How Brandon Crawford Can Become An Elite Shortstop In 2013

Brandon Crawford will be the San Francisco Giants’ starting shortstop for a good part of the next decade, at least. So far, his weaknesses and strengths are clear.

Crawford’s glove is his best attribute, as he displayed time and time again in the playoffs and regular season. He did start on a low-note defensively, but he finished the season with the second-best UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) in the National League.

Oct 27, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford throws to first base in the 8th inning against the Detroit Tigers during game three of the 2012 World Series at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously, there are no question marks about his glove.

But his bat? That’s a different story. Excluding a couple impressive stretches, Crawford struggled on offense in 2012. He slashed for .248/.304/.349 with a .653 OPS.

Crawford is still young and inexperienced, but with his second full season in the majors looming, he needs to make some adjustments.

Let’s take a look:

Improve Plate Discipline

Typically, young hitters show no plate discipline or patience whatsoever. You can chalk it up to a lack of experience, or you can chalk it up to the hitter wanting to impress his coaches.

Crawford followed in the footsteps of that pattern in 2012. He walked just 6.9 percent of the time in 2012 versus 10.5 percent in 2011. His lack of plate discipline was the primary contributor in that downfall. Of course, if he was a “bad-ball” hitter, like Pablo Sandoval, then none of this would matter. Unfortunately, he isn’t a good “bad-ball” hitter.

Crawford totaled a strikeout percentage of 14.1 in 2011 and saw that number soar to 20 percent in 2012. Again, this is primarily due to the fact that he swung at bad pitches and failed to put them in play, which would have sufficed had he consistently reached base via walks and hits, but neither was his forte.

February 16, 2013; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford (35) jogs out of the clubhouse during spring training at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

To his credit, Crawford did show a glimpse of plate discipline over the final month of the season. In 26 games, he struck out 17 times but combated that with seven walks. The numbers when he’s not swinging at bad pitches speak for themselves, as he registered a .760 OPS during this stretch.

In the playoffs, Crawford’s refined patience didn’t drop-off. He walked seven times on 12 strikeouts and put together some good at-bats. While his batting average doesn’t reflect upon those at-bats, even a casual observer could’ve recognized his improved patience and confidence.

All Crawford has to do is replicate this. Obviously, that’s easier said than done.

Develop A Wiser Approach

Crawford is still learning the ropes in the major leagues. As a result, it’s too early to completely judge him, but his approach does need some tweaking.

The slick-handed shortstop often dug himself into holes in 2012 because he waited too long to get the bat off his shoulder. Instead of looking for a pitch early in the count to hit, he opted to watch a few pitches go by, which can be beneficial depending on the situation. The majority of the time, though, the first pitch or two are the best pitches a batter will see in an at-bat.

Oct 27, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford (35) hits an RBI single against the Detroit Tigers during the second inning of game three of the 2012 World Series at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In Crawford’s case, he’d be wise to explore that saying. He slashed .220/.228/.311 when he was down in the count, and he slashed .349/.341/.488 on the first pitch he saw in an at-bat.

Being more aggressive slightly contradicts my plate discipline point. However, it’s not the swing at everything-type aggressive, it’s the look for a good pitch to hit earlier in the count aggressive. This applies for all hitters, but more so to Crawford because he’s a .184 hitter when he has two strikes on him. With the amount of called third strikes that he watched in 2012, he’d be wise to avoid these situations when he can.

Let The Dominos Fall Where They May

I don’t like to chalk player’s performances up to luck, but Crawford fell victim to some pretty bad luck in 2012, specifically early in the season.

Most would probably fail to see the connection between Crawford and bad luck. His overall BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) of .307 is average, and he’s not a hard-contact type hitter, yet. However, several of his hard hit balls found gloves in 2012.

It’s part of the game, yes, but Crawford’s numbers take a hit in result, and there isn’t a stat that’s going to give him justice. The aforementioned BABIP is about as close as a measurement as there is, and even that won’t truly paint a clear picture of his misfortunes.

Eventually, the hapless Crawford will get his fair share of cheap hits and the deserving ones will continue to drop as well. He will have to be persistent, and not all young hitters are able to absorb bad luck and channel it into something positive. Crawford doesn’t fall into the latter category, and eventually, the baseball gods will balance his numbers out.

Be More Aggressive on the Base Paths

Would you be surprised if I told you that Crawford has stolen only two bases in his major league career? Probably. Crawford doesn’t come off as a slow runner, but his don’t support that assumption.

A lack of opportunities didn’t dampen his chances to increase his stolen base total. He had 187 opportunities, the fourth most on the Giants, but managed just one steal out of that. Worse, he was caught stealing four times.

Oct 27, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford (35) steals second base against the Detroit Tigers during the seventh inning of game three of the 2012 World Series at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In short, Crawford wasn’t all too successful on the base paths; perhaps he was too conservative?

For the answer, we turn to UBR (Ultimate Base Running), a stat that measures the value a player adds to his team via base running. Zero is average, and Crawford managed to limbo below the mean with a -0.1 mark. No, we can’t completely chalk this up to him being too conservative, but a lack of taking the extra base successfully is accounted for in UBR.

To put UBR into perspective, Angel Pagan finished second in baseball with a 5.9 UBR. Pagan was noticeably aggressive when he was on base, and since stolen bases aren’t accounted for in UBR, his 29 stolen bases have nothing to do with his impressive mark.

Crawford simply has to look for opportunities to take that extra base.

It’s understandable why he would be reluctant, as he was a young hitter fighting for playing time last year. One mental mistake could have cost him at-bats.

Now that the starting job is his to lose, Crawford should play like the Giants shortstop of the future.

Topics: Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants

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