Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thoughts on Brandon Crawford

One of the many joys of watching Giants baseball in 2012 was watching Brandon Crawford blossom in front of our eyes.  Yesterday, there was an article on Fangraphs/Rotographs dismissing Brandon as a fantasy player which did not really do him justice.  Now, I'm not saying I'm going to draft Brandon Crawford in my 10 team league next spring, but that does not mean he is not on an upward career trajectory or that he should be forgotten about in deeper leagues.

Crawford played solid defense in 2011, but struggled mightily at the plate.  At times, he was almost an automatic out.  Still, when the Giants traded for Orlando  Cabrera, Giants fans were soon more than happy to look the other way with Brandon's offensive struggles if they could just get his defense back on the field.  Not only did he get back on the field, he hit a respectable .256 in the month of September.

The Giants made an offseason decision to not go outside the organization to fill the SS position and put their faith in Crawford.  They wanted his defense at the position and any offense he gave would be extra.  His preseason projections came in with BA's in the .230-.240 range.

Over the course of the 2012 season, Crawford did play solid defense that got even better as the season progressed.  He also outperformed his projections, hitting .248 despite hitting in the 8 hole all season. Skeptics, including the guy who wrote the Rotographs piece, point to poorer K and BB numbers from 2012, but season long numbers don't tell the whole story.  When a player is in the early stages of their career, progression in monthly splits means something and Crawford did progress.  Here are his monthly BA splits:  Mar/Apr- .203, May- .231, June- .260, July- .235, Aug.- .281 and Sept.- .288.

OK, maybe BA is not your cup of tea.  Let's take a look at those K and BB rates that were supposed to be so bad. His 2011 rates were 14.1% K and 10.5% BB.  Those are very good numbers and reflect the kind of quality AB's we saw from him despite his low numbers.  His overall 2012 numbers were 20.0% K and 6.9% BB.  Clearly not nearly as good as 2011.  Let's take a closer look:  In the first two months of the season, he struck out 43 times  and walked just 9 in 174 PA's.  Over the last 4 months of the season he struck out 52 times against 24 BB's in 302 PA. Over the last 4 months, his 17.2% K rate against an 8% BB rate is significantly better than his overall season numbers and not nearly as far off his 2011 numbers when his actual production at the plate was not as good.

Let's also take another look at his defensive numbers.  For most of the season, Crawford hovered in the upper part of the middle of the pack in defensive SS rankings.  His defense down the stretch was noticeably better than in the first half of the season and the numbers bear that out. He finished the season with a UZR of 8.7 which is 6'th in all of baseball and he finished 5'th in UZR/150 at 9.7.  In order to vault over at least 5 or 6 SS's in the last 4-6 weeks of the season, he had to have performed much better than his final UZR numbers in the process.

There is strong sabermetric support for the idea that Brandon Crawford made significant gains during his first full season of MLB play and his career trajectory is still on a steep upward swing.  An advance in 2013 to a BA in the .260-.280 range along with concurrent improvement in his secondary numbers appears to be a perfectly reasonable possibility.  Shortstops who hit .260-.280 start to have fantasy relevance in deeper leagues, but more importantly, Crawford promises to contribute even more to the Giants winning ways next year, both on offense as well as defense.

PS:  Crawford has approximately equal L-R splits so as he improves his overall numbers, there should be no reason to platoon him


  1. If you watched Craw in the playoffs, you saw you needed see in a MLB SS whose defense shutdown the other team and whose offense provided some key hits. Or would you rather have Pete "broke the wrong way" Kozomo?

    1. I would not count that against Kozmo. He reacted to the ball off Pence's bat's initial hit, he could not help it that the bat hit it twice more and directed it in another direction. Crawford would have reacted similarly.

      However, given how close many of the games were, plays like the one where BCraw ran to the middle, scooped up the ball and still got the guy out at 1B shows how valuable he is on defense, I think, which is more to your point, which I totally agree.

  2. .280 seems like it's pushing it, unless there are some big-time BABIP shenanigans. But, I'll be quite happy with 240-260 with 10%BB and 8+ homers, which I think is a reasonable range for Craw to grow into.

