On Friday, Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford signed a two-year extension with the team for $32 million ($16 million AAV). Crawford, who is now 34 years old, has served as the Giants’ primary shortstop since 2012, won the World Series twice with the team (2012 and 2014), and was named an All-Star in three seasons (2015, 2018, 2021). Crawford previously signed a six-year contract extension with the Giants for $75 million before the 2016 season and was set to become a Free Agent after this season before signing his new extension.
Although Crawford’s performance at the plate had been well below average from 2017-2019 with a .245/.311/.383 slash line, .296 wOBA, and 84 wRC+, he has had an offensive resurgence over the last couple of seasons. In basically a full season since 2020, Crawford has a .282/.351/.514 slash line, .363 wOBA, and 129 wRC+ across 149 games. Crawford’s 129 wRC+ ranks fourth among all qualified shortstops since 2020 behind only Fernando Tatis Jr. (158), Trea Turner (142), and Xander Bogaerts (134).
Despite his strikeout and walk rates being very similar from 2017-2019 to 2020-2021, Crawford has been a much better hitter from 2020-2021. From 2017-2019, Crawford’s ISO was .138 (about average) but his ISO from 2020-2021 has been .232 (outstanding). The key factors behind Crawford’s power surge have been improvements in his average exit velocity, barrel%, and average launch angle. Although his 89.2 average exit velocity from 2020-2021 isn’t elite by any means (48th percentile in 2020 and 55th percentile so far in 2021), it is still an improvement from his below average 87.6 average exit velocity from 2017-2019 (39th percentile in 2017, 26th percentile in 2018, and 23rd percentile in 2019). Additionally, Crawford’s near-elite 12.7 barrel% from 2020-2021 (60th percentile in 2020 and 90th percentile so far in 2021) is much improved from his sub-par 4.9 barrel% from 2017-2019 (43rd percentile in 2017, 17th percentile in 2018, and 24th percentile in 2019). Lastly, Crawford has increased his average launch angle from 10.3 degrees across 2017-2019 to 14.2 degrees from 2020-2021. As a result of increasing his launch angle, Crawford’s ground ball% has gone down (46.0% to 39.1%), fly ball% has gone up (31.3% to 40.6%), and HR/FB has also gone up (10.3% to 17.3%). Due to these improvements, Crawford has been able to improve his quality of contact in addition to his power. From 2017-2019, Crawford had a well below average .296 xwOBA (24th percentile in 2017, 31st percentile in 2018, and 21st percentile in 2019) but has had a well above average .349 xwOBA from 2020-2021 (30th percentile in 2020 and 86th percentile in 2021). As seen in the images below, MLB balls in play that are close to Crawford’s average exit velocity and launch angle from 2020-2021 have batting averages .366 points higher, have 6.2% more doubles, 0.8% more triples, and far more balls that leave the infield compared to MLB balls in play that are close to Crawford’s average exit velocity and launch angle from 2017-2019.
The one constant part of Crawford’s game over the years has been his stellar defense. Over his career, Crawford has averaged 7.9 DRS per 1,200 innings, 5.3 UZR per 150 games, and 9.1 OAA per 1,200 innings (since the stat became publicly available in 2016). Despite that his age has been increasing over the past few seasons, Crawford’s defense has remained elite. Since 2019, he has -2 DRS, 0.1 UZR, and 23 OAA.
Since the Giants have Crawford under contract for the next couple of seasons, they are now no longer likely to pursue any of the shortstops who are set to hit Free Agency following this season including Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Trevor Story. It is important to note that Marco Luciano, the best prospect in the Giants farm system and fourth-best prospect in all of baseball (according to Fangraphs), is projected to make his MLB debut in 2023 which happens to be the last year of Crawford’s new contract. In 2024, Crawford will be 37 and Luciano will be 22 so it seems unlikely the Giants will bring Crawford back as the team’s primary shortstop following his last year under contract, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he is brought back as a bench player (assuming he can still provide positive value to the team).
I would give the Giants an A for extending Brandon Crawford. If Crawford is able to somewhat sustain his .364 xwOBA, 139 wRC+, 15.4 OAA per 1,200 innings, and 6.0 WAR (Fangraphs’ version) per 150 games that he has produced this season, this contract will be an absolute steal for the Giants. If Crawford regresses but is still an above-average player, which I see as likely, this will still be a good contract for the Giants as Crawford will also provide valuable veteran leadership and a capable stoppage gap for Marco Luciano. If Crawford somehow regresses back to 2017-2019 form, the contract would be less than ideal but it wouldn’t kill the Giants’ payroll. With Crawford under contract for the rest of this season, the 2022 and 2023 seasons, and the Giants now looking like World Series contenders; Crawford will look to win his third World Series with the Giants.