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San Francisco Giants: Is Brandon Crawford really this bad?

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 21: Brandon Crawford #35 of the San Francisco Giants poses during the Giants Photo Day on February 21, 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 21: Brandon Crawford #35 of the San Francisco Giants poses during the Giants Photo Day on February 21, 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images) /

San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford has been one of the least productive players on the team. What should we expect from him going forward?

Any 19-28 team has had disappointing performances and the 2019 San Francisco Giants are no exception.

No one expected this team to be vying for a division title but there was reason to believe they could at least hang around the middle of the pack in the NL West. Instead, a number of players have failed to live up to expectations.

I discussed Kevin Pillar’s struggles earlier this week and today I’m taking a closer look at Brandon Crawford.

Crawford’s defense at shortstop got him to the big leagues back in 2011. While his bat left something to be desired, holding down one of the hardest defensive positions made it worth it.

Eventually, his bat developed and he turned into a solid offensive contributor as well.

However, through his first 168 plate appearances in 2019, Crawford has produced almost nothing at the plate.

At 32 years old, Crawford falls in between the point of guaranteed decline and guaranteed production. The Giants owe their shortstop $15 million annually through 2021, though, and hope to get some value going forward.

Crawford is not what he once was, but he still rates as a net positive defensively. The same can’t be said about the offensive side of things and his .205/.280/.285 batting line.

I will save you the suspense. He has deserved better.

In fact, the numbers are actually more favorable than they were for Pillar, which I don’t think anyone would have expected.

On the surface, Crawford’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) suggests he’s been marginally unlucky, but nothing significant enough to move the needle. His 2019 BABIP of .269 is only 28 points below his career .297 mark.

However, if I use the same expected BABIP formula FanGraphs created back in 2017 that I used looking at Pillar, Crawford is expected to have a .335 BABIP.  Now there’s still plenty of reason for caution. Crawford’s career-high BABIP is .322.

There’s something behind the numbers, though.

His hard-hit rate (39.1 percent) and line-drive percentage (29.4 percent) are both career highs by a pretty sizable margin.

If we were to adjust Crawford’s numbers for a .335 BABIP—assuming all additional hits were singles—Crawford’s line would sit at .253/.323/.332. That still leaves a lot to be desired in the power department, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Baseball Savant has the most intricate expected outcomes predictions available. Their take on Crawford’s batted-ball data suggests that his numbers should be comparable to last season when he hit .254 with 14 home runs. His 2018 weighted on-base average (wOBA) was .306, while his expected wOBA in 2019 is right in line with that at .304.

They calculate  expected batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage as well. Their algorithms expect Crawford to add a bit more power to the tune of a .242/.317/.379 line.

So what does it all mean?

Crawford is no longer an elite defensive shortstop with an above-average bat. His defense is still solid, though, and the peripheral numbers suggest that his bat can still justify a spot in the everyday lineup.

Next. Is Kevin Pillar bad or just unlucky?

It’s nothing transformational, but every marginal improvement brings the San Francisco Giants closer to relevance, and that’s all most fans are asking for.