Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he often heard opposing coaches and managers use the term “Gold Glove shortstop” to describe Brandon Crawford last season. That can now be considered an official designation.
Crawford was named the National League’s Gold Glove Award winner at shortstop Tuesday, earning the defensive honor for the first time. Crawford beat out Adeiny Hechavarria of the Miami Marlins and Andrelton Simmons of the Atlanta Braves to become the Giants’ first Gold Glove recipient since shortstop Omar Vizquel in 2006.
Simmons won the Gold Glove the previous two seasons, and Crawford said while he was “optimistic” about his chances this year, he was still “a little bit surprised” when he learned from his agent he’d won.
“That’s some pretty good competition,” Crawford said in a conference call. “Just to be in the finalists I was excited, but then to find out that I won, I was very proud.”
Crawford’s defensive reputation preceded him when broke into the majors in 2011, and Giants pitchers and coaches constantly rave about his abilities in the field. But national recognition has been rarer for Crawford, who before this year had not even been a finalist for the Gold Glove. Toward the end of the season, Bochy said his conversations about Crawford with members of opposing teams indicated that was changing.
“They love watching him,” Bochy said. “That’s why he was voted onto the All-Star team. The guy, day in and day out, has saved us with his glove. And he’s just a gifted shortstop that’s gotten better there.”
Managers and coaches account for 75 percent of the Gold Glove selection, with the rest determined by SABR Defensive Index, a metric that expresses how many runs a fielder “saved” for his team during the season. As of the last rankings Sept. 13, Crawford’s SDI of +16.8 was the highest of any N.L. player – not just shortstops – and a big jump from his 2014 (+7.3) and 2013 (+2.6) numbers.
According to the analytics website FanGraphs, Simmons led N.L. shortstops this year in defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating, with Crawford second and fourth in those categories. But in the SABR Defensive Index – which for shortstops factors range, arm strength, sure-handedness and ability to turn a double play – Crawford held a clear edge over Simmons (+10.1) and Hechavarria (+11.6).
Crawford said he felt he improved most this season on defense by becoming more consistent. He made a career-low 13 errors, because of an improved sense of when to attempt a highlight-reel play and when to pocket a risky throw.
“I think there have been other years I’ve made plenty of good plays, but I was probably a little more consistent this year – cut down on the plays where I tried to do too much and made more consistent throws to first,” Crawford said. “I think for the most part I made more consistent throws this year and really focused on my feet being under me, not throwing off-balance or off my back foot or anything like that where in the past balls would sail or go in the dirt on me. I think that’s probably the biggest area that was different than any other year.”
Crawford also credited the Giants’ first basemen with bailing him out on a handful of occasions – a reflection of the team’s infield defense overall. While Crawford was the Giants’ lone Gold Glove winner, they also had finalists at first base (Brandon Belt), third base (Matt Duffy) and catcher (Buster Posey), and Crawford pointed out second baseman Joe Panik might have been a finalist if a back injury hadn’t sidelined him for most of the second half.
It was suggested to Crawford the Giants could use that as a selling point this winter while courting free-agent starting pitchers. Crawford said he would be honored to be part of the Giants’ recruiting pitch – and that starter Mike Leake floated a similar idea during the season.
“He said, ‘If I’m going to stay, they’re going to have to sign you to an extension, too,’ ” Crawford said of Leake, a free agent. “Just kind of joking around, but I mean it’s kind of cool to hear that from a pitcher you’re trying to make plays for.”
For years, Crawford has received praise from pitchers he has played behind. Now he has the recognition of the league.
“Since I’ve been in the big leagues, that’s been a goal – to at least be a nominee and then to eventually win one,” Crawford said. “Four and a half years into my big-league career – that’s pretty quick, and I’m very happy about it.”