Reasons to Believe in Brandon Crawford

Maybe I am alone in this, but it feels like MI is painfully thin in ottoneu leagues this year. I know MI is always a bit shallow, but this year just seems like we’ve taken things to another level. I have no explanation for that but, particularly in the original league, it seems our auctions of late have been a litany of MI we know provide almost no fantasy value (mixed in with the regular dose of reliever-chasing).

And one of the players on that list is currently the most auctioned player in all of ottoneu – Brandon Crawford. For those of you looking to add a MI – replacing an injured Jose Reyes, grabbing a backup to fill in a game or two here and there, or just desperate for games played at the position – Crawford’s torrid spring and only-slightly-cooler start look awfully appealing right now, don’t they?

And yet there is a great desire to channel Dennis Green and scream, “He is who I thought he was!” But every year players turn a corner and Crawford is still only 26 so…maybe?

Crawford has long attracted attention for his glove work, but this spring he posted a Ruthian .375/.423/.609 with three HR. Three HR might not sound like a lot, but Crawford set a career high last year with four HR on the season. So three in a month is a pretty spectacular improvement.

In a conversation with Eno Sarris, Crawford mentioned that his spring was really an extension of last year – “I progressed in the second half and carried that into the spring.” Sure enough, in the second half last year, Crawford put up a .260/.327/.370 line, up from .240/.286/.335 in the first half. A .697 OPS is nothing special, but it certainly plays as a MI option in ottoneu – you could certainly do a lot worse. For a guy who had neither an OBP nor an SLG over .300 in 66 games in 2011, that second half was awfully promising.

The shift wasn’t fueled by a rise in BABIP (.312 in the second half vs. .303 in the first), although his .228 mark in 2011 does help explain why that was such a poor season. Instead, the change seems to be in batted ball mix, and perhaps in how hard he makes contact.

Here are Crawford’s batted ball rates for 2011, the first and second half of 2012, and the (admittedly brief) start to 2013:

  LD% GB% FB% HR/FB%
2011 14.0% 51.2% 34.8% 5.3%
2012 1st Half 23.0% 45.9% 31.1% 1.6%
2012 2nd Half 22.4% 49.0% 28.7% 7.8%
2013 18.2% 54.5% 27.3% 11.1%

There actually is a pattern forming there – in addition to a nice jump in LD rate moving into 2012, Crawford has been consistently dropping his FB% in favor of more liners and grounders. His career BABIP by batted ball type: .125 for FB, .210 for GB, and .698 for LD. So the shift away from FB, especially if he can bring that LD rate back up to 2012 levels, suggests a higher BABIP than he has had in the past. Maybe not the .344 he has so far this year, but there might not be cause to regress him all the way back to where he was last year – a slight uptick from 2012 is possible if he can get back to a LD% closer to 22 while keeping his FB% below 28.

In addition, Crawford’s 7.8% HR/FB% in the second half last year represents a pretty sizable jump – definitely from the first half of the year, but also compared to his 2011 numbers. And that may not be a pure fluke. In 2011, Crawford’s average distance on HR and FB was 270.8 ft. In the first half of 2012 (prior to July 1), that plummeted to 259.6. After July 1 he was up to 278.0. Adding 20 feet per fly ball will most definitely help your HR numbers. 2013 so far does not tell us much (there are 8 records in the database for Crawford HR and FB), but his distance is at 264.6 so far.

What does this all mean? Well, probably not a ton. 2013 is barely underway, and to assume that Crawford has suddenly become a middle-of-the-lineup bat based on a decent second half, stellar spring, and strong first two weeks is probably a bit much.

I wouldn’t look for even double digit home runs – realistically the upside here is another career high in HR (say 5-6) with a .265/.335/.380 line (just besting his 2012 second half), but not much more. And more than likely, Crawford is going to post something closer to .250/.310/.360 (which would still represent a nice step forward for the SS).

