Good field, no hit. That's the conventional wisdom on Brandon Crawford. And now he's up, and playing great, and what do we hear? Small sample size fluke. BABIP lucky, unsustainable. A Bablip, if you will.
I beg to differ.
1) In 2007, after a sophomore season at UCLA where he put up a .335/.405/.504 line, he was regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball, quite possibly a first round pick. He then went to the Cape Cod league, and stopped hitting, possibly because of the sometimes difficult adjustment guys have to make to wooden bats. His slump carried over to his junior season, and he began falling in pre-draft prospect lists. This is a good thing--it meant we could use our first pick that year on Buster, and still get Crawford in the fourth round. Point is: he was seen as a potential star after his sophomore year of college, and fell to the fourth round because he needed to make some swing adjustments.
2) Which he made. 2009, he wore out California League pitching to the tune of .371/.445/.600. That earned him a promotion to AA, where he struggled, and where the 'good field no hit' trope began. .256.294/.365. 2010, his struggles continued: .241/.337/.357. Cold as a state trooper's grin. He has never played at the AAA level. He hasn't hit well in Richmond. But . . .
3) Nobody hits in Richmond. Of course, it may simply be the indignity of being a Flying Squirrel, but nobody (except Brandon Belt) hits there. I don't know what that ballpark is like, but it must be something else again, with the dimensions of the Astrodome, the foul territory of the Polo Grounds, and the gravitational pull of the planet Jupiter. Check out these numbers: .266/.303/.358. That's the triple slash batting line of Charlie Culberson, who leads the team this season in OPS. The whole Eastern League has apparently reverted to the equipment and approach popular in 1908. So . . .
4) If we regard Crawford's San Jose raking as fluky, caused by a hot streak in a good hitter's environment, what are we to make of his struggles in a very tough hitter's environment? Isn't it likely that his ability lies somewhere between those two extremes? (Of course, we need to similarly take Eric Surkamp's numbers with a grain of salt.) I'd prefer to . . .
5) Look at the player I'm seeing right now, and I see a patient hitter with a quick, short swing. If anything, he's been unlucky so far, some scorched line drives right at people. Of course, major league pitchers will adjust to him, and he'll have to adjust to their adjustments. But I see no reason not to think we've found our shortstop of the future. For now, I'll err on the side of optimism.