Does Carl Crawford’s Platoon Split Matter?

Carl Crawford was widely considered to be the biggest prize among position players this offseason, and it was no surprise that he got the big money from the Boston Red Sox. However, historically he has had a lot of trouble with left-handed pitching. It’s one thing to point out that platoon splits can be expected to regress pretty heavily to league average. But beyond that issue, how much does his platoon split really matter, anyway?

Crawford has more than 1500 plate appearances in his career against left-handed pitching, so, in his case, Crawford’s true-talent platoon skill is probably closer to his observed split than to league average. Using his ZiPS‘ .351 projected wOBA for 2011 (with steals and caught-stealing removed because we’re concerned with the batter/pitcher matchup), I get a projected wOBA of .362 versus right-handed pitching, and .322 versus left-handed pitching. That .322 is about league-average in the 2010 run environment. If that seems high for a player with a .307 career wOBA versus left-handed pitching (and a .337 wOBA career with steals removed), keep in mind that we regress so much partly because of the year-to-year volatility (partly due to a low annual sample of plate appearances against sought paws) of splits. For example, as recently as 2007, Crawford had a .360 wOBA against left-haded pitching. He followed that in 2008 with a .289. But while regression to the mean is (as usual) important, it is really a side issue for this post.

In 2010, Carl Crawford had a .306 wOBA versus left-handed pitching and still managed to accumulate 6.9 Wins Above Replacement. In 2009, Crawford had a .313 wOBA versus southpaws and put up 5.7 WAR. Crawford’s value isn’t purely tied up in his bat: he adds value on the bases and in the field even when he’s facing left-handed pitchers. Beyond that, as bad as he can be against lefties, he hits righties very well, and (like all full-time players) sees them most of the time (more than 70 percent of his career plate appearances are against right-handed pitching). One might point out that he only had a .289 wOBA versus lefties in his disappointing 2.5-WAR 2008 season, except he didn’t exactly smash right-handed pitching (.327 wOBA) either — the problem wasn’t his platoon split, but his hitting overall. Even if Crawford’s true-talent wOBA is only about .310 versus left-handed pitching and he had to face them every plate appearance, his defense and baserunning would still make him about a league-average player. He isn’t going to hurt the team when he starts against lefties (although it would be a good idea to move him down in the order, but that’s another can of worms.). Crawford’s broad base of baseball skills and hitting ability against right-handers means that, despite his platoon issues, his value is what it is: outstanding.

That is enough to briefly answer the scattered concerns about Crawford’s platoon issues hurting his value. But might not the split still matter in another sense? Teams surely know that Crawford is a much less effective hitter against southpaws, so in crucial, high-leverage situations, they can exploit this by putting in a lefty-specialist in against him, right? Since Crawford changed teams within the division, he will be facing almost the same team opponents, so let’s see if he’s had trouble in high-leverage situations in the past. This is not to assume that there is some “clutch skill” on Crawford’s part, but rather to look at Crawford’s likely opponents’ treatment of him in the past: have they been able to exploit him in high leverage situations in the past?

During his career as a whole, Crawford has a .341 wOBA in low-leverage situations, .352 in medium-leverage situations, and a a.357 in high-leverage situations. Nothing there. Let’s looks at Crawford’s Clutch score, which quantifies player performance in terms of wins in crucial situations. Again, this is not to impute this skill (or lack thereof) to Crawford, but to see if teams have used it again him in the past. For his career, Crawford is +1.5 wins in “Clutch.” If we look more closely, we do see that his highest seasonal Clutch value came in 2007 (+1.79) when he also had his best season against southpaws (.360 wOBA). On the other hand, in his second best season against lefties, (.338 wOBA) 2006, he was -0.93 Clutch wins, and during 2008 when he wOBAed .289 against lefties, he was +1.08 wins. Without going listing every season and associated performances, it is simply worth noting that there is too little correlation with his platoon performance to conclude that the teams Crawford has faced have been trying (or at least not successfully trying) to exploit his problems against southpaws in high leverage situations.

Carl Crawford is an excellent player with a larger-than-average platoon split for a left-handed hitter. Despite that split, his abilities in the field, on the bases, and against right-handed pitching more than make up for it. Moreover, there isn’t obvious evidence most of the teams that Crawford will continue to face in the near future have been able to consistently exploit his platoon problem in high leverage situations. One ambiguous note in conclusion: there is one opponent that knows Crawford every well, although he hasn’t played against them in real competition before. He will now face them quite frequently. It’s a team known for using every bit of information they have to get that extra two percent. Carl Crawford versus the Tampa Bay Rays is a late-inning match-up I can’t wait to see.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

37 Responses to “Does Carl Crawford’s Platoon Split Matter?”

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  1. lester bangs says:

    Mediocre Fenway stats too, which no one talks about.

