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Community Projection: Brandon Crawford

I like writing the Matt Cain projections.

So Matt Cain is good. Here is me writing about Matt Cain being good.

Hyperbole hyperbole hyperbole. Straight talk. You see that straight talk right there? That's how good Matt Cain is. Hyperbole for mostly failed comedic effect.

Matt Cain.

Done. Submitted. Posted. I type that crap out with one hand in the tub while the other hand is holding a mimosa. Again, while the other hand is holding a mimosa. It's easy and fun to write those projections.

Brandon Crawford? Not as easy. I want him to succeed. I really do. Logic and reality are a couple of insecure bullies, though, and they don't let up. If you plot out a best-case Crawford scenario, you can make it work without straining credulity. A highly touted college player falls in the draft because of a down season. He mixes a stellar A-ball season with a disappointing AA season. There are some injuries mixed in, and -- poof -- he's starting in the big leagues ahead of schedule, and without much AAA time at all. After some initial struggles, he holds his own with the bat, which makes him a very valuable player when combined with his glove.

Not crazy. Unlikely, but not crazy. When Omar Vizquel was 24, he was a career .230/.290/.283 hitter. Each year was as bad as the last. He wasn't much better in the minors, either. But while Vizquel never became a good hitter, he became pretty danged okay, especially when he was out in the middle of the diamond, twirling around like some sort of twirling banshee. In the 9000+ plate appearances between ages 25 and 39, Vizquel had a .349 on-base percentage. He was Neifi Perez without the plutonium sickness.

It's never fair or intellectually honest to suggest that because one player in the history of baseball did something, it's possible that the same thing can happen to the player who just happens to be undeserving for a starting job on your favorite team. "B … b … but Omar Vizquel!" isn't a great way to do critical analysis. It's just a note that other players have transcended even less impressive hitting pedigrees. On a team that's featured Andres Torres and Ryan Vogelsong in back-to-back seasons, it's always worth pointing out that the insane can happen. Crawford putting up .340 OBPs one day wouldn't even qualify as insane. It would just be baseball being sketchy and deceitful, as it usually is.

And if there's one quasi-parallel between Vizquel and Crawford, it's the bat control:

Vizquel, age-24 season: 45 walks, 37 strikeouts, 482 plate appearances

Crawford, age-24 season: 23 walks, 31 strikeouts, 220 plate appearances

It's not a great idea to present the numbers like that without league averages or park factors, and it's not that flattering to Crawford when you see that he struck out almost twice as much, but the ratio is what I'm looking at. Crawford works the count. He often puts himself in a good position to get a good pitch to hit. He often gets that pitch. He just … doesn't hit it so much. His 14 percent line-drive rate was well below the league average even though he swung at fewer pitches out of the strike zone.

I will write that I'd rather have a young player with a low BABIP (.228) and a good approach than a young player who put up superficially gaudy numbers over 200 at-bats with a bad approach. And it's not like the defense is in question, either. After watching Miguel Tejada play shortstop like Bengie Molina in a hammock, it was refreshing to see a defensive player as talented as Crawford.

But if you'll notice, we're looking at the good things to this point. That's mostly optimism up there. Here's the pessimism: Crawford hit .204/.288/.296 last season. In the seasons before that, he struggled in AA. And that plate discipline/bat control we're talking about? If it's for real, it's new. It was never that encouraging in the minors, though he certainly has improved in that regard at almost every stop.

The real reason that I figured that the shortstop position was going to be the team's #1 priority in the offseason, though, was the amount of time Crawford has played in AAA over his career. As in, hardly any. Twenty-nine games, to be exact. After 29 games in AAA and a painful debut in the majors, I can't fathom how a team clearly built for the present decided it was a good idea to gamble on Crawford.

I'm not giving up on Crawford as a player. I can see him having a Jason Bartlett-like career, which would be fantastic for the Giants. The Mountain View City Council might even get into fistfights over which player to honor with a statue first. But when I read this headline

Giants considered re-signing Renteria

… I laughed. Then I looked at the ZiPS projections for both Renteria and Crawford.

Renteria: .254/.309/.347
Crawford: .225/.291/.336

And I sobbed just a little. Crawford is a better fielder, of course -- at this point, I'd wager that Renteria fields like Miguel Tejada wrestling for control over the remote control while lying in the same hammock as Bengie Molina -- but that's the hitter you're probably looking at. Edgar Renteria, but with more outs. I don't think I'll be that pessimistic, but I'll keep the optimism to myself. Heck, I'll split the difference:

Brandon Crawford
AB: 492
AVG: .231
OBP: .302
SLG: .342
HR: 8

Really, that wouldn't be that bad. It would probably let him keep the job through the offseason.