Andrew Baggarly has an interesting writeup today on Brandon Crawford and his defensive skills at shortstop. The video (above) was linked in the post and it’s amazing to watch. Crawford’s pregame routine in the minors was to put on a defensive show of behind-the-back throws, no-look passes, and all sorts of cool tricks.
Baggs states in the article, that:
It’s been a long time since the Giants promoted a homegrown shortstop with range, sure hands, creative playmaking ability and a clue at the plate. Although Vizquel entertained Giants fans for four seasons, and won a pair of Gold Gloves, too, he was 38 when he came to the club as a free agent in 2005.
Crawford is really the first Giant since Royce Clayton to come up as a SS with a solid defensive skill-set. I’m not counting the Brian Bocock fiasco; the defense for Bock wasn’t a question, the bat was, and it’s obvious that he was rushed. Over the past 20 years, the Giants have seen players like Rich Aurilia, Omar Vizquel, Edgar Renteria, Jose Uribe, Jose Vizcaino, and Ivan Ochoa grab starts at the position. Outside of Omar, there aren’t many good glove guys in that group. Aurilia’s defense is a bit of a mystery. He actually doesn’t rate that bad by FanGraphs’ defensive numbers (+6.1 runs by UZR/150 between 2002-2007). Baseball-Reference’s Total Zone has Aurilia at a +1 run per 135 defensive games over his career at SS. Both numbers suggest that Aurilia wasn’t below average, or even a butcher at SS, but he wasn’t a truly above-average defender, either. The eyeball test, for the most part, backs that up. Aurilia was a competent shortstop, not a whiz.
No shame in that, and dude was a pretty good hitter for his Giants’ career (minus the return part, which wasn’t pretty).
Outside of defense, Crawford has been a pleasant surprise at the dish. He’s slumped recently, lowering his wOBA to .264, but his walk-rate is good (10.2%) and his strikeout-rate (13.2%) is very good compared to his minor league career. Over his career in the minors, Crawford has swung-and-missed approximately 25% of the time. I’m skeptical that he’s a sub-20% strikeout-rate player in the majors, but he’s always had the knack for drawing a walk and hitting for occasional power. Visually, Crawford appears to stay within the strike zone during most at-bats. And he looks like he can handle breaking stuff down and in. I wonder how he’ll adjust to more fastballs being thrown his way, but for now, his defense should keep him in the starting lineup.
There’s a good chance that Crawford isn’t a major league caliber hitter. The Giants’ current set of problems gives the team an opportunity to evaluate Crawford’s hitting at the highest level. That’s valuable data to collect, and it sure beats the Tejada alternative.
UPDATE: I meant to include this above, but for those that are curious, the ZiPS rest-of-season projections have Crawford at a .280 wOBA. With the defense, that’s getting close to being a useful player to have. For example, Cesar Izturis couldn’t hit his way out of a wet paper bag (career .274 wOBA) but his defense has kept him employed.
We ranked Crawford as the 11th best prospect in the system before the 2011 season.