If, during Spring Training, you predicted Aaron Crow would make the Kansas City Royals 25 man roster, it’s likely people would have laughed at you. After all, he was coming off a poor season at Double A; in which he posted a 5.66 ERA and a less than spectacular 4.74 xFIP. If, once he made the team, you predicted he would be the Royals best reliever two months into the season, people would have had you committed to an institution. Well, we’re two months into the season and it looks like you should be the newest member of Mensa. Aaron Crow has already far surpassed expectations in his rookie season. Can he continue his dominance going forward, or does his current performance scream small sample size fluke?
The problem with evaluating Crow is his interesting path to the big leagues. Crow was a highly regarded prospect entering the 2008 draft. He did not sign, however, and chose to re-enter the draft the following season. Despite the layoff, the Royals selected Crow with the 12th overall selection in the 2009 draft.
Unfortunately, the time away from baseball seemed to hurt Crow’s development.
Though he actually performed well at his first stop in the minors, *As reader Yirmiyahu pointed out in the comments, Double A was Crow’s first stop. He was demoted due to his poor performance. Crow really struggled upon reaching Double A. Crow’s strikeout rate plummeted from 10.84 to 6.79 following the promotion, while his walk rate soared to an unsightly 4.45. Crow was so bad in Double A that the Royals actually sent him down to work out his issues. Based on that performance, it seemed highly unlikely that Crow would be pitching in the majors this season; let alone pitching this well.
Yet somehow, the 24 year old pitcher has all of his doubters eating crow this season.*
After a conversion to the bullpen, Crow has relied on mainly his fastball and slider to keep hitters off balance. He also flashes a curve, but has used it pretty sparingly this season. While his 95 mph heater has been effective, Crow’s slider has been his strongest weapon this season.
According to Pitch Type Values, Crow’s slider has been worth 4.10 runs above average; good for seventh among all relievers with at least 20 innings pitched. Due to the effectiveness of his two-pitch mix, Crow has struck out nearly a batter per inning in his rookie season.
While we only have 27.0 innings of major league performance to look at, it looks as if Crow can continue his strong performance as the season progresses. While his 1.33 ERA and left on base percentage are due for some regression, Crow still carries a 2.95 FIP and a 2.91 xFIP.
The Kansas City Royals have received a ton of criticism for mishandling prospects once they reach the major leagues. In the case of Crow, the Royals deserve credit for accurately evaluating what they had. Crow’s conversion to the bullpen has been a huge boost for the Royals this season. If his current performance is any indication, the Royals may have stumbled upon one of the best relievers in baseball for years to come. For a guy whose major league future was in doubt after last season, his performance this year deserves some big-time recognition.
*That’s the title of the article. Get it?