A Crawford You Can’t Refuse

Breaking down the best hitting performances from yesterday’s games.

Brandon Crawford (SF): 2-4, HR, R, 3 RBI.

With age comes maturity, and with maturity comes… a 93rd percentile Barrel rate?

Now in his age-34 season, Brandon Crawford is putting up the best offensive season of his career. Always an elite defender with good health (at least 140 games every season but his rookie year and 2020’s shortened campaign), Crawford has generally been somewhat of an afterthought at the plate. After a few above-average seasons in the mid-2010s, he lapsed back into a sub-100 wRC+ in 2017-2019.

In 2020, something changed. Well, more specifically, his swing changed. Luke Hooper wrote a great piece about it at Fangraphs, but in short, the difference has been tremendous in determining the quality of contact. Crawford already has more barrels on the season than he has since 2015. In 2020, his Barrel rate doubled from the 4-4.5% range (from the years 2016-2019) to 9.4%—this year, his Barrel rate rose yet again and is now over 15%. It’s resulted in a 92nd-percentile xSLG—that’s higher than sluggers like Nelson Cruz or Franmil Reyes.

And most importantly, this isn’t a writeup about what could be, ruminating on a bright-red Statcast page. It’s about what is: Crawford’s actual SLG nearly matches his xSLG, ranking in the top 10% of the league. He hit his 15th homer of the season last night as part of a 2-4, HR, R, 3 RBI night. The veteran shortstop, always known as a glove-first defender, is putting up a 140 wRC+ at 34 years old. He ranks 15th in the league in fWAR at 2.3, ahead of guys like Trea Turner, Shohei Ohtani, and Bo Bichette. And it seems legit, as well. If you managed to snag him for cheap, you’re reaping the rewards right now—it seems like the new Brandon Crawford is here to stay.

Let’s see how the other hitters did Monday:

Carson Kelly (ARI): 3-4, 2B, HR, R, 2 RBI.

If I were to ask you who leads the Arizona Diamondbacks in fWAR mid-June, would you believe me if I told you it was Carson Kelly? The catcher had a down year in 2020 (didn’t we all, really?) but has bounced back in a big way, putting up a .271/.391/.479 thanks to good power coupled with one of the best walk rates in the league. Kelly debuted back in 2016, but he didn’t have anywhere close to a full season until 2019 when he put up an above-average offensive season. It’s looking like maybe 2020 was the outlier—his plate discipline should keep him valuable even during the inevitable hitting slumps.

Niko Goodrum (DET): 2-4, HR, R, 3 RBI.

His fifth homer of the year (a solo shot) and a two-run single in the first aren’t enough to interest me in Goodrum. Anyone hitting in the bottom half of the Tigers’ lineup would give me pause, but it seems like it was just a good night for the Tigers, who piled 10 runs on the Royals. Goodrum is a better hitter than his woeful 60-wRC+ 2020 season, but still likely below league-average and not relevant for fantasy.

Sean Murphy (OAK): 2-2, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.

In our second edition of Catchers Who Rake™, we have Oakland’s Sean Murphy, who reached base four times via a pair of hits and also a pair of hits… by pitch. That worked better in my head. Either way, it’s been a solid season for Murphy, who has always been an above-average force at the plate since debuting in 2019. He isn’t quite matching his impressive output last season (a 17.1% walk rate seems like it was a small sample event) but you can do a lot worse than a 108 wRC+ catcher and there’s good reason to think Murphy could improve—he’s only 26, after all.

Patrick Wisdom (CHC): 1-2, HR, R, RBI, BB.

Cue the “He can’t keep getting away with it?” GIF. Wisdom just can’t stop hitting homers and it seems manager David Ross will keep slotting him into the lineup as the cleanup hitter as long as the hot streak lasts. It’s already starting to cool a bit, though, and what happens next is the big question. Even throughout his dominating start to 2021, Wisdom is rocking a 35.6% strikeout rate—once the hits stop coming, the dropoff in production will be stark. By all means, ride it while it lasts, but how and if Wisdom can adjust is the real question. If I knew the answer, I’d be on TV.

Dominic Smith (NYM): 2-3, HR, 2 R, RBI, BB.