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    • True, but home/road splits are even more volatile than platoon splits, and hard to pin down to skill. This is especially true since hitters generally hit better at home than on the road, and Crawford will have Fenway as his home next season. Moreover, Crawford’s had 338 PA at Fenway from 2002-present, an incredibly small sample over that period of time.

      Finally, Stat Corner’s component factors have Fenway as generally favorable to left-handed hitters, and the Trop is harder on them.

      Thanks for the comment.

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      • lester bangs says:

        In that case, no visiting player’s park stats should ever be mentioned on the road. The sample will never be big enough to matter. Crawford has be an in-division rival his entire career.

        Then again, I expect Devil Rays (and former star Devil Rays) to constantly get the benefit of the doubt here. If Andrew Friedman burped into a tin can, there would be a hasty line to proclaim it “brilliant!”

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      • lester bangs says:

        Okay, Rays. I’m fining myself a dollar.

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      • Telo says:

        Well, sadly, most of what is mentioned or shown on screen during baseball broadcasts or in mainstream media isn’t as significant as people think it is. Some of the dumbest thing managers do is bench good hitters who are say 0 for 10 against in favor of a poorer hitter who is like 6 for 10 against a certain pitcher.

        It’s like they don’t know the math!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        (spoiler: they don’t)

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        who are say 0 for 10 against in favor of a poorer hitter who is like 6 for 10 against a certain pitcher.

        It’s like they don’t know the math!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        That seems like a funny thng to say, given the stats presented.

        Isn;t 6-for-10 better than 0-for-10? *grin*

        What they don;t understand is the issue of sample size.

        However, in some cases there may be more to it than just noise or sample size. A certain player may hit curveball pitchers well, and the other not or something to that effect.

        This is where watching a player would have some advantage. If a guy just looks absolutely horrible against a certain pitcher, then maybe a change is due.

        I always think back to the article where Mike Redmond owned Tom Glavine over 50+ At Bats. Obviously we’re talking small sample size here, and the conclusion is basically correct that it’s luck or randomness.

        However, I wonder what scouting would say. Perhaps Redmond just has “changeup bat speed” or does well with lefties that live on the outside corner.

        I’m just discussing at this point … but I wonder if in the near future we’ll have access to hitter’s stats on certain pitches and in certain counts? Certainly we’ll never likely accumulate enough sample size to have highly reliable data, but we’ll likely see guys that tee off on fastballs in the 92-94 range, and others that are horrific against curveballs when behind in the count and things of that nature.

        We already track batter’s averages by count … the next step would be to track it by sequence and such.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        OK CircleChange11, now I want to see that article!

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    • Telo says:

      Probably because it’s too small of a sample to be significant enough to talk about.

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    • Ben says:

      Sample size.

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    • williams .482 says:

      also, he was usually facing some very good pitchers when in Fenway.

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  2. Adam W says:

    I believe MGL once pointed out (in reference to Curtis Granderson IIRC) that it is actually slightly preferable to have a player that is extremely deficient in one area as opposed to a player that has an equal all-around skillset. His reasoning was that you can actually leverage the deficiency by hiring a situational caddy and come out with more value that way.

    I’m not suggesting that Crawford needs a caddy for “late and close” situations, but Mike Cameron ain’t too shabby against LHPs.

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    • Sandy Kazmir says:

      Can’t wait to see the uproar the first time that Craw is PH for late in a game or replaced in the starting lineup against a tough lefty. It should happen, but his ego has never allowed it. If he refused to move out of 2/3 slot against lefties with the Rays, what kind of noise is he going to make to sit on the bench in a big situation?

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    • shthar says:

      That was my thought, that he can’t hit lefties matters less, if you got Cameron on the team.

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    • Brandon T says:

      Francona is famous for giving his starters a lot of rest during the season. If Crawford is going to rest anyway, it might as well be against tough lefties…

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  3. Lee says:

    Unrelated to the point that Adam W brought up, but connected in that I read it in a piece by MGL – he claims that the best (and worst) baserunners can account for a half a win on the basepaths (up or down), though admittedly there are only a few with that level of impact, and 90th/10th percentile is probably. .2-.25 wins.

    Does FG WAR take into account baserunning at all? Outside of SB/CS, obviously.

    ps- without looking up the article, I BELIEVE the baserunning calcs MGL developed were not encompassing SB/CS – just pure baserunning. I think this because there weren’t speedsters at the top of the list, thought I could be wrong. It is worth checking out. He almost always is pretty solid with those types of numbers/values, and it’s enough of an impact to consider using in WAR.

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  4. It will be interesting to see how the Red Sox handle Crawford’s platoon split. Especially since the team is a bit lefty heavy anyway, so it might be hard to hide Crawford and limit other teams ability to put in LOOGYs by placing him in between two right handed hitters.

