This offseason C.J. Cron signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Tigers worth $6.1 million dollars. It seems like a bit much for a player who’s never had a single season above a 2.2 WAR. Through 6 major league seasons, C.J. Cron has a career 4.6 WAR. That means that he averages about a 0.8 WAR per year. So, the question is: Why did C.J. Cron just get paid $6 million dollars?
When you take a deeper look at how C.J. Cron performs at the plate, it becomes evident that the Tigers are paying him for the player that he could become and not the player that he currently is. Cron is entering his age 30 season which usually means that he should be at the back-end of his prime. I wouldn’t exactly call Cron’s production a “prime” though as his performance isn’t something to take note of. His best year came in 2018 with the Rays. It was that season where Cron recorded the infamous 2.2 WAR the I referenced earlier on. Cron hit 30 long bombs that year but that’s about it. He only carried a .253/.311/.469 slash line showing that he isn’t exactly a productive hitter.
I will say though that when it comes to Statcast metrics, Cron mashes the baseball. Cron posted a 10.6 Brls/PA% (Barrels per plate appearance) in 2019 which ranked 6th best in all of baseball. When you go to the leaderboard section of Baseball Savant, Brls/PA% is the first ranking that you see. Cron fell behind Nelson Cruz, Gary Sanchez, Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, and Miguel Sano in that order. So, why doesn’t Cron produce like those talented hitters?
Well for one Cron didn’t had the best luck at the plate in 2019 as he recorded a .277 BABIP. The league average usually falls close to .300 showing Cron was less fortunate than most. Part of the reason for this is that Cron is heavily shifted against. In 2019 Cron was shifted against 20.8% of the time. His wOBA without the shift was .407 while against the shift he recorded a .304 wOBA. So, the shift does some damage to Crone.
The impact that the shift has on Crone and his luck against the defense goes beyond those numbers too. As I mentioned Crone only carried a .469 SLG% in 2019. However, when we incorporate statcast Crone finished with a .548 xSLG. That puts him in the top 9% of the league. So Crone’s surface-level stats don’t exactly show a talented hitter but once we incorporate more accurate numbers it’s evident that Crone does have some value.
As I mentioned earlier, Cron finished for 6th best in 2019 in barrels per plate appearance. He basically performed at a rate where he would barrel up a baseball once every ten times at the plate. I would consider that to be valuable. In total, C.J. Cron carried a 15 Barrel% in 2019 which put him in the top 5% of the league and it has increased year after year. So, it seems that the conclusion is evident. C.J. Cron is increasing his power each season and is becoming a better player. 2019 was an unlucky year for him but he still found a way to drive the ball.
One thing that does still limit Cron, is his ability to get on base. In 2019 he had a .311 OBP. Across the entire league that ranked 24th worst out of hitters with at least 450 plate appearances.
One bright spot though is that his chase% is getting better. Although in order to make significant progress in getting on base, he is going to need to make a leap. If you notice in the line graph above his improvements have been marginal.
It’s evident that the Tigers are paying Crone six-million dollars in hopes of the player that he could become. With it only being a one year contract it’s a smart move. If Crone does indeed continue to improve and somehow overcome the limits placed on him by the shift, then the Tigers could flip him for some prospects come the trade deadline. If that is indeed how the situation pans out, then it’s exactly what the Tigers are aiming for. If not, then it was a smart and educated risk to take on a player that does have some future potential.