  3. I was going to write a blog post on Crawford, and might still, but I've been collecting data on his hitting this season and he, as many young player are wont to do, had an up and down season, as he tried to figure out the pitching and they figured him out. His contact rate - at 10, 15, 20 and 30 game intervals - varied up and down all season, but the one trend that was clear was that he was improving.

    He was actually making good contact early on, in terms of contact rate, but not so much in actual results, which resulted in the Giants sitting him out a little, to work on his stroke. He was pretty lost during May, but contrary to the meme that Bochy and Sabean hates young players, he was left in there as the starter.

    Based on his contact rate, he didn't know what he was doing until June, when his contact rate rose to the 85% level (roughly) that good hitters achieve or better. But he was still struggling with results, dropping to a .219/.274/.302/.576 overall batting line.

    From there to Sept 21st, when he reached his high point (and I'm guessing, the wall, this was, after all, his first full MLB season, going deep into Sept), he hit .274/.332/.399/.731, .322 BABIP, 20 BB/41 K in 223 AB (82% contact rate).

    His best period of hitting in terms of contact rate covered June and July, but he was able to maintain a 80%+ contact rate (for last 30 games) for most of the rest of the season, until the very end, when he hit as poorly as he did early in the season.

    Still, if that Jun-Sep period shows how the .280 ceiling was sustained by Brandon for over 3 months, looking at his nearly full season results show how close he is to being an average SS already.

    The average SS hit .259/.313/.387/.700 in the NL in 2012, 82% contact rate, 0.40 BB/K. From April 23 to Sept 21, Crawford hit .259/.319/.358/.677, .322 BABIP, 30 BB/79 K, in 363 AB (78% contact rate, 0.38 BB/K). That is roughly over a full season. That is nearly league average, and I would think is much above replacement level (still not sure how they calculate that).

    Based on those cuts, his generally trending upward ability to handle pitches, his ability to get walks well enough, plus power, and to Shankbone's point, he doesn't even have 2000 PA yet, he's still learning.

    To the people who are down on Crawford, all I can say is that prospects move at their own speed, kind of like kids. If speed to performance is that key to development, then Matt Williams would have never had the good career he did, he was horrible with the bat in his first three partial seasons, before having a great 7 year stretch with us. For most, it takes time and repetition.

    The good news on Crawford, in my view, is that he has handled the bat well at the plate, showing good plate discipline, so then it became a matter of him doing something with the pitch when he does make contact. He certainly did a lot better than I thought he would based on his minor league numbers. Obviously, that power potential is there, he had a homer in his first AB (heck, grand slam). He has shown good progress both in 2011 and 2012.

    I think that he's capable of maintaining a .270 BA regularly, with peak of .280-.290. He walks well, so his OBP should be in the .330's, which is great for a SS, heck, great for most spots in the lineup except for 3rd and 4th. I think he will show good enough power, pushing his SLG into the low to mid-400's, which is also good.

    And he runs well on the bases, except for SB attempts, which I assume are mostly botched bunts on the part of pitchers. So I can see him moving up to batting 2nd at some point in his career. While giving us great defense.

    I think he'll regularly hit in double digits in HR, and could have an Aurilia season where he gets into the 20+ range.

    1. I'm starting to think double digit HR's could be out of reach, but he could show a power spike as he gets more comfortable at the plate with experience.

    2. When he was doing well at the end of the season, in roughly a quarter of the season he had 3 homers (he only had 4 all season), which works out to a 12 homerun season (and 36 doubles). Of course, he would need to maintain that pace over a full season, but given how good his plate discipline has been despite very few ABs in the upper levels, I'm very hopeful that he can do that regularly (that is, double digit homers), especially as his body matures, giving him more power, and some of those doubles becomes homers.

      Say, I used to be able to get a graphic of where a hitter's batted balls landed and what the result was on's stats page before, or so I thought. Is there another site that provides that? OK, found one here:

      Unfortunately, that is only for the most current season, the old hit chart tool on allowed me to see prior years as well, if I remember right.

      Wow, I am more impressed looking at his batted balls at AT&T. Even though he is left-handed, the balls are spread across the field, so he is using the entire field when hitting, at least when he gets it into the outfield. He does have a preponderance of outs to the right side of the infield.

