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Community Projection: Brandon Crawford

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Where do we go from here?

MLB: Colorado Rockies at San Francisco Giants Cody Glenn-USA TODAY Sports

2019 Stat Line

.228/.304/.350, 560 PA, 24 2B, 2 3B, 11 HR, 59 RBI, -1.6 SDI (9th in NL), 0.4 fWAR

The last four years of Brandon Crawford’s career have been boom or bust at the plate. Check out his OPS+ by year:

2016: 108
2017: 85
2018: 100
2019: 75

And if we’re being honest, his league average 2018 was buoyed by two spectacular months — May (1.064 OPS in 112 PA) and June (1.009 OPS in 106 PA) — that also propelled him to All-Star Game starter. As Kenny noted in last year’s community projection, he hit like Mike Trout for two months. After that, a knee injury obliterated his line: just .188/.269/.268 from July 1st-September 30 (279 PA).

Despite that, he still ended the season tied as the third-best shortstop in the National League, according to SABR, which rated him as a +6.4 in their defensive index rating. It wasn’t out of line to think an offseason of recovery and adjustment could lead to a modest bounce back at the plate which, coupled with his solid defense, would still lead to one of the better players on the team.

But folks...

(takes off glasses)

(furrows brow)

(wish I could touch my face so I could pinch my brow) [For people reading this post in the future, that’s a corona virus joke.]

... that didn’t happen. Emphatically so.

Crawford had his worst season (0.4 fWAR) since his rookie year in 2011, hitting .228/.304/.350 to get that 75 OPS+ mentioned above.

His best month was July, a .263/.352/.463 (.814 OPS) effort in 91 PA. It was the only month he hit over .800 OPS, but much like 2018, after his best month, his season crashed. He hit just .219/.303/.303 over the final two months of the year (175 PA). Worse, he was bad on defense, netting a -1.6 SDI, the first time he’s ever rated as a negative in the SABR index.

So, he went from bad to worse. That’s indisputable. Gabe Kapler even bothered to single him out shortly after being hired, suggesting that Crawford’s pre-pitch defensive reads could be better. At the plate, it’s not obvious what tweaks or wholesale changes need to be made, and consider this: there’s not a whole lot of change in his profile from 2018 to 2019.

Here’s the rolling numbers Kenny pulled for last year’s projection:

Here’s this year’s look at the same stats:

The colors might be different, but the squiggly lines tell the same story as the year before. He swung outside the zone a little more and swung at pitches in the zone a little less, but on the whole, he was the same guy year-to-year in terms of approach. Now, when it comes to power, it’s actually a pretty substantial drop overall (from .139 to .122), but it’s also the second straight year of power decline. His 2015-2017 feature isolated power (slugging minus batting average) of .205, .156, .151.

But I think you’d agree that we don’t put on our Giants hats thinking Brandon Crawford is an offensive force. His utility has always been as a glove-first shortstop who can hit just enough to stick as a starter. We’re at the point in the Giants’ “competitive cycle” that nothing matters and all hope is lost, so, heading into 2020, what Crawford could be versus what the team needs him to be is moot. Brandon Crawford is simply on the roster, and what purpose that serves is irrelevant.

He’s batting leadoff in spring training right now which you have to figure is how the team plans to get him to see more hittable pitches and more at bats in the early going to get him as many reps as possible utilizing whatever aid the new development program has provided. So far, the gambit has paid off. He has a 1.040 OPS in 18 at bats (although six strikeouts against just one walk), and from the sounds of it, is hitting the ball harder.

Yes, I am not too proud to admit that I’ve used 18 spring training at bats as a data point in a projection conversation starter. I don’t even feel bad about it, and neither should you. Crawford and the Giants are under no obligation to ignore positive outcomes just because they’re going to be the worst baseball team in human history starting in just a few weeks.

The Giants sure did bring in a lot of middle infielders to compete during the spring, didn’t they? Mauricio Dubon doesn’t look like the heir apparent, but there’s also Cristhian Adames, Abiatal Avelino, Yolmer Sanchez, and even Donovan Solano in the mix, not necessarily to supplant Crawford entirely but to severely limit his playing time.

Like Buster Posey and Brandon Belt, we’re either in the final two years of Brandon Crawford’s time with the Giants or as a Major League Baseball player... unless the team’s new Perpetual Player Development System really does work for rookies and vets alike. That might not assure all three legacy players revitalize their careers in their mid-thirties, but maybe we don’t have to watch all three fade away?

Projection

PA: 375
AVG: .242
OBP: .311
SLG: .380
HR: 10
SDI: +1.4

I’m going to say that fewer PAs — particularly against lefties, despite his reverse platoon split last year — will do wonders for Crawford, both at the plate and on defense; but ultimately, he’s going to put up a line short of his career line: .249/.316/.389. And we’re going to see a few highlight plays with the glove — maybe even one that makes us gasp.

Traded?

No. But there might be a rumor or two about either a trade or release.