But if you are as MI-hungry as I am, Crawford at least offers some reason to believe, and there are worse options being used in ottoneu leagues as we speak. There are a lot of big ifs here, but IF he can get that LD rate back up over 22% and IF he can keep the FB rate down under 27.5% and IF he can show batted ball distance above 270 or – even better – 275, well, that may just be a guy who can fill a meaningful role on an ottoneu roster.

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Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

32 Responses to “Reasons to Believe in Brandon Crawford”

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  1. Tim says:

    So in a ROTO league would should I drop J. Gyorko for B.Crawford?

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    • Chad Young says:

      No, not Gyorko. He’ll put up much better numbers when all is said and done. But if you are stuck with Luis Cruz or Justin Sellers or need a wire pick up and have limited choices, I’d go Crawford over Kozma or Marwin Gomzalez at this point.

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      • Billy M says:

        How about an underwhelming Danny Espinosa?

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      • Tim says:

        Thanks, maybe he’ll start picking it up after Headely returns to the lineup. I’ll remain patient.

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      • Chad Young says:

        Not dropping Espinosa for him at this point either. Crawford is not a legit replacement for a guy you drafted with reasonable expectations of a solid season. If you went into the season with a guy penciled into your lineup and thinking, “yeah, this guy is a solid play here, I am fine starting him” you should not be dropping him now. But if you had injuries, or you need a backup MI or something, Crawford is a decent option.

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    • Mr. Overreaction says:

      You should drop Gyorko for a warm bag of poop. Getting a human with a pulse is a bonus.

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  2. Benzedrine says:

    Crawford seems like he can be Ruben Tejada at best.

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  3. thirteenthirteen says:

    I drafted Crawford for a lark for my last pick (the draft lasted so long I was getting loopy at the end, and I’m a Giants fan). I was surprised to realize last week that he was a better option than some of the guys I had playing and moved him off the bench.

    One thing in Actual Baseball to consider is that Crawford’s improvement last year almost perfectly coincides with Marco Scutaro’s arrival on the team. Crawford has spoken several times about how Scutaro has helped him with his plate approach. I’m not sure how much credence to give this, but at least to my eye, he seems to be a more patient hitter. It’s been a pleasant surprise coming from a guy who’s in the majors primarily for his defense.

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    • Chad Young says:

      There could be something to this. Starting in the second half last year, his BB% went up and his K% dropped (slightly). That has continued thus far this year, with an even higher BB% and lower K%. Still early, but it could be a sign that he is being more patient.

      His plate discipline numbers seem to suggest he is swinging less and making more contact when he does swing. IF he is being more patient and IF he is using that patience to only swing at pitches he can really square up…the evidence in his favor could be piling up.

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  4. Werlo says:

    Can you at fangraphs try to note obscure player’s teams at least once in an article. I know that some folks are right on top of the giants middle infield, but even as an NL-only player, I am not.

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    • ZombieChicken says:

      Why would you not be aware of a player that is receiving starting at-bats in an NL-Only league?

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    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      Did you, by any chance, watch the World Series last fall?

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      • Werlo says:

        Giants-Tigers? It does ring a bell now. But I didn’t bother to memorize both teams’ starting lineups.

        Anyway, returning to my point, the staff at Fangraphs can’t expect that all of its readers keep track of all regular starters for all teams. Just throw a dog a conventional journalistic bone by inserting “Giants shortstop” in front of his name.

        Yes, I can click a link, but it’s an inefficient step, compared to simply noting the guy’s team (and I personally am often outside of data coverage).

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    • wagon says:

      Any room in your league?

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    • bleh says:

      Good point, that is a small oversight.

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    • Ugh...screenname says:

      Perhaps you should not play fantasy. If you don’t have time to know players who have been starting for over a year (not to mention for a the reigning WS champion), fantasy may not be your cup of tea.

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    • Chad Young says:

      Jumping in to your defense here a bit – first, while my guess is many of the FG commenterati are serious fantasy players who know not only all 750 players on MLB rosters right now but also most of the top 100-200 prospects, and quite a few others, there is nothing that says this is a requirement for all fantasy players. Second, while Brandon Crawford has been the starting SS for the Giants for about 1.5 seasons at this point (and yes, it is only 1.5 seasons) his fantasy value has been negligible.

