How should the SF Giants handle Brandon Crawford's continued struggles? The longtime SF Giants shortstop had a subpar season last year and that trend has continued so far this season. It might be a subject they have to address sooner rather than later.
How should the SF Giants handle Brandon Crawford's continued struggles?
The Giants signed Crawford to a two-year, $32 million extension midway through the 2021 season. The left-handed bat was in the midst of a resurgent campaign and an MVP-caliber year in which he slashed .298/.373/.522 (141 OPS+) with 24 home runs, 90 RBI, and 79 runs in 549 plate appearances.
Plus, he proved yet again to be one of the best defenders in the game as he was worth six Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and 15 Outs Above Average (OAA) while taking home his fourth Gold Glove award at shortstop. It was simply a season that few envisioned for a player at a premium position in his age-34 season.
The Giants rewarded him and that felt like a sound investment. That has not quite turned out to be the case. Since the start of 2022, the 36-year-old has registered a .222/.300/.342 line with 12 home runs, 61 RBI, and 55 runs in 526 plate appearances. This includes a brutal .578 OPS in 68 plate appearances this year.
His 83 wRC+ is the 15th-worst mark among players with at least 500 plate appearances over the last two seasons. Those who have a worse mark such as Myles Straw (68 wRC+) and Geraldo Perdomo (69 wRC+) are generally considered glove-first players. Crawford certainly has a track record of a strong glove, but is that the case today?
Crawford has been worth -11 DRS and -5.3 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which ranks as the second-worst and fifth-worst mark among shortstops since the start of 2022. Though, he has been worth +6 OAA in that timespan, so the defensive metrics are mixed.
It is less analytic, but Crawford has committed four errors in the first month of the season, which ranks as the second-most in baseball. The 13-year veteran has been rough on both sides of the ball over an extended period of time and there are few signs to suggest that he can rebound from it.
What can the Giants do? Well, alternatives are limited. Thairo Estrada could start to see more time at shortstop if Crawford's struggles continue. He has quietly emerged as one of the better hitters on the team and his defense looks better in 2023.
It is also hard to ignore that Casey Schmitt has seen the bulk of his time at shortstop with the Sacramento River Cats. Schmitt has flashed an excellent glove at third base and it is not often when a third baseman is asked to move to shortstop. Schmitt has a .732 OPS in Triple-A, so he might need more seasoning at the plate, but he could emerge as an option later this year.
It is a difficult situation. Crawford has been one of the more reliable players since he debuted way back in 2011. However, his struggles, both offensively and defensively, have spanned multiple seasons. There are no obvious replacements, but with Crawford's contract set to expire at the end of 2023, it might be time to audition internal options to prepare for 2024.