Brandon Crawford’s Best Defensive Plays, Statistically by Jeff Sullivan March 6, 2014 FanGraphs already had Inside Edge data from the past two seasons, but David Appelman rolled out an upgrade this week with new material showing up on the leaderboards and on player pages. It’s an exciting development, providing new stuff we get to play around with while we wait for reams of reliable information from the new MLBAM project in the future. Because there’s a new feature on FanGraphs, I feel somewhat obligated to put it to immediate use in a post. In this post, Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford will be your guide through the near-impossible. All balls in play are classified by the likelihood of a play being made. It’s somewhat subjective, but the classifications are: Impossible, Remote, Unlikely, Even, Likely and Routine. Most balls in play make for routine outs. No defender has converted an impossible play, which I suppose is in keeping with the definition. Last year, 8.3% of remote plays were converted into outs. Digging deeper, 6.0% of remote plays were converted into outs by shortstops. Last season, there were 31 players who converted exactly two remote plays. There were six more players who converted exactly three. Aaron Hicks converted four. Brandon Crawford converted five. Put another way: At least in theory, remote plays capture the most difficult, yet makeable, plays. Brandon Crawford was the 2013 league leader in the category, turning five (of 24) remote plays into outs. So, below, let’s go over those five remote plays, in chronological order. No, the point isn’t that Crawford is the best defensive shortstop in baseball. Let’s just be content to watch Crawford at his best. You can get back to thinking about Andrelton Simmons tomorrow. Remote Play No. 1 Date: May 16 Opposing Team: Rockies Opposing Hitter: Charlie Blackmon Inning: 6 At full speed, in a .gif, it’s a little hard to tell why this might’ve been classified as being so difficult. Your first instinct, then, might be to think the numbers are just silly and wrong. This was a soft bloop of a hit that dropped in front of Crawford on the dirt. If anything, maybe Crawford got himself out of position. But keep watching, and maybe then watch some more. The ball was spinning funny off of the bat, which means it was spinning funny when it landed on the ground. Notice that Crawford barehanded the ball. The ball short-hopped him, and it bounced away from him suddenly. Crawford just snared the ball by instinct. He then immediately fired an on-target rocket to throw out a pretty quick runner who was busting it down the line. Maybe this was part luck, but it was also part natural hand-eye, and most times out of 100 that ball squeaks through and Blackmon is safe. Crawford did something outstanding. Minutes later, Crawford committed a catching error at second, allowing DJ LeMahieu to steal a base and then advance to third. Life! It’ll get you. Going back to the Blackmon play again, here’s how Crawford responded to his own wizardry: Remote Play No. 2 Date: June 2 Opposing Team: Cardinals Opposing Hitter: Yadier Molina Inning: 3 The play itself was sensational. What happened after the play was also sensational. Yadier Molina expressed frustration and got himself ejected. At that point, he went after the first-base umpire, and then he had to be held back. Mike Matheny came storming out of the dugout and he got himself ejected, too. Afterward, Molina was given a suspension for making contact with the official. The Cardinals lost the game by two runs, and Molina’s replacement went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts. Brandon Crawford converted an amazing play. On top of that, he was somewhat responsible for further weakening the opposition. Sometimes it’s fun to give pitch-framers partial credit for home-plate ejections after borderline calls. Crawford probably deserves partial credit for getting the Cardinals’ best overall player eliminated. A screengrab of the slow-motion replay: So, Molina was definitely out. This was one of the better plays of the season. Crawford was overcome by his emotions. Remote Play No. 3 Date: June 25 Opposing Team: Dodgers Opposing Hitter: Adrian Gonzalez Inning: 4 “It’s a pop-up,” you say. “Pop-ups are usually easily caught.” Yes, you’re right, usually they are. Usually they are not pop-ups like this, which require a shortstop to run into left field with his back to the ball. Crawford basically had to pick a spot and get there in a hurry before sliding to make a basket catch. This is a play that’s a lot more challenging than Crawford made it look. Another impressive component is a component that didn’t matter, but look how Crawford got back up. There was no one on base, but he would’ve been in throwing position. He popped right back to his feet, and just every part of this shows off the sort of athleticism and coordination that’s the difference between a good shortstop and a decent second baseman. Two pitches later, Crawford caught a Hanley Ramirez pop-up near the left-field line. You could tell just by looking at him that Crawford knew he’d done something incredible: Remote Play No. 4 Date: July 8 Opposing Team: Mets Opposing Hitter: Marlon Byrd Inning: 11 If the ball had gotten through, or if the throw had been weaker, the Mets would’ve gone up 4-3. Maybe 5-3. This was an extraordinary play in extra innings that saved the Giants one or two crucial runs. It wasn’t just that Crawford was able to knock the ball down. On its own, that might’ve spared a run. But then Crawford immediately got to his feet and fired a bullet to Brandon Belt to get Byrd by a fraction of a step. Belt visibly felt the excitement. Crawford, too. The game proceeded to the 16th. In the top half, the Mets had runners on the corners with two out. Anthony Recker pinch-hit for Josh Edgin and rolled a grounder to shortstop. Crawford booted it, Eric Young scored, and the Mets won 4-3. I can’t tell if this is an example of baseball being the best or the worst. Remote Play No. 5 Date: Aug. 15 Opposing Team: Nationals Opposing Hitter: Bryce Harper Inning: 9 That view is good. This view is better: It wasn’t a perfectly-stung line-drive. Had it been a perfectly-stung line-drive, it would’ve made it through to the outfield for a leadoff base hit. But that ball was hit well — well enough for the crowd to briefly roar in approval — and Crawford broke immediately and went full extension to take a single away from a blossoming superstar. Sometimes line-drives are caught by dumb luck. Sometimes they’re caught easily, because a line-drive can basically be a lot like a regular hard throw. Crawford had to range back and to his left and he needed every inch of his extension to snag a liner that seemed to have a bit of curve to it. When a guy makes a play like this in the bottom of the ninth, you can forgive a little visible enthusiasm. Brandon Crawford plays the kind of defense that makes hitters feel feelings. I’m not sure if Crawford feels feelings, himself, and as such I’m not sure if Crawford is actually human. But then, if he isn’t, that could help explain the defensive plays above. No, he’s not the very best. But sometimes the very best and Brandon Crawford can be indistinguishable. They’re all great, each and every one of them. To be even better than average is a remarkable thing.