Let’s Consider Brandon Crawford’s Pitching Debut

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John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports activities

I hate to confess it, however I’m a little bit of a grump lately. Particularly, I’m a grump about place gamers pitching. Each time Jay Jaffe chronicles the unfold of the tactic, I get irritated proper alongside him. When some disinterested backup infielder lobs the ball in at 40 mph, I cringe. I used to be a fan of the foundations that restricted when groups can ship hitters to the mound; in actual fact, I bear in mind being upset that the foundations weren’t extra stringent once they first got here out.

With that mentioned, I’ve to take all of it again now. I’m in on place gamers pitching – so long as we’re particularly speaking about Brandon Crawford. He took the mound to shut out a 13-3 Giants victory yesterday and did so in a manner that place gamers merely don’t anymore: He tried as exhausting as he may.

There have already been a number of glorious breakdowns of how Crawford had all the time needed to pitch and the way he bought the chance. I can’t match that form of protection – however I can take a unique angle. He appeared borderline acceptable on the market, one thing you may’t usually say of hitters taking the mound. How acceptable? Let’s do a pitch breakdown.

Fastball
I suppose it shouldn’t shock me {that a} good defensive shortstop can throw exhausting, however Crawford topped out at 90 mph and even had distinctive four-seam form. When it comes to comparisons to precise pitchers, it appeared lots like Zack Greinke’s four-seamer:

Fastball Traits, Chosen RHP

Pitcher Pitches Velo (mph) VMov (in) HMov (in)
Zack Greinke 235 89.5 16.6 -2.6
Brandon Crawford 4 88.2 16.4 -4.9

Right here it’s in motion:

That appears fairly actual. I’ll level out, although, that Crawford additionally threw 5 different pitches that Statcast had hassle classifying, however which are in all probability greatest described as “sluggish fastballs.” A few of these have been four-seamers within the low 80s, an affordable variation for somebody attempting to pitch for the primary time. One was a 72-mph prayer thrown after 5 consecutive balls to begin his outing. Because it seems, pitching for the primary time since highschool can create some inconsistency:

I consulted our pitching fashions to get a way for a way good this pitch was. The reply: dangerous. PitchingBot, which grades on a 20-80 scale, gave the fastball a 24 stuff grade. Stuff+ gave it a 77, the place 100 is common and better is best. I don’t suppose pitchers are going to begin duplicating the Crawford fastball anytime quickly.

Changeup
Naturally, Crawford complemented his fastball with a tough changeup. There are extra shades of Greinke right here; his changeup averaged 86 mph, about the identical as his fastball. This wasn’t a classification challenge, although: his 5 changeups had a clearly distinct motion profile. He killed the elevate on the pitch surprisingly effectively; it dropped about 10 inches greater than his fastball (excluding that one 72-mph laugher) and had an extra six inches or so of arm-side fade. This appears strikingly like one thing a pitcher may throw:

Cheap observers may quibble with Crawford’s means to find his changeup. He threw 5 of them and solely hit the strike zone as soon as. However – and I can’t consider I’m saying this – his misses have been in cheap areas, and the pitch actually did have a ton of motion. Blake Sabol even performed alongside by attempting to border one into the zone:

Little doubt about it: Crawford’s changeup is his greatest pitch. He earned a swinging strike towards a hitter with a 154 wRC+ (and a 31.6% strikeout fee, to be truthful). Our pitching fashions… effectively, one agreed with me. PitchingBot gave the changeup a 40 stuff grade, which is about the identical because the grades the fashions give changeups thrown by Alex Cobb, Sean Manaea, Jakob Junis, and Anthony DeSclafani. Stuff+ didn’t purchase it, giving the pitch a 66, worse than his four-seamer.

On this particular occasion, I believe there’s just one conclusion: Stuff+ is incorrect and Crawford’s changeup is nice. That pitch form may truly play within the majors; it appears just like changeups thrown by Cal Quantrill, Dane Dunning, and Miles Mikolas. It’s notoriously exhausting to outline what makes a changeup good or dangerous, however c’mon, let’s give Crawford the advantage of the doubt right here. That appears like a great pitch.

Curveball
Oh, you thought Crawford was going to stay to 2 pitches? Crawford wasn’t simply attempting exhausting with velocity; he introduced a breaking pitch or two in his bag of tips. Like his changeup, Crawford had hassle finding his curveball, but it surely was fairly clearly a curveball:

He even had a traditional pitcher mannerism prepared, holding his observe by means of like he thought he’d thrown a strike. When he bought the pitch over the plate, it induced weak groundball contact:

Facet word: Wish to know the way excited the Giants defenders have been that Crawford was pitching? Watch J.D. Davis’ double play try there — in a 10-run sport — and also you’ll have your reply.

Regretfully, I’ve to confess that Crawford’s curveball isn’t fairly prepared for the large leagues. PitchingBot gave it a 24 for stuff. Stuff+ gave it a 71. Precise pitchers with curves that sluggish induce extra drop on the pitch; should you’re not throwing a breaking ball exhausting, you must get a ton of motion to make up for it. If Crawford have been doing this as his day job, his pitching coach would inform him to ditch the breaker and give attention to his fastball and changeup.

Slider
You may suppose {that a} lone slider was merely a misclassified curveball. You’d be incorrect. Crawford’s slider had a very totally different form:

Breaking Ball Form, Brandon Crawford

Pitch Velo (mph) VMov (in) HMov (in)
Curveball 74.2 -7.9 13.5
Slider 81.3 4.1 5.6

It’s someplace between a gyro slider and a sweeper, however clearly a definite pitch from that curveball. Touching the low 80s with motion is not any laughing matter. It’s additionally the very best pitch in main league baseball historical past in the case of outs per pitch thrown, minimal one pitch thrown:

Was he aiming there? It appears uncertain. Is that the pitch he was attempting to throw? Who is aware of! That doesn’t make me get pleasure from it any much less, although. When’s the final time you noticed a place participant with a four-pitch combine?

Relying on which mannequin you like, that may be Crawford’s greatest pitch. Or his worst pitch. PitchingBot gave it a flat 20 on the 20-80 scale, whereas Stuff+ gave it a stable 104. An affordable takeaway is that it’s exhausting to mannequin stuff with solely a single pitch. An unreasonable takeaway: Crawford’s slider defies categorization and retires main league hitters 100% of the time he throws it.

Ought to Crawford be a pitcher? I imply, no. There aren’t lots of main league roster spots on the market for pitchers who prime out within the 80s and have below-average breaking pitches. However is he surprisingly playable on the mound? Undoubtedly. His changeup appears like a bona fide main league pitch to me. I’m prepared to rethink my stance on place gamers pitching – as long as everybody who is available in appears pretty much as good as Crawford on the market.

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