Over at McCovey Chronicles, Grant Bisbee (@mccoveychron — a must follow even for the non SF Giant fans out there) has a piece today about Brandon Crawford, trying to offer some perspective on projecting him for 2014 and beyond (partially tongue in cheek). I’m fascinated by Crawford — and I really don’t have a good reason why — but I feel like people miss the boat on him.
Everyone knows he plays elite defense at SS — his UZR ratings have him right in the mix with Elvis Andrus, Alexei Ramirez and most of the considered best shortstops in the game. The question is the bat — as a 24-year-old in 2011, his wRC+ of 66 was near the bottom of SS in the league. In 2012, he moved up to an 80, good for 17th among SS with at least 450 plate appearances, and in 2013 his 91 was good for 10th out of 18.
Grant looks at the projection for his wRC+ numbers, but for me, it seems as though we’re diminishing Crawford because of one simple fact: he cannot hit left-handed pitching. And when I say he can’t hit, I don’t mean for a slick fielding SS — I mean he literally can’t hit LHP. In 2013, among 118 players with at least 150 plate appearances against LHP, Brandon Crawford’s wRC+ of 56 was 113th.
On the bright side, Crawford against RHP in 2013 hit 269/333/394 (in an extreme pitchers park), good for a wRC+ of 106. The 106 number doesn’t strike you as worldbeating, but at SS it’s fairly impressive regardless of what you’re doing on defense. In Jean Segura’s breakout 2013 campaign, he managed a 97 wRC+ against RHP. JJ Hardy and Yunel Escobar were even lower, at 95 and 93 respectively. Jhonny Peralta and Asdrubal Cabrera, hit first shortstops, posted near identical 106 and 104s.
So, ultimately, Brandon Crawford is a gold glove caliber defensive player, whose offense numbers as a whole look worse than they should because his defensive abilities force him to take 200 plate appearances every year that he shouldn’t take. Hitting left-handed pitching matters, so we can’t ignore it, but for my money, Brandon Crawford entering his age 27 season is a guy who is already above average (factoring in both offense and defense), and is clearly behind Tulo, Desmond and Hanley Ramirez. But beyond that, what SS are better than Crawford? Jose Reyes is 32 and can’t stay healthy. Jed Lowrie is coming of the first year where he played 150 games (and is also 30). Is Jean Segura better than Crawford? I’m not sure — I don’t want to penalize the guy for being so good on defense that I can’t afford to bench him against tough lefties.