Brandon Crawford On Defense and Familiarity With the Pitcher

Sometimes, a little comment can send you down a wormhole. Brandon Crawford is a glovely young man, and we talked about platoon splits — he doesn’t remember having trouble with lefties in the minors — and a few other topics, but it was one thing he said about his defense that popped.

I asked him what he did specifically that made him good at defense — last year, Crawford was the fifth-best defensive shortstop by UZR/150. The first part of the response was something you might have heard before: “I get good reads on balls, that’s the main reason I get to balls that maybe other guys won’t get to. I pay attention to hitters and how they are hitting balls, and which pitches are coming, every pitch,” he said. But it was the next sentence that turned on a light bulb.

“I’ve had the same pitchers, pretty much, since I’ve been in the big leagues.”

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Familiarity breeds comfort. If the shortstop knows the pitches that are coming intimately, he knows which way to cheat. He knows which pitches will break bats, and which could be scorched up the middle. To hear Crawford say it: “I know whether or not they are going to hit their spot with their pitches, who likes certain pitches, who will stay away.”

Ask Baseball Info Solutions about Crawford’s defense, and they like his lateral range — that aspect accounts for almost all of his 15 runs saved the last two seasons. By their metric, he was only ninth-best at shortstop from 2011-2012, with 16 plays above average. But, BIS admits that he’s had the most success behind the pitchers he’s seen the most — Matt Cain (+6), Barry Zito (+4), and Madison Bumgarner (+3). And once you unpack pitcher/fielder combos, you get more nuggets. This from Scott Spratt at BIS:

The best pitcher-fielder combinations from 2011-2012 all have better than a 10 Plus/Minus. Crawford-Cain come in seventh on that list. However, when you consider that Cain has a career ground ball percentage of 37.2%, I think that looks more impressive. The pitcher-fielder combinations in front of Crawford-Cain include pitchers Ricky Romero (54.4% GB%), Matt Harrison (46.7% GB%), Wandy Rodriguez (45.0% GB%), Zach Britton (54.9%), Rick Porcello (52.2% GB%), and Ervin Santana (38.8% GB%, but ~43.0% the last two seasons). I think in that context, it looks like Crawford may well be elite in terms of range behind his most familiar pitchers, but because of their fly ball tendencies, it is not as visible as with some others.

We’ve stayed with Crawford here, for the most part, and with Defensive Runs Saved, from BIS. But let’s put together a simple table charting the best defensive shortstops (2011-2012), sorted by different metrics, with a bonus at the end — the teams that had the most qualified starters stay with the team over that time period.

Top SS DRS TOP SS UZR/150 Team (QSoP)
Brendan Ryan Brendan Ryan Giants (4)
Clint Barmes Jhonny Peralta Rays (4)
J.J. Hardy Clint Barmes Reds (4)
Alexei Ramirez J.J. Hardy Tigers (4)
Yunel Escobar Alexei Ramirez Angels (3)
Elvis Andrus Brandon Crawford Cardinals (3)
Brandon Crawford Elvis Andrus Mariners (3)
Alcides Escobar Jimmy Rollins Phillies (3)
Alex Gonzalez Troy Tulowitzki Rangers (3)
Troy Tulowitzki Yunel Escobar White Sox (3)

By no means is the correlation research-finding strong. J.J. Hardy has seen pitchers come and go and is a fine defensive shortstop. Clint Barmes doesn’t care if he’s never seen the pitcher before. Alcides Escobar just goes and gets it. Troy Tulowitzki waits two months before he learns the pitcher’s name, probably.

Then again, every other shortstop on this list has been behind a rotation in the top ten when it comes to steadiness. And Erick Aybar was 11th on both lists. And if you look at the names that sort of seem like non-sequiturs — Jhonny Peralta and Jimmy Rollins, I’m looking in your direction — they’ve been behind the same group of guys for a couple of years now.

Defense is an “extremely important part” of Crawford’s game, and something that he takes “the most pride in as a baseball player.” When Crawford came up to the bigs, he “came up to play defense.” It seems like he came up in the right place to develop a sense of familiarity with his starters. And that familiarity continues to give him a jump on the ball.



Print This Post



Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Tommy
Guest
Tommy
3 years 3 months ago

Maybe Brandon could explain how he has hit .341/.420/.591 in 100PA against the Rockies?

Andrew
Guest
Andrew
3 years 3 months ago

No one has questioned Crawford’s ability to hit minor league pitching.

Tommy
Guest
Tommy
3 years 3 months ago

Cruel but very funny

Alex
Guest
Alex
3 years 3 months ago

This reminds me a bit of this interview with Dustin Pedroia posted on FG last year. Specifically, this section:

I remember my first year, when [Curt] Schilling was pitching. When the catcher put down fastball away, I’d say that on 20 of 30 pitches, he’d be hitting the fastball away. And if he missed a pitch, it was usually not to the middle of the plate, it was a ball away. I could trust that, so I didn’t need to take a half step to my right. I could take a full step.

A large part of perceived range on middle infielders really seems to have a lot to do with familiarity with their pitchers, not to mention consistency of their pitchers. It doesn’t really matter how familiar they are if the pitcher is so wild that they can’t comfortably predict where the ball is going to go when they miss their spots.

glib
Guest
glib
3 years 3 months ago

Which brings us to Timmy Lincecum. Brandon is as familiar with him as with the others, but if Posey (pardon, Sanchez) puts the glove low and away, brandon knows better than to take a step. Timmy’s pitch will be all over the place, and runs are not saved. Heston is sizzling (in only two starts), we might have a move to the pen sometime this season.

Fergie348
Guest
Fergie348
3 years 3 months ago

The sooner this happens, the happier I will be. So far this year, TL looks like a right handed Jonathan Sanchez. I’m never comfortable in his starts, as it seems that things could fall apart at any moment. Three walks in an inning? That’s commonplace these days in Timmy starts. You really hurt your defense with that kind of thing.

ballhawk
Guest
ballhawk
3 years 3 months ago

Crawdaddy is an elite SS, and this shows part of his approach that makes him great.

obsessivegiantscompulsive
Guest
3 years 3 months ago

No article about BCraw’s defense is complete unless it has a link to this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8rHNb5pdH4

wpDiscuz