      Finally – as a part-time baseball writer with a degree in journalism from a great J-school, I can honestly say that not mentioning a players team and position is definitely poor form. If I were still in touch with any of my professors, they would be ashamed. My bad.

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  5. Hunter Pence's Thorax says:

    How can you have an article titled ‘Reasons to Believe in Brandon Crawford’ and fail to mention even once his dashing good looks?

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  6. Andrew says:

    Do you prefer Crawford to Mark Ellis?

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    • Chad Young says:

      I think so. I’ll dream a bit on the upside of the youngster (as I tend to do) and lean his direction. I won’t guarantee that Crawford will outproduce Ellis, but I think he can and the potential is there for him to turn a tidy profit. (Even easier to say after he jacked another HR last night).

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  7. Christopher says:

    I’ve been scouting him for the last week or so. Drop Hardy for Crawford in a 14 team mixer?

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    • Chad Young says:

      I don’t think I would. Crawford likely provides higher AVG and OBP, but Hardy will best him in HR and RBI – and the HR difference should be huge. Even in a down year, Hardy should hit 20, and the potential for 30 is always there. Crawford is looking at 5-10 (and that might be at the high end).

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  8. Nice article, got a few comments.

    First, I would note that his .260/.327/.370/.697 batting line from the second half is basically average in the NL for SS: .259/.313/.387/.700. And average in the MLB is considered good. And for those leagues that account for defense, BCraw should give you a great bonus there. Of course, the key here is whether his second half is representative of what he can do in 2013.

    Second, I would note that he’s like most young prospects who were not top prospects coming up, he has some skills that are good that he just couldn’t replicate all the time. His contact rate is what caught my eye in his first season, he was horrible in the minors but held his own nicely in his first season in 2011. In 2012, if you look at his contact rate over 10, 20, 30 game stretches, he was horrible to start the season and then progressed as the season worn on, to the point where he was in the 85%+ range that most good hitters are in, before sliding back at the end.

    Interesting point about Scutaro helping when he joined. Looking at the numbers, hard to tell exactly, but in the month before Scutaro joined, Crawford hit .268/.333/.437/.770 and with a .304 BABIP, 7 BB, 13 K, suggesting that Crawford had already figured out some stuff with his hitting by the time Scutaro arrived. Looking at his numbers, he basically really struggled his first month or so, then up and down until late June, when he had his .770 OPS for a month, before another up and down late season but at a .700 OPS pace, not the .600 OPS pace in May/June.

    Most non-Giants fans don’t remember (and some Giants fans), but Crawford hit a grandslam HR in his first game, his first career hit. I know that not all players who hit a homerun in such circumstances become HR hitters (John “the Count” Montefusco comes quickest to mind) but in 2010, he had a 133 ISO in the EL, where the average player had a 138 ISO, so I think if he can continue to develop, average power for him would not be out of the ordinary, and average power at SS is good (138 ISO for NL SS in 2012, 146 ISO overall for NL in 2012).

    I would also note that had he played a full season last year, he would have had around 39 doubles, which is pretty good nascent power, period, and if he matures and develops, those doubles will turn into homers.

    I would have picked up Crawford if I were in a league this year, but hopefully have a better hitter as my starter. But if you are stuck with a below average SS hitter, I would start him as the writer suggests, and if your bench SS is worse, I would try to replace him with Crawford, as I think that he has good upside, as he’s also seems to be improving on discipline too, taking more walks, he actually did a very good job of that in 2011, so he’s slowly putting together various pieces of what a major league hitter needs to do in order to be successful.

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  9. Lftfiytciyrihfcjgfkugfkugfukggufuk says:

    Hey buddy, when you write an article can you please mention a player’s team when you introduce said player?

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  10. phillyjim says:

    and crawford hits home run #5 and its still april. looks like that 5-6 is going to be 10-12…or more?

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