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Has C.J. turned the Croner?

Harry How/Getty Images

When the Angels drafted Christopher John Cron 17th overall in the 2011 draft, he represented a clear changing of the guard with new director of amateur scouting Ric Wilson. While Angel fans had grown accustomed to Eddie Bane selecting raw, toolsy prospects in need of major development, Cron was seen as a polished college bat who would inject some much-needed power into an Angels' system that rarely produced it.

Cron held his own in the minors, though never reached the heights one would hope of a bat-only, first round draft pick. Still, he hit just enough and in 2014 finally reached the majors. In his first two years he put on an awesome power display, clubbing a combined 27 HR in 657 PA, establishing himself as a fixture in the line-up in the second half of the 2015 season. Despite the undeniable raw power, a lack of secondary skills kept C.J. in a position to prove he deserved a regular spot in the 2016 line-up.

A slow start to the 2016 season did not do him any favors, as he batted a meager .203/.295/.290 in the first month of the season, with only 3 extra base hits. In spite of those struggles, there were some positive takeaways if you dig a bit beneath the surface. Most notably, Cron seemed to make a conscious effort to improve his previously poor plate discipline. In his first 20 games, Cron was walking in 9.1% of his PA, a huge jump over the 4% he averaged his first two seasons. He was also only striking out 15% of the time, a number that was well over 20% his first two seasons.

While this effort to improve his plate discipline appeared to come at the expense of his overall batting line, he has recently shown signs of putting it all together, batting .412/.444/.588 over his last two weeks. His walk and strike out rates have remained steady over that time, showing some buy-in with his new approach. While hardly the model for plate discipline, he has shown clear improvement this year in pitch recognition (O = out of strike zone; Z = in strike zone) :

Year O-Swing% Z-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact%
2014 41.0% 61.8% 67.0% 85.7%
2015 39.2% 64.1% 68.7% 87.7%
2016 36.6% 69.4% 64.0% 88.3%

Those percentages profile similarly to fellow sluggers Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes and Evan Longoria. His home run pace is down from last year, but 32.9% of the balls he puts in play are classified as hard-hit, up from the 27.4% he registered last season. Batted ball data stabilizes rather quickly, so there is no concern Cron has lost any of his ability to hit the ball with authority. If he can continue to lay off pitches out of the zone, he could do what few of us thought possible and put up an above-average OBP this season.

As things stand now, he has a 0.3 bWAR, already surpassing his total from last season (0.2), though his poor glove work will keep his overall value down. Once some of his fly balls start making their way over the fence - currently only 5.9% of his fly balls are leaving the yard, half the rate he produced the last two seasons - we could see Cron put it all together this year and become that middle-of-the-order bat the team was hoping for when they drafted him and so desperately need, in general.