After a dominating 2020 season, Dominic Smith’s 2021 has been less than stellar. Despite posting very similar strikeout and walk rates to last year, Smith has just a fraction of the production in nearly the same amount of games as 2020. The quality of contact just isn’t there, and a lot of those metrics are looking like they were pre-2020. Smith is definitely better than he’s played so far (that’s been true of a lot of the Mets lineup), but 2020 might have been a bit too good to be true.

Kyle Schwarber (WSH): 2-3, HR, R, 2 RBI, BB.

That makes four homers in four games (and three in the past two nights) for Schwarber, who is starting to settle in nicely after missing the start of the season with his new team. At this point, we pretty much know who Schwarber is, but when he’s hitting well he’s one of the most fearsome sluggers in the league. It comes with some cold stretches, though. Few hit it harder, and a decent walk rate is a crucial complement. He’s been moved to the leadoff spot and it seems to be working. I think he should be a lock for 30 HR.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (TOR): 2-4, HR, R, RBI.

I know there isn’t much new to say about Vlad at this point but wowee this guy can hit. He instantly became one of the elites in hard contact when he debuted, but now that he’s stopped driving the ball right into the ground the output has been nothing short of tremendous. He extended his HR lead with his 22nd of the season, and quite frankly he’s just going to keep smashing the ball.

Joey Votto (CIN): 2-4, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, BB.

The days of MVP Joey Votto may be over but he can still be productive at the plate. After a steep drop in 2019, he’s rebounded a bit and put up a quiet 115 wRC+. His plate discipline hasn’t been as elite as in the past, but it’s still solid. If nothing else, he’s hitting in what has turned out to be a fearsome lineup and should continue to collect counting stats as a result.

Cedric Mullins (BAL): 1-3, BB, 2 SB.

Even a mediocre day at the plate is productive for Mullins, who swiped two bags in the eighth after a leadoff walk. Fifth in fWAR and rocking a 152 wRC+, Mullins shows no signs of slowing down after his hot start. Don’t expect a ton of power but he’s shown aggression on the basepaths to complement his strong hit tool. I think he’s here to stay.

Randy Arozarena (TB): 2-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, RBI.

Despite one of the more memorable postseason performances in recent years, many of us (myself included) were preaching caution with Arozarena heading into 2021. After some validation with Arozarena’s slow start to the season, he’s been showing off more and more of that impressive ceiling. He’s riding an eight-game hit streak during which he’s slashed .324/.342/.595 with two homers and a pair of stolen bases. He’s been a big part of the Rays’ success and looks like he’ll continue to contribute for awhile to come.

Jonathan India (CIN): 3-4, 2B, R, RBI, BB, SB.

My colleague Zach Hayes wrote about India as the feature to his Batter’s Box a couple of weeks ago and his assessment is better than anything I’ll throw out there. But in short, this is exactly the kind of ceiling to expect from India, with a good hit tool, walks, and some speed. What’s particularly exciting is right around the time of Zach Hayes’ writeup, India moved into the leadoff spot and might be there to stay. It would be a huge boost in his value, batting ahead of guys like Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos. He’s slashed .294/.415/.471 since he started hitting leadoff and is probably not being rostered as much as he should. The big concern is where he plays once Mike Moustakas comes back (he should be starting a rehab assignment today), but if India keeps hitting like this the Reds will have to find a way to keep him in the lineup.

Featured Image by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)

Dylan Burris

Dylan has been a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan since 2015. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, he devotes most of his non-baseball attention to college basketball.

2 responses to “A Crawford You Can’t Refuse”

  1. When is John Stearns coming back? says:

    I have Molina but Kelly is currently on wire.. do I make the swap? I don’t like dropping Molina, he gives consistent batting average help, which is quite valuable from catcher. And still not sure I trust Kelly.

    • Dylan Burris says:

      I’d do it. Molina has really cooled off from his hot start. Kelly may not provide quite the same AVG (he’s great in an OBP league though), but I think he’ll be the better hitter overall going forward. Unfortunately, he’s mired in that Dbacks lineup, but he should at least hit near the heart of the lineup when he’s playing.

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