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Will Brandon Crawford challenge the Giants' single-season record for homers by a shortstop (37)? We'll just have to wait and see.
Remember the award-winning series from this offseason, Community Projection Reviews? Sure you do. It was very popular. Among certain subsets of readers. With whom I've never directly interacted. But they're out there. And they're just aghast that we didn't review our projections for Brandon Crawford from before the 2012 season. Better late than never:
Wait, that was really close. If I get within two-hundredths of a point to a player's OBP or a tenth of a point to a player's OPS, there should be prizes. I'll have to work on getting some sponsors for that. Prizes. I should get prizes.
Here's the funny thing about that projection, though: When I made it, I thought I was being a dour downer. Like, gee whiz, watching this guy is going to be a drag. Yet when I think about about Brandon Crawford's season, I'm more than pleased with it. Did our expectations change, or was the defense that good? Or did the Giants win the World Series? Maybe the latter. It's also worth pointing out that the league's offense was down a tick, so he technically beat that projection. Which is probably why there aren't any prizes.
So we'll start this year's community projection with a legitimate question:
If Brandon Crawford could repeat his exact same performance for the next 10 years, would you be okay with that?
That is, fantastic defense, an on-base percentage around .300, and little average or power to speak of. Baseball Reference says the season was worth 2.3 wins -- the eighth-best mark by a shortstop since the team moved to San Francisco. FanGraphs has it at an even two wins. And right above the WAR on Baseball Reference, they have the following key:
8+ MVP, 5+ A-S, 2+ Starter, 0-2 Sub, <0 Repl
So based on a back-of-the-envelope look at Crawford's season, he was a useful starting player, if barely. If he did this year after year, being acceptable but never especially good, with the consistency of an A.J. Pierzynski you didn't want to slap with a fish, how okay would you be with it?
I'd be thrilled. For one, we're talking about a shortstop. And I'm not just mentioning that in the general sense -- shortstops compared to other players around the diamond. But rather, what the concept of "shortstop" means for the Giants as a franchise. A breakdown of all the shortstops in San Francisco history, grouped by WAR:
6+ WAR: 1 (Aurilia, 2001)
5 - 5.9 WAR: 1 (Speier, 1972)
4 - 4.9 WAR: 1 (Speier, 1975)
3 - 3.9 WAR: 1 (Daryl Spencer, 1958)
2 - 2.9 WAR: 11 (Including Crawford, Vizquel in 2006, Royce Clayton in 1995, etc …)
1 - 1.9 WAR: 8 (Here be the Jose Uribe zone)
0 - 0.9 WAR: 11
Negative WAR: 10
The typical shortstop in San Francisco history is somewhere between completely dismal and almost functional. The median season is a win above replacement. The average season is a win above replacement. The mode is 2.3, thanks to Brandon Crawford's 2012! But the typical Giants shortstop is Jose Uribe in 1988. Forever and ever, Jose Uribe in 1988. Not exactly a replacement player, but close enough to make you wonder if there's a way to upgrade.
By that measure, Crawford is already doing well as a Giants shortstop. He can't really hit, but his glove makes up for it. If he doesn't improve a lick, he's still an asset.
Can he get better, though? He's just 26, right around the age Jason Bartlett was when he transformed into a valuable asset with the glove and bat. Ignore that Bartlett had something of a minor-league career at the plate and work with me, here. That fabled age-27 peak is coming up for Crawford; can he work in a couple surprising seasons of decent hitting over the next couple seasons?
Maybe! I'm not betting on it, though. I'm happy with the idea of Crawford as a finished product. If he doesn't have the early-season yips this time (six errors in May, eight errors after June 1) this time, his defensive value will be even higher. Until, oh, Elvis Andrus is a free agent after 2014, I'm not seeing where a better, more cost-effective option is for shortstop. Crawford's an imperfect player, but he's a heckuva lot better than the typical Giants shortstop. At least by the advanced stats, that is, though my eyeballs and anecdotal jelly concur.
Brandon Crawford: not that bad, which is almost a synonym for good.
LOCKS+: Flowing, with a chance of majestic
If the defense is as good or better as it was last year, that's a perfectly capable shortstop. For a team that was messing around with both Miguel Tejada and Orlando Cabrera about 550 days ago, I'll shut up and be happy to watch it.