      Funny how things could have worked out. Comparing AT&T with Citizens Bank Park, Crawford would have had 5-7 homers instead of the one. But compared to Coors and Turner (these all were parks he hit homers in 2012), he might have ended up with none (hard to tell, trying to align the dots on two sheets of paper with a light source behind it).

  4. The Giants made a great decision to not go outside for a shortstop the past offseason.

    The Giants didn't make a good decision when the 'Giants fans were soon more than happy to look the other way with Brandon's offensive struggles if they could just get his defense back on the field.'

    I believe that while some Giants fans were soon, there were some who were 'sooner' than soon.

    In balance, the team made some great decisions but not always, though more often the former. And they are wise and humble enough to not claim geniushood and perfection. We should be, and for sure I am, grateful for that.

  5. I don't care if he stays at .250 for his entire career. His defense in the post season, especially the World Series was demoralizing to the Cards and Tigers. I think Crawford personally took Prince Fielder out of that series and made him feel like he was never going to get a hit.

    1. The Giants defense dominated in the postseason and really illustrated what a weapon it can be. Crawford might have been the most dominating of all.

      One more thought on that: We always read that defense at 1B and LF is not as important as at SS and CF, but I think Blanco and Belt sort of put the big question mark on that notion. I mean, balls get hit to those positions too and if you're not fielding them....

  6. Sticking to their guns with Crawford was the right move. He will have to work a ton to be a successful hitter methinks, but he is putting in the time. Not even to 2K PAs professionally and the haters were out in force. I'm sure the first hiccup next season it'll start again. The red flag for me is he has been injury prone in his minor league career, I think injuries repressed his Eastern League #s pretty good, because they both happened when he was going on a hot streak... at the end of the summer... Hmmm, sounds familiar. The constant and total declaration of "his bat sucks" and all the various versions of that are beyond annoying for me, because I like to cheer our prospects, even the ones that deserve some scorn, like Handy Manny Burriss.

    I think the way the Giants moved Crawford actually slowed them down with the next guy in line for the Crawford treatment, you know, the one with gold glove defense coming down the pipe... Downtown Gary Brown. The Gints kept him in the CA league all year despite his success, he ends up winning the MVP of the league. Then all year in the big bad eastern, and Gary failed for the first time in his life. He is working on adjustments, but managed decent but not stellar #s. The results? Swept from the table in all the prospect guys minds - Mayo took him out of the top 10, Sickels isn't a believer, the fangraphs guys who think they are scouts heap scorn on him. The standard "never trust a college bat in the CA league" comes out to play. And then the Juan Pierre comps, and so on and so forth.

    Prospects do move at their own pace. And I think the Giants should be congratulated on recognizing that - Sabean himself stated "maybe we're moving these guys too fast". Brown has 2 solid years, and next year is very important. Watch though - there is going to be tons of dismissal heaped on him. He's a cocky goofball, and he definitely needs to be challenged, hit in the face a bit, and then pick himself up and make a new plan. I bet he does that, big time. Also, his defense is amazing, he has a good arm, and if he can take a bit more coaching, hopefully the speed will play on the basepaths. Definitely there are some worries, and adjusting is always a big part of the game, and his mechanics do need some help. But the manner he is getting dismissed right now, it really reminds me of Crawford.

    1. I"ll do my full write up on Gary Brown when we get to my top prospects list. He started slow in the AFL but has caught fire her at the end. I'm looking for a big season in Fresno unless Pagan gets away. If that happens, ANYTHING could happen! Brown's problems on the basepaths are somewhat mystifying. Does Roberto Kelly need to be working with him one on one?

    2. I mostly agree but I think the Giants were more reacting to Brown's numbers in keeping him down in 2011. While his numbers there were good, they were not that dominating, even when taking his age into account. For me, a player needs to dominate, be among the top in the league overall or among the top for his age bracket, and he really wasn't in 2011.

      And, of course, he wasn't in 2012 either.

      People are reacting to him as if he was a first rounder, which technically he is, but really, the sure things are among the Top 5 generally, and even then they are not sure things, just many prospect hounds have very high expectations that are dashed on the rocks with any mis-step. He's all the way in the back of the first round, he's going to have bumps in the road, it would be odd if he didn't. For example, every got down on Sandoval when he had a mis-step, but then he fixed things up eventually.

