Brandon Crawford is the best. The very best. He may currently be hitting worse than a drunk Tim Lincecum on a unicycle, but he’s still the best.
He’s a magician with his glove, and in a season sorely lacking in reasons to watch San Francisco Giants baseball, the thought of a ground ball hit to the left side of the infield is at least a reason to linger on the game as you flip through the channels, trying to find Chopped: Halloween Edition reruns.
He’s that fun to watch.
Mind you, balls hit to shortstop are still rare, and the rest of the team will literally burn your eyeballs off, so he’s not as fun to watch as those candy corn crostinis with prune juice and squid ink reduction that you’ll find in the appetizer round, but still: linger on the Giants game for an extra minute or two. You might see a defensive play you’ve never seen before.
Crawford has won three consecutive Gold Glove Awards, and is certainly making a case for a fourth. It would be a small mark of excellence and silver lining that future generations can admire when they discuss just how bad the 2018 Giants were.
But it’s no sure thing. There’s a strong case for Crawford, but there’s an equally strong case against him. Here is each.
The case against Crawford
1. Diminishing defensive skills
Simply put, he’s not the defender he once was. The highlights are still as common, because the glove skills haven’t much diminished. But highlight plays, while certainly requiring skill, aren’t always a sign of excellence; as often as not, they merely represent that rare occurrence where the ball is placed right on the periphery of a player’s abilities. You need to look beyond the highlight to see where that periphery is actually located.
In his three Gold Glove campaigns, Crawford posted Fangraphs UZR/150 numbers of 9.9, 19.2, and 9.6. This year? -0.8. Those three years earned him Baseball Reference defensive WAR figures of 2.9, 2.9, and 1.6. This year? 1.2.
You don’t need to know what those numbers mean (I don’t) - you just need to spot the outlier.
Crawford is still an elite defensive shortstop. But with his 33rd birthday right around the corner, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he, like so many of his teammates, is not the player he once was.
2. Offensive struggles
To put it kindly, Crawford’s offense as of late has been bad.
To put it honestly, Crawford’s offense as of late has been atrocious.
Since the start of July, Crawford’s OPS has been .508. To put that in comparison, Hunter Pence’s season OPS has been .546. Kelby Tomlinson’s has been .549.
Offense supposedly shouldn’t play a role in Gold Gloves but . . . come on. We all know it has some impact.
3. Stiff competition
Of 11 qualified NL shortstops, Crawford’s UZR/150 is sixth. Single season defensive stats can be iffy, but still. They’re there. And, as a reminder, statistics are an element of the Gold Glove voting, not just fodder used to piss of Jayson Werth.
The case for Crawford
2. Name pedigree
He’s Brandon Freaking Crawford. He’s known as the best defensive shortstop in the NL. That reputation sticks with a person.
As we all know from watching Yadier Molina collect Gold Glove trophies that should be relaxing in Buster Posey’s display cabinet, it can be hard to knock off a Gold Glove winner. The year didn’t start with a clean slate; it started with Crawford in first, so someone needs to go through the work of catching up to him, and then surpassing him.
4. He’s had a fine offensive year
Despite my previous remarks, Crawford’s offensive year has been just fine. His OPS, wRC+, and wOBA are better than they were last year. Of the 11 qualified NL shortstops, he ranks sixth in wRC+. That’s not going to win the award for him, but it may be enough to keep him in it, if people remember him for the whole season, and not just the last few months of ineptitude.
Crawford is very much a contender for the award, and I would assume he’ll make the list as one of the three finalists. And then I expect Trevor Story to win the award.
But what do I know.