According to both ESPN’s Player Rater and the Zach Sanders z-score method, Brandon Crawford has been the top fantasy shortstop so far this year. But in today’s post, Crawford is playing the role of Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 NFL Draft. Let’s see how far he falls.
If there were any doubts about Semien’s solid first month of the season, Semien backed up his April with a May in which he hit another three home runs and stole four bases compared to the three he stole in April. He also hit .289 after hitting .284 in the first month of the season. His RBI production dropped off as he was moved towards the top of the order in late April, but his run production increased in May. All in all, Semien’s second month of the season should confirm to you that’s he’s going to continue to produce.
There’s no doubt that Desmond has not been good this year. According to the z-score method he has only been the 14th most valuable shortstop so far, and the Player Rater has him 17th at the position. Unfortunately, it’s not like he’s had historically bad luck on balls in play or an unfortunate home run per fly ball rate. His strikeout rate, although better than last year’s career low, is still several percentage points worse than it was during Desmond’s peak. And he’s hitting way too many balls on the ground as his 56 percent ground ball rate is the eighth highest among qualified hitters this year.
But the good news is that Desmond is still hitting the ball fairly far when he does elevate. His average home run and fly ball distance ranks 54th among the 218 listed on the baseballheatmaps.com leaderboard. That’s down from where it was last year when he hit 24 home runs with an 18.2 percent HR/FB rate. But it’s higher than it was in 2013 when he hit 20 home runs with a 12.9 percent HR/FB rate. That means the ZiPS rest-of-season projection that has Desmond hitting 14 home runs from here on out doesn’t seem unreasonable. And both ZiPS and Steamer have him stealing at least 10 bases from here on out even though he’s only 1-for-3 when attempting to steal this year. The projection systems also have him projected for roughly 100 R+RBI. All that together means Desmond could have plenty of value left and may even be under ranked here.
Still no Crawford.
Let’s start with Crawford’s power. The 14 percent home run per fly ball rate this year compared to a 6.6 percent career rate is obviously a red flag. To be fair to Crawford, he does have the fourth highest average home run and fly ball distance this year with an impressive 314.2 foot average. But this is a guy who averaged roughly 275 feet in his last two seasons. I have a hard time believing in such a significant spike. Jeff Sullivan recently wrote a pretty convincing piece in support of Crawford’s power, and I’ll buy into it to some degree. But I can’t buy into Brandon Crawford: top five in average home run and fly ball distance.
Another concern with Crawford’s power holding up is the rate at which he is putting balls in the air. A large driver of his first double digit home run season last year was a roughly ten percentage point jump in his fly ball rate. He hit fly balls out of the park at a relatively normal rate for him, but he just hit more balls in the air. This year his fly ball rate is back down where it was prior to last year. Again, not that I think it is, but if Crawford’s early power does turn out to be largely a fluke, his home run total from here on out could be minuscule with his current batted ball profile.
There’s also the issue of his batting average. His BABIP has been fairly normal over the years, and his strikeout and walk rates have floated around a bit, but Crawford has hit between .246 and .248 for three straight seasons. This year he’s hitting .300, but his BABIP is another obvious red flag at .354. Once again, Crawford deserves some credit for having quite a large spike in his hard hit rate this year, which is obviously helping with the BABIP. However, most of the 30 or so hitters who have a higher hard hit rate than Crawford have a BABIP lower than Crawford. So while his average may not regress all the way back to the .250 range, at least some of what we’ve seen so far has been luck.