Two things were made abundantly clear during Brandon Crawford's big league debut last season: his bat was not ready for the big leagues, but his defense had Gold Glove potential.
The question was whether or not the bat would ever play up to the point where the Giants could live with the limited production he provided on offense in order to get his outstanding glove on the field.
Last season, Miguel Tejada (.239/.270/.326) and Orlando Cabrera (.221/.241/.270) were just as bad with the bat as Crawford without providing anywhere near the range and arm strength of Crawford on the field. Crawford hit only .204/.288/.296 last season, prompting the Giants to acquire the range-less Cabrera from the Cleveland Indians at the trading deadline.
While correlation does not imply causation, it is notable that the Giants went into the tank last season right around July 31, when Crawford was demoted for Cabrera. Cabrera's defensive limitations were a huge liability for the Giants down the stretch. Luckily, his bat more than made up for his defensive limitations. Oh, wait, .510 was his OPS and not his slugging percentage? Never mind.
Rather than making a big splash on the free agent market this winter for Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins, or attempting to acquire Clint Barmes, Jed Lowrie or Marco Scutaro, Giants general manager Brian Sabean decided to bet that Crawford could improve enough offensively to be a positive asset to the team. Sabean's gamble has paid off, and Crawford should be rewarded with a Gold Glove for his defensive effort.
The race for the National League Gold Glove Award should come down to Crawford and Barmes. Barmes leads all NL shortstops in Ultimate Zone Rating, while Crawford is second. The two shortstops are tied for first in Defensive Runs Saved with 14. Crawford leads all National League shortstops in range factor, and is also slightly ahead of Barmes in fielding percentage (.973 to .971).
While the statistics show Barmes and Crawford to be even defensively for the entire season, momentum is on Crawford's side. He made 12 errors through his first 60 games while playing through a sprained thumb that appeared to affect his defense, but has only made three errors since.
Then, there's the eye test. While I'm biased because I watch Crawford everyday and have only seen Barmes a few times this year, I have a hard time believing that any shortstop looks as good in the field as Crawford does this season, and I'm not even talking about his handsomeness. His combination of quickness, range and arm strength makes him the preeminent shortstop in the National League.
Unfortunately, Gold Glove voting often comes down to offense, even though it is supposed to be a defensive award. That could tilt the award to an inferior defender such as Rollins, Reyes or Ian Desmond.
While Crawford's .249/.307/.357 batting line still leaves a lot to be desired, his defense has been good enough to make him the eighth most valuable shortstop in the National League this season.
Given that Crawford only makes about the league minimum salary, the fact that he's been competent enough with the bat to make himself an average regular overall is a tremendous development for a team that got almost no production from the shortstop position last season.
Add in the contribution of Crawford's platoon mate Joaquin Arias, and suddenly the Giants have gone from the bottom of the league to the top of the league in production from their shortstops.
Crawford is certainly a deserving Gold Glove candidate. If the voters overlook him for the award because of his offensive limitations, that's no matter. For the next several seasons, shortstop will not be a problem for the Giants.