Monday, June 23, 2014

Brandon Crawford Breaking Out

Brandon Crawford really reminds me of a young Yadier Molina. Some of you are probably thinking, “What? Molina’s a consistent .300 hitter and a perennial M.V.P. candidate, and Crawford’s neither of those things!”

Well, you’re not wrong, but you're also not exactly right. Let’s take a closer look at Molina’s first 1,429 plate appearances spanning 405 games in four big league seasons.

Molina hit an unimpressive .248/.304/.349, although he was considered an elite defensive player.

Starting to sound like Crawford now?

In Crawford’s first three seasons in the big leagues, spanning 1,246 plate appearances in 358 games, his .241/.304/.346 slash line was almost identical to Molina’s numbers in his first four years.

Like Molina did, Crawford has taken a big step forward in his fourth year. 

Through 275 plate appearances this season, Crawford is hitting .257/.336/.460. Twenty-seven of his 61 hits (44.3%) have gone for extra bases, including seven homers and seven triples.

Molina hit .275/.340/.368 in his fourth big league season and has hit .299/.354/.427 in 6½ seasons since. He figured something out in his fourth year and never looked back. We could be seeing the same thing from Crawford this season.

So let’s take a closer look at Crawford’s 2014 numbers.

His 10.5% walk rate is 23rd-best in the National League, ahead of notoriously patient hitters like Jayson Werth (10.1%) and Buster Posey (8.1%).

And it’s no fluke. Crawford also walked in 10.5% of his 220 plate appearances in 2011, but he hit just .204 with a .296 slugging %. The difference this year is that Crawford hits his pitch when it comes.

Crawford’s 1.8 WAR ranks fourth among N.L. shortstops, behind only Troy Tulowitzki (4.8), Jhonny Peralta (2.2), and Hanley Ramirez (1.9).

In offensive WAR, Crawford ranks fourth among all major league shortstops, ahead of guys with reputations as good offensive players like Xander Bogaerts, Alexi Ramirez, Ian Desmond, Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, Elvis Andrus, J.J. Hardy, and Derek Jeter.

Crawford’s WAR is actually 23rd-best in the N.L., ahead of perennial stars like Justin Upton, Starlin Castro, Posey, Ryan Braun, Justin Morneau, Adrian Gonzalez, and Matt Holliday.

So, if the Molina trend continues, Crawford will continue to improve and is emerging as a superstar before our very eyes. Like the Cardinals with Molina, the Giants have showed an abundance of faith and patience with Crawford, and it’s paying off in a big way.

To make things even sweeter, Crawford is a local kid from Mountain View, Calif., and he’s not eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season. He undoubtedly loves playing for his hometown team, especially given the fact that they're a consistent winner (and he’s a big reason why).

Catcher and shortstop are two of the most important positions in baseball. That's why it’s no big surprise that the Cardinals and the Giants perennial contenders, with stars like Crawford and Molina leading the way.

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