Has Brandon Crawford Made a Step Forward Offensively?
Brandon Crawford's career high in home runs is 10. He currently has six.
Brandon Crawford has a career slugging percentage of .366. He currently has a slugging percentage of .512.
For a player with a defense-only only reputation, Crawford is putting up some pretty good numbers so far. Is this for real, and should fantasy owners take notice?
Progress in 2014
Last season, Crawford seemed to improve, finally cracking the league average line with a 102 wRC+ and .309 wOBA. He cut down on his grounders and converted them into fly balls. The 10.2 percentage point increase in fly balls confirmed his 10 home runs were legitimate, and his 6.5% HR/FB rate suggested he may have even been a little lucky.
In addition, he increased his walk rate from 7.6% to 10.5%. He also made less contact, and his strikeout rate increased accordingly from 17.5% to 22.9%.
This only resulted in a finish as the season’s 20th-best fantasy shortstop, so Crawford wasn’t really on mixed or shallow league radars prior to this season.
Fly Ball Distance
While he is unlikely to sustain this season's 20.0% HR/FB rate, Crawford's homer burst is somewhat supported by an increase in fly ball distance. Below are Crawford's average fly ball distances and isolated powers, from Baseballheatmaps.com.
|Year||Avg. FB Distance||ISO|
Both fly ball distance and isolated power increase throughout the years. But you'll see the difference between the 2014 and 2015 stats is key, as this year he's hitting the ball much farther and with greater success.
A major sign of Crawford coming into his own as a Major League hitter has been his success against fastballs this season. In 2014, he exploded for 13.8 weighted fastball runs above average (wFB), and 1.15 wFB per 100 pitches, according to Fangraphs. This year, he has posted 5.7 wFB and 2.37 per 100 pitches, meaning he has been even better.
Check out what Crawford has done against fastballs this season compared to the rest of his career, with data from BrooksBaseball.net.
In 2015, the Giants' shortstop is swinging more, whiffing less, and homering more often against fastballs. That's obviously what you'd like to see out of him.
It appears pitchers may have even begun to take notice. Take a look at the percentage of hard stuff he has seen in each of his plate appearances, sorted by month, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net.
|Date||Hard Pitch %|
You can see that he has recently seen the lowest proportion of fastballs in this years trips to the plate, with the lowest being in May. This could mean pitchers are treating him with more care. However, it can also be because he normally hits eighth in the batting order, ahead of the pitcher. Still, he has traditionally hit eighth and only now is he not getting stuff to hit.
Success Against Southpaws
After struggling against lefties for most of his career, Crawford surprisingly hit .320/.395/.484 against them in 178 plate appearances in 2014. That was good for a .383 wOBA and 152 wRC+, albeit with a .404 BABIP.
While Crawford has only 31 plate appearances against lefties in 2015, he has had similar success this year, with a line of .346/.452/.654 off them. With Crawford's defensive ability, he'll be in the lineup everyday and will get the opportunity to continue to hit against left-handers. We'll see if this is a real skill improvement or luck.
Crawford is currently the third-best shortstop on the ESPN Player Rater, so we know he can be fantasy-relevant if he keeps this up. Our numberFire projections expect 11 more home runs from Crawford this season, although with only a .693 OPS. Still, he can top that projection if he continues to hit the ball farther and fastballs with more authority.
If he's still available in your league, watch closely.