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    • Preston says:

      This is going to be a real problem for the Sox next year. They have to face a lot of tough left handed starters in the AL East; Price; Sabathia; Matusz; Romero; Niemen; maybe Pettitte. A lot of the guys in their lineup have a pretty drastic platoon split, which as you point out brings the LOOGYs into the game more often. And in a division where there will be three teams realistically looking to win 90 plus games they can’t afford to struggle in intradivision games.

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  5. Yirmiyahu says:

    Why are we excluding SB and CS from the equation? Part of the batter/pitcher matchup is baserunning, and a good deal of Crawford’s offensive value comes from that (.337 vs .347 wOBA for his career). It’s harder to steal 2B off of a lefty, and Crawford’s baserunning stats reflect that. Versus lefties, he attempts steals less often and has a lower success rate. Taking baserunning into account would widen his L/R platoon splits.

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    • Yes, pitcher handedness effects basestealing, but the way we regres platoon splits is based on the matchip at the plate, not on the basepaths, which is a separate thing.

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      • DL80 says:

        I guess the obvious question, then, is why? It seems like once you take basestealing into account, Crawford becomes even more useless against lefties (at least relative to righties).

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      • 1) Because I was discussing the batter/pitcher matchup at the plate, 2) regressing basestealing is a different issue, 3) he isn’t useless once you consider his defense, so he shouldn’t necessarily be benched, 4) his splits are likely to regress, which means he isn’t even useless at the plate, 5) which makes pinch-hitting for him late usually inefficent and nonetheless.

        Just my thoughts.

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  6. lester bangs says:

    Crawford also hasn’t run as much, traditionally, from the No. 3 slot. He seems to make more sense batting first or second, but he doesn’t want to bat first (or hasn’t in the past) and it’s hard to hit him second given the lefty lean of the Sox and the need to space them out.

    I wish a player with Crawford’s contract would do whatever’s asked, happily. He wasn’t that guy in Tampa.

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    • bcp33bosox says:

      Watch the introduction press conference again, he said he would do whatever Tito asked him…and said he can hit anywhere in the lineup and that those conmments were taken from when he was younger.

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  7. Jim says:

    His Fenway numbers are meaningless.

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  8. lester bangs says:

    He faced those same BOS pitchers and produced far better at The Catwalk.

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  9. pft says:

    Crawford won’t be able to run on Varitek, V-Mart and Posada this year, and batting ahead of Youk, A-Gon and Papi, he may not be running as much. With his speed, he can score from 1B on a double, and Fenway is a doubles park. Also, at Fenway, even with his speed, scoring from 2B on a hard hit single to LF is no sure thing as LF’ers play in due to the wall. As such, a SB is not as valuable as it was with the Rays at Fenway, especially batting 3rd. If he leads off, he can run at will, but there will be some restraints on his running with the Red Sox batting 3rd, at least at Fenway.

    One consequence of Crawford not hitting LHP’ers well and batting 3rd, is that the Red Sox lineup will probably look like this late in the game where a RHP’er started

    6th- Ortiz

    A Loogy could come in to face Crawford, IBB Youk who crushes Lefties, and then stay in to face A-Gon, Papi, Salty and JD. Of course, Tito has Cameron to use to PH for Papi or JD. Salty is probably not much of a threat but Tito will want to break up the LHB’ers as Papi and JD do not hit LHP’ers well.

    I frankly hate having Crawford bat 3rd as it means batting one of the best hitters in baseball batting 5th and costing him up to 40 PA over the season. Much of Crawfords WAR is defense and speed, he never impressed me much as a hitter (20% of his singles are IFH), and Fenway won’t help him much as he hits GB and LD to LF (and may lose a few LD hits and bloopers as LF’ers can play shallow), and his HR power to RF plays better at Tropicana than Fenway.

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  10. pft says:

    “but rather to look at Crawford’s likely opponents’ treatment of him in the past: have they been able to exploit him in high leverage situations in the past? ”

    I imagine other teams reserved their Loogy for Carlos Pena who was susceptible to LHP’ers. As I pointed out, this may be quite different given the Red Sox LH heavy lineup at the heart of the order and with Crawford batting 3rd.

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  11. MGL says:

    I have CC projected at +3 runs in base running (not including SB/CS) per 150 games (with average hitters). That is around 1.5 SD above average. The very best are around +5 to +6.

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  12. Eric says:

    Regarding his numbers at Fenway. He’s never faced Balt’s pitching @ Fenway before, if you get my point

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  13. Eric says:

    Lowrie will get a TON of AB V LHP in 2011, too. He mashes them. He will get PH AB for Drew, Ellsbury and Ortiz, in the right spot.

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  14. Ryan says:

    “Does Carl Crawford’s Platoon Split Matter?”


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  15. Carlo says:

    So, is a player who can hit right-handers well (but not left-handers), play great defense in LF, and steal bases worth $142M ($20+ AAV)? I guess so, according to FGs projections…

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