he needed was more playing time. The Rays gave it to him, and he delivered.
Now, it’s time for the Rays to pay him just a little closer to what he deserves. All told, the $5 or so million he projects to make in ’19 projects to be far more of a bargain than a burden.