“The team, I think, is a little bit deeper. Especially (compared to) how we started last year,” Brian Sabean said on Friday. Since the Giants GM started speaking in bullet points after that comment, I’ll separate his quotes while listing them in order.
- “If you look at how Susac’s emerged and what he’s capable of, potentially.”
- “Panik’s going to be interesting to see how he does his sophomore year.”
- “Belt being healthy.”
- “We really were hoping that Crawford was on his way to an All-Star type season, and they think that he’s really coming into his own.”
None of those assessments were especially noteworthy, except the last one. The Giants hoped the Brandon Crawford (who’ll get a nice raise from $560K in 2014 to $3.125M in 2015) they saw in mid-June would stick around the entire season, but “they” (and in this case, Sabean is probably referring to Bruce Bochy and his staff) are feeling pretty good about Crawford’s overall game.
But when the team had visions of stars in their eyes, were they living in a fantasy world? Crawford’s offensive numbers (.246/.324/.389) were only a tick better than what he put up the year before (.248/.311/.363) and 2012 (.248/.304/.349). So when his OPS crested at .801 on June 25, it probably shouldn’t have shocked anyone in the organization (besides maybe Crawford himself) when his bat went frigid in July (.173/.300/.227) and August (.193/.277/.229). It wasn’t like Crawford was the only guy on the team who struggled during that period, either.
He turned things around with a wicked-hot September (.365/.388/.541) and collected some key hits in the postseason, starting with the grand slam in Pittsburgh. But Crawford was a different hitter in 2014 than in either of his previous two full seasons in the majors. He walked and struck out at a higher clip while hitting for more power (he had a 10-triple, 10-homer season). He completely reversed course against righties and lefties — after hitting just .199/.258/.288 against left-handed pitching in 2013, Crawford struggled against right-handers in 2014 while hitting .320/.395/.484 against lefties.
He also finished fourth on the Giants in runs batted in with 69 (nice), thanks to outstanding numbers with runners in scoring position (.310/.401/.444). And while his errors seem to come in bunches, Crawford is still an above average defensive shortstop. His range is outstanding for a guy his size, his arm is strong, and errors are a silly way to judge a shortstop’s worth anyway. Crawford is also durable, averaging 148 games per season from 2012-14 (plus two full playoff runs).
As for the question in the headline … that could be a tough task for Crawford because the competition at his position is strong in the National League, even with Hanley Ramirez heading to Boston. Troy Tulowitzki is injury-prone, but he’s also the most talented shortstop in the majors; Starlin Castro was on the NL All-Star roster last season; fans of great defense love Andrelton Simmons; Jhonny Peralta led all NL shortstops in WAR last season; Ian Desmond and Jimmy Rollins also finished above Crawford in WAR, and they also play for teams that should win more games than they lose next season.
Despite a crowded field (especially compared to the post-Jeter American League crop of shortstops), if Crawford can find a happy medium against righties and lefties (like he did in 2012, only happier), show continued growth as a power hitter, all while avoiding a prolonged slump early in the season, he’s got a shot to make good on that All-Star potential the Giants thought they witnessed in the middle of the ’14 season. This is the part where we remind everyone that such a leap at age 28 should probably be considered a long shot. Crawford is a very good player, but his offensive numbers would seem to tell us that “he is who he is,” a slight tweak to the favorite quote of athletes everywhere
However, the Giants saw a glimmer of All-Star caliber play last season. If they see that version of Crawford throughout the first half of the 2015 season, having Bruce Bochy as the National League manager might boost Crawford’s chances of making his first All-Star team … and pleasing Sabean.