San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy has familiarized himself quite well with the two shortstop system, combining the play of infielders Brandon Crawford and Joaquin Arias.
Both players have faired somewhat adequately — in what you can only expect out of two players sharing a position — but in completely different ways. While Crawford’s talents are best suited on the defensive side of the ball, which has given him the starting nod in more than 2/3rds of the season, Arias has busted out offensively in August and gives the Giants a much needed lift at the bottom of the order.
So who’s better?
The question is rather complex. As it stands right now, Crawford is the better overall talent and has a long future ahead of him at shortstop if he can stay healthy. But Bochy likes to play the odds. Specifically, batting the left-handed hitting Crawford against right-handed pitching and suiting up the right-handed hitting Arias with left-handed arms. If that confuses you, here’s the breakdown.
Crawford has struggled somewhat mightily at the plate this year, continually batting seventh or eighth in the Giants lineup. He has totaled a .249 average with four home runs, 41 RBIs and a .305 on-base percentage in 123 at-bats. Nothing spectacular.
Merely below average.
And what’s strange is that his batting average against right-handers still hovers around .250, which might give reason for Arias to overtake Crawford at the position. But like most sports, baseball is as much about playing the hot hand than what overall statistics might indicate. And that favors Crawford.
The 25-year-old shortstop has been rising his offensive numbers, hitting .281 in the month of August with 18 hits and eight RBIs. In September, his numbers have soared. He currently is batting .412 with an astounding .500 on-base percentage and a 1.088 OPS.
And let us not forget about his defensive skill set, which Bochy has lauded in recent weeks.
“[In] the last two, three weeks,” Bochy said, “I don’t know who’s played better at short. That’s how good he’s been defensively.”
In the last 59 games this season, Crawford has only committed one error — best in the majors during that span. That’s significantly down from his first 59 games where he fouled on 12.
Meanwhile, Arias has shown signs of a hot bat every other month. In fact, if you look at his month-to-month batting average, it goes something like this: April – .364, May .229, June – .255, July – .238, August – .417, September – .125. He’s had more hot and cold streaks than anyone else on the team. But let’s look at his upside.
Arias has surged onto the scene in August, improving his overall batting average to .276, 27 points higher than Crawford. He hits left-handers exceptionally well, posting a team-best .320 average with a .351 on-base percentage and a mighty .448 slugging percentage.
All of that for a position player that doesn’t usually warrant such offensive production. But let’s get back on track. Arias’ numbers against left-handers alone should give him the starting nod for every such game. If he doesn’t, there might be some well-deserved finger pointing.
So what’s the overall count? In the post-Money Ball era, the game of baseball is more about statistical analysis, pitcher-to-batter matchups and identifying hot and cold streaks than it is about anything else. And as so, the battle for shortstop might just be a continual loop of processing such factors on a day-to-day basis. Especially when the Giants are battling for the NL-West division pennant.