Sunday, June 25, 2017

BCraw's Blues

There are lots of ways to measure offensive performance but I'm going to use B-R's OPS+. This takes the hitter's OPB and SLG and compares them to the league averages and adjusts for the home park. A score of 100 means that player is hitting at the league mean. 120 means that player is 20% better than a 100-OPS+ player; an 80 means he is 20% worse. We've watched Brandon Crawford struggle at the plate this year and it got me thinking about whether we've seen his ceiling as a hitter. I can't see any flaws with his range, arm, and glovework this season, he's still the best player on the field and still delivers jaw-dropping performances out there. I've no doubt he saves runs by the bucketload, not that it matters on this club. At age 30 (he'll be 31 in January) his 2017 slash line of .240/.282/.387 is below his career .251/.316/.393 mark for the first time since his 2013 season.

BCraw became a full-time player in 2012 at age 25 after logging 220 PA and over 500 innings in 65 games in 2011. He improved offensively every season and remained relatively injury-free, averaging 550 PA and 1220 innings for five straight years. Here are the numbers:

2012 (age 25), 86
2013 (age 26), 93
2014 (age 27), 104
2015 (age 28), 113
2016 (age 29), 109 (but career-highs in ave and obp)
2017 (age 30), 77.

There's a lot of work out there on aging curves for ballplayers. Turns out they are mostly the same. Players don't get better, they only get worse. Once a player hits a plateau of performance, learns the league so to speak and plays at their true talent level, that's it. (Superstars don't fit normal aging curves, but superstars are the exceptions, hence the "super" part.) Most players are peaking at 27-29 and declining thereafter.

If you like fWAR his numbers from 2012 are 2.0, 2.3, 2.9, 4.5, 5.8, and this season 0.8 in 62 games (out of 78) played. He'll be lucky to crack 2.5 by season's end, even with a burst of production. For comparison the top four MLB SS (Seager, Cozart, Bogaerts, Correa) are rated from 2.6 to 3.2 fWAR already. As long as BCraw's fielding remains in the superior bracket he will deliver value, but he no longer looks like a middle-of-the-order hitter. In fact he looks more like a defensive specialist. That can work in San Francisco on a pitching-dominant team, but not at his current (77 OPS+) level. His career average is 98 OPS+ and I do expect him to improve in the second half and get closer to that even if he may never top out again. This is something we have to face since he is signed for $15.2M/yr for the next four (2018-2021) seasons. He's a cornerstone player along with his fellow Brandon, Mr. Belt. The big first baseman will be the subject of a later post.

One positive: his BABIP is almost 30 points below normal so maybe he's hitting it hard but having some bad luck. We'll see. He's a great athlete, keeps himself fit, works hard to improve, and is a beloved player who is appreciated for what he does best. Those things add up to success, usually, as long as the body cooperates. Four more years of BCraw? He's posted over 18 WAR in his career, averaging 3.5/yr in his five full seasons. Do you think he can produce another 12 WAR (3.0/yr)? Or is 10 (2.5/yr) more likely? I know I'll never get tired of watching him play shortstop. But I do think we've experienced his peak as a hitter and now it's all about how slowly he'll fade, how much he can fight the inevitable decline and still deliver adequate major-league quality with the bat.



nomisnala said...

The sample size is about half a season. If he can have a decent hot streak he could start to approach his career norms. How at this age did Turner get to be such a good hitter for the Dodgers?

M.C. O'Connor said...

Turner is a late-bloomer. He didn't become a full-time player until he was 29/30. He's definitely an anomaly. I remember Bob Brenly was late-arriving to the bigs and hit his 'true talent level' about age 30.

I think Craw has life left--if he can hit near league-average he's still very valuable. I'm going to give him a pass on this season and assume his drop-off is physical, that he's got some nagging injuries, not to mention the rest of the lineup sucks and that brings everyone down.

Zo said...

Krukow always talks about how line drives are contagious, as are errors. I have to wonder if there is some truth to that, and, if the players around Crawford were hitting better, he would be, too. If that is correct, the surprising thing is how well Posey is doing, not how poorly the other players are. It just seems like the drop in OPS+ is too great to be accounted for by one year of age, unless, as you say, he has an injury. Maybe his vision is changing. That happens, and tends to happen at certain times in life (although, I don't think 31 is typical) and tends to happen quickly, although it can be hard to discern for the individual.

M.C. O'Connor said...

Posey is not a normal player. I don't think he will see the same decline even with the catching duties. Not that he won't decline, but his hitting skills are so much higher than most I think he'll be producing with the bat longer than others in his age bracket. BCraw at his peak is an above-average hitter. Posey at his peak is an MVP/batting champ. But like Crawford his fielding is also a huge part of his game. The question for me, is what is the minimum level of hitting needed for BCraw to stay productive. He obviously can't hit like he's doing now, that's not enough even with his stellar defense. He has to be at some threshold, which I've always assumed to be at or near league-average. The current MLB mean is .255/.324/.426 (.750 OPS) which blows my mind. How many Giants are slugging .426 or getting on base at a .324 clip?

Ron said...

Before we get too carried about Crawford's down year, let's not forget that he endured a tragic loss in his Family soon after the Season started. This not only caused him to miss several games, but clearly wore him down emotionally for several weeks - I think that it is still weighing on him. Then, there were some injuries, too.

I am making no judgments at all about his Season. Given the hopelessness of the 2017 Giants, it would probably be best to scrub this year, & re-look at Crawford, when he bounces back in a big way next Season.

M.C. O'Connor said...

Yeah it's like he never really got on track for 2017. One could say the same about the whole team.