Class is in session… Who’s teaching? The Professor.
Brandon Crawford, or “McDreamy” as my mother refers to him, has held down the Giants’ everyday shortstop job for the past two years, and will likely call it his again next season. Crawford is 26, with two full seasons under his belt, and under team control for another 5 years. He’s a homegrown talent, a Bay Area kid who grew up a Giants fan (giving the puppy-dog eyes for the Chronicle photographer in his backwards Giants hat as a young kid), a new dad, and overall just seems like a pretty cool guy. He’s also made some unbelievable plays in the field during his short career, and has legitimate Gold Glove potential. He was an integral part of the 2012 World Series run, coming up with clutch hits in the postseason last fall.
Many things to like about Crawford, his wavy locks and 5 o’ clock shadow not least among them. But has he earned the right to be the everyday shortstop going forward? Can the Giants do a better job of maximizing the position? We’ll talk more about it later in the post…
Where it’s been: When the Giants drafted Crawford out of UCLA in 2008 (4th round), the position he began grooming for was held by Omar Vizquel, who at 41 years old could still pick it, but couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Manny Burriss, Ivan Ochoa and Brian Bocock all played at least 25 games at short for the Giants that season, the last losing campaign by the orange and black until this year (Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?). That was Vizquel’s final year with the Giants, so Brian Sabean brought in another veteran to fill the position: Edgar Renteria.
Renteria didn’t have much of an impact in the regular season during his two years with the club, but everyone remembers where they were when he took Cliff Lee deep to left-center in Game 5 of the 2010 World Series. The damn guy hit 10 HR in two years with the Giants – 5 in 2009, 3 in the 2010 regular season, and 2 in the World Series. Incredible. If you’re feeling a little blue watching these Boston-St. Louis games (as I certainly had been), just give this link a click, for old time’s sake.
Enough memory lane stuff for a while, back to the topic at hand. Renteria didn’t return in 2011. Enter Miguel Tejada, 37 years old. We all know what happened to that team. Tejada couldn’t hack it anymore, but stuck around for way, way too long. About this time we started seeing videos like this of a kid with slick shades and silver necklaces doing all sorts of crazy things with his arm and glove for the new Flyin’ Squirrels. Crawford made his MLB debut in Milwaukee in late May and promptly jacked a grand slam. Personally, I think the granny did him a bit of a disservice, as it set some pretty high expectations among the fanbase for a kid who’s bat probably wasn’t quite ready for the show. But he stuck around for a couple months, scuffling at the plate but providing something not seen by a Giants shortstop in quite some time: defense. That disappeared pretty quickly, however, when Sabean replaced him with Orlando Cabrera at the trade deadline. Cabrera couldn’t field… but it was ok, because he didn’t really hit all that well either (that last line’s for you Tex, if you’re reading).
The Giants completely tanked the month of August that season, ending any chance at defending their 2010 title in the postseason. By September, Crawford was back in the big leagues as the everyday shortstop, while Tejada and Cabrera were has-been’s. Crawford would hit his 3rd HR that month, and slap two hits on the final day of the regular season to push his average over the Mendoza Line.
Where it’s headed: After years of employing aging vets and kids who couldn’t hack it, there’s been almost no drama at shortstop for the Giants since September 2011. The same can’t be said about 1B, where another young homegrown Giant who made his debut in 2010, Mr. Brandon Belt, has been the center of heated debate among fans almost since the day he was called up. If you compare how those two guys have been handled during the last two years and factor each one’s production, it really does make the Belt situation all that much more incredible. The dude is truly an enigma.
In his two seasons as the everyday starter, Crawford has been pretty consistent at the plate. He’s hit exactly .248 both years, and his OBP (.304 in 2012; .311 in 2013), extra base hits (33; 36), and BB/K (33/95; 42/96) totals have been nearly identical. He’s even been consistent in the field, making 18 errors in 2012 (.970 F%) and 18 this year (.974). Ok… what a minute now. Crawford made how many errors? Raise your hand if you knew he’s made 33 errors between the last two seasons. I knew he’d made his share, especially in the first couple months of 2012, but I had no idea he’d made that many! For a guy with his reputation and talent, that’s way too many.
Here’s the deal. Crawford’s an athletic guy, and one the best fielding shortstops the Giants have employed since Vizquel. He’s also got a cannon out there, which doesn’t hurt. The dude has swag; he’s got the confidence that he can make any difficult play, and he can. But I think he has such a flare for the highlight-reel plays that he often loses his focus on the routine jobs. That, to me, is the mark of a young player. Remember, Crawford has only been in professional baseball since 2008. He was moved to the show quickly, and it’s where he’s done most of his learning. I think he’ll grow out of those mental miscues, as early as next year you’d like to think.
This is getting a little long-winded, so I’ll try to tie it all together with a couple more paragraphs. When Crawford came up, we heard that he was an all-glove, no-bat type player. If you’re like me, you didn’t believe that for a second. Dude hits a grand slam in his first game, he can hack it. He’s got a good swing with some pop to boot, and he hits righties fairly well. But he’s streaky at the plate, and he’s doesn’t really hit lefties. He played a good chunk of the second half with some finger problems, which surely didn’t help the cause. Through May, he had 5 HR and 25 RBI, with an average above .280. He hit 4 HR and drove in 18 the rest of the way. At times, his bat was a total non-factor in the lineup. You’d like to see him have a few less of those prolonged slumps as he progresses.
Last year, Crawford was a .272 hitter against righties, and he’s .250 for his career. Against lefties, he was .199 last season with a .214 career mark. The way I see it, the Giants should take a look at finding Crawford a platoon partner if they really want to maximize their production at shortstop. Even if they start by playing Joaquin Arias against lefties, they’re really not losing that much on the defensive end, and they’re upgrading to a career .297 hitter. It’s a move I’d make, but I don’t know if management will…. And what about the other defensive wizard in the system, Ehire Adrianza? The guy was a highly-regarded prospect in the organization for some time, and he looked impressive in his brief debut last month. Will they give him a roster spot? If not, he’ll have to be traded or placed on waivers, and I’d imagine there are some teams who’d be happy to have his services.
Although Crawford still seems to be the starter going forward, Sabean still has some decisions to make on the shortstop position going forward. If the Giants are content to run Crawford out there no matter who they’re facing on the bump, they’re going to sacrifice some offense over the course of the season. In that case, Crawford’s numbers will likely end up near where they’ve been the past couple years, which isn’t awful at all. I do think he’s got more in the bat, and could be a 15 HR guy for a couple years if everything comes together. For now, though, he’s a young, controllable, homegrown talent who makes game-changing plays in the field and can hold his own at the dish. Oh, and the ladies love those chops. The Professor’s (likely) not going anywhere right now, and most Giants fans are just fine with that.