In a career that features hardware like two World Series rings and three Gold Gloves as well as a Silver Slugger award, there is not a ton for Brandon Crawford to prove. His legacy is just about written and secure, he is beloved by fans of a club he grew up rooting for. He has the money to buy drinks at his local bar, but he shouldn’t need to.
The only thing for him to demonstrate is he can still do it. Significant questions arose last year as both the offensive and defensive stats plunged for a now-33-year-old shortstop who, even in his best years, was a better glove than bat.
His defense, according to outs above average, is back to being among the best in the game. And his offense, after beginning the season in a platoon he did not appreciate, has risen from among the worst in baseball to better than average for his position.
“He has proven that he is still a productive offensive player in this league through his work this year,” Gabe Kapler said over Zoom after the Giants destroyed the A’s, 14-2, at the Coliseum on Sunday. “I know last year was not a good year for him offensively, but Craw has been extremely competitive in the batter’s box against lefties and against righties. He’s gotten big hits for us. His statline speaks for itself at this point.”
That statline — .283/.352/.483 — is solid on its own, but a meteoric rise from last season, when the Giants were not as competitive, when they played in a much more hitter-unfriendly park, when they did not have the three-headed hitting-coach process that just about every batter has complimented. Crawford’s .654 OPS last year was the fourth worst in all of baseball among qualifiers. His .4 WAR was the 11th worst. He was aging at a position that prizes young legs and in an era of unmatched velocity that favors young, quick bats.
He spent much of the offseason retooling a swing that he kept retooling as he did not hit immediately in the early going. He was batting .200 without an extra-base hit through 20 games of the season, and by mid-August he had stopped seeing lefty pitching, with Mauricio Dubon getting starts at shortstop. Crawford was open about feeling he needed more at-bats to come around, and he began running with the at-bats he did get.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the more that I’ve played, the better I’ve hit,” said Crawford, who pointed to the abbreviated summer camp as a reason for his slow start.
Beginning Aug. 16, Crawford has gone on a tear that is now longer than a month old. His swing emerging has ensured he’s in the lineup every day, which has settled the Giants defense — and not just in the infield, as Dubon has become a solid everyday center fielder. In 26 games during the span, Crawford is slashing .333/.408/.656, his fourth regular-season grand slam on Sunday adding an exclamation point to an abbreviated season in which he’s closing in on last year’s raw numbers — his six homers are more than half of last year’s 11.
He has hit lefties and righties and has hit everything hard. His 89.8 mph average exit velocity is his best since 2015, when it was 90.4. He no longer can be removed from the lineup.
“I definitely think it helps because, like I said early in the year, I think throughout my career I’m just used to playing every day, so you kind of get in a rhythm, whether it’s good or bad, really,” said Crawford, whose Giants begin their eight games at home in a mad dash toward the playoffs on Monday. “But if you are in a little bit of a funk, you’re able to work out of it by going out in the field every day.”
The improvements are everywhere, both traditional and new age. He’s hitting far fewer balls on the ground (48.2 percent last year, 40.9 percent this year). He’s doing so by trying to pull everything and tap into more power (pulling 50 percent of his batted balls, versus 38.8 percent last year). He’s doing so against lefties and righties, at home and on the road. His three Oracle Park home runs in 21 games are one more than he had all of last year in 74 games.
“Now, if you do put the barrel on a ball, you do have a chance of it getting off a wall or getting over the fence,” Crawford said of a home that is physically smaller, with the fences inched closer, but has played significant tighter without wind from right field.
And Crawford’s been on the field and at the plate enough to appreciate it.