      While people are down on Brown looking at his season, I'm actually very excited because the EL is a pitchers league, and Brown was able to figure it out in the second half. I'm hoping his good AFL gets the Giants to promote him to Fresno, I think being stuck in the EL for more than one season tends to screw with our prospects confidence, no need for them to spend more than one year there unless they really crashed (and for that, I refer to Ishikawa's first season there, he actually hit well outside of Dodd but being sent back there messed with his confidence, I feel).

      I think people comparing him to Pierre didn't look at his college numbers. He hit for power as well as average there, and he has discussed this in interviews too. Pierre and Burriss are slap hitters, Brown is using the proper techniques to become a good hitter in the pros. I'm still confident that he will figure things out and be our CF of the future.

      I concur with DrB that if Pagan is not around, Brown will get a shot at it, despite all the talk by Sabean about giving players time to figure things out in the minors and not rush them.

    3. Pagan is getting a conservative offer from the Gints methinks entirely due to Brown.

      Let me rephrase my Crawford/Brown comp and the Gints handling: Crawford had an immediate bust out, extremely similar to Brown's, and they rushed him to the Eastern mid-season, and he struggled. I think they wanted to avoid that with Brown.

      And I completely agree, he is a mid 20s draft pick, not a top guy. He's meant to fit in with the team with his defense, and hopefully they have upside left in the tank. His CA numbers got people dreaming of a star, I don't think that is him.

  7. MLBTR says the Giants are getting lots of calls about the other Brandon, Brandon Belt, but are being told he is not available.

  8. Of course they are all interested now, despite his struggles this year, his batting line was basically that of the average 1B and he player great defense at 1B to boot, and he's cost controlled for the next four seasons as well, plus maybe if the Giants can sign him to a long-term deal now, into his free agent years, like they did with Bumgarner. And his power should only get better as he incorporates his lessons in learning how to hit this season, with the power he generated in 2011. 2013 could be a breakout year for him.

    Crawford too, I would certainly pick him up as a dark horse candidate at SS if I were still playing fantasy baseball.

  9. The reality is that we don't need Crawford to be a 'great' hitter; just a decent hitter who isn't a black hole in the 8 slot. His defense is what we value most. I, too, think he will improve with age. But the simple fact is that elite hitting, solid fielding shortstops are a rare commodity and usually very expensive. Give me solid play around our prime strengths (Pitching, Posey, Panda...), and I think we'll keep winning.

    1. This is an interesting point which I definitely ageree with. While Crawford's value is tired into his defense primarily, it's the long ball and RBIs and that bring the big contacts. I've honestly been a big fan of Crawford since he was drafted from my Alma Mater UCLA and showed a great bat and power potential at San Jose that first season.

      A player like Crawford is a gift to have around, because he'll never become too expensive and the Giants can have a great SS on a long term contract, and one who plays the game the Giants Way. I think Crawford is a smart and dedicated player with natural talent, and each year he'll deliver big hits and extra base knocks that'll turn into wins,.but will scarcely be noticed in the stat sheets. He'll be valued enough by the Giants to make good money throughout his career, but be an asset to the budget of the team for the bulk of the coming golden years.

      Crawford is easily one of my favorite players for the way he plays the game. The next SF jersey I buy will have his name written across the back!

  10. I share many of the sentiments that have been posted here about BCraw. I felt coming into this season that he could hit .250+, which he nearly did in his first full season. We've heard about the defense for the past couple of years, and while he struggled for about his first month, he certainly wasn't the only Giant who couldn't seem to field a ball early this year. Even Posey had a few hiccups. But it's embarrassing that one month essentially cost Crawford a Gold Glove... and I still feel that he was hosed. Either way, he showed in the playoffs this year that he is not just another offensive schmuck taking up the 8-hole. When the dude ripped that liner off of Chapman in the NLDS, I was very impressed. The kid can hit. Leave him in the 8-spot, and you'll likely have a .250 hitter who takes some walks, but slip him down to 7 (or even 2!) and I think those numbers get better. He's a baseball savvy player, and his part in a championship run at such a young age (like Belt's this year, Posey, Bumgarner, etc. 2 years ago) will only boost his confidence IMO. I like this kid very much going forward.