San Francisco Giants

Crawford, Simmons put on defensive display when Giants play Braves

San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford fields a ground ball hit by Los Angeles Dodgers’ Howie Kendrick for an out during the first inning of a game, May 19, 2015, in San Francisco.
San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford fields a ground ball hit by Los Angeles Dodgers’ Howie Kendrick for an out during the first inning of a game, May 19, 2015, in San Francisco. The Associated Press

Tim Hudson spent parts of two seasons pitching in Atlanta with Andrelton Simmons as his shortstop. Hudson is in his second season in San Francisco, where the position is manned by Brandon Crawford.

So whom would you rather have there, Tim?

“It’s a dead heat,” Hudson said this week, grinning. “I’m not going to pick between those two. They’re both pretty dang good.”

Fans of defense at the infield’s most demanding position must be enjoying this Giants-Braves series at AT&T Park. Simmons, the 25-year-old from Curacao, has been the National League’s Gold Glove recipient at shortstop each of the past two seasons. Giants pitchers who see Crawford every day marvel at his ability to make difficult plays look routine.

“They’re two of the best going right now; there’s no question about it,” Hudson said. “I think the one thing about Simmons that always has stood out is his arm, the kind of plays he can make because of his arm. I think that’s one reason that makes him so special.

“Crawford has a really good arm, too, but he also makes a lot of really, really tough plays look really easy – balls in the hole, balls up the middle. And how he works with the second baseman is pretty special, too.”

While Simmons is touted as one of the league’s best shortstops, national praise seems less frequent for Crawford. Before this season, for example, ESPN compiled a list of its top 10 shortstops as ranked by a panel of writers and analysts. Simmons was third; Crawford didn’t make the list.

A similar list from MLB Network’s analytical tool, called “The Shredder,” had Simmons 10th and Crawford unranked, though network analyst Billy Ripken did release his own list with Simmons fourth and Crawford sixth. Such lists are mostly subjective and take into account more than defense – but in that specific arena, it’s Simmons with the hardware.

Beginning in 2013, the process for selecting Gold Glove winners changed. They had been selected solely by a vote of managers and coaches, but now there’s a statistical element. Managers’ and coaches’ votes comprise about 75 percent of the process, and the rest is determined by SABR Defensive Index – a metric that combines several defensive stats into one number expressing how many runs a fielder “saved” for his team.

The metrics shine on Simmons. In his first Gold Glove season, Simmons’ SDI – which shows a player’s runs saved relative to the league average at his position – was +29.3. Next-highest was the Cardinals’ Pete Kozma (8.7), while Crawford was fifth (2.6). Last season, Simmons had the second-highest SDI among N.L. shortstops (13.1), behind Zack Cozart of the Reds (14.1), and Crawford was sixth (7.3).

SDI attempts to account for a fielder’s range, throwing arm, sure-handedness and – in the case of shortstops – ability to turn a double play. But as Simmons’ Gold Glove last year despite Cozart’s higher SDI indicates, there’s still room to make an impression with defense via the eye test.

“I think he makes a lot of spectacular plays, and he makes all the routine plays also,” Crawford said of Simmons. “I think there are a lot of shortstops who will make some great plays, but then they also make some errors on some routine ones. I’ve been in that category for a couple years, I think. But he ends up making most of the routine ones, also.”

Entering this series, Simmons had made just one error in 46 games. Crawford had four in 48 games, a promising pace for Crawford after he made 21 errors last season. Some of those 21 errors came on routine plays, as Crawford acknowledged, though others happened when he tried to complete spectacular plays that other shortstops might not have attempted.

Simmons said this week that as part of his own growth defensively, “I’ve tried to clean that up a little bit, maybe cut down by being a little less aggressive, but at the same time making sure I get the routine plays done and not overdoing stuff and making mistakes.”

Asked for his impression of Crawford, Simmons said: “I know he’s pretty good.”

“I haven’t seen him play that much; we face each other six times a year,” Simmons said. “But I know he has a strong arm; I’ve seen him make some diving plays.

“Crawford has good hair, too,” Simmons added. “That’s one thing that stands out.”

Crawford said winning a Gold Glove is “definitely” one of his career goals, and he may have to go through Simmons to do it. But for this weekend at AT&T Park, at least, baseball observers don’t have to choose between them.

“They both have something that you can’t teach to any infielder,” Hudson said. “It’s just instincts, and athleticism, that only the great ones have.”