Here Comes Carl Crawford

Red Sox fans can be forgiven if they’re not impressed with Carl Crawford‘s performance to date this season. Even after blasting his fifth home run of the season in Sunday’s game against Oakland, his triple-slash sits at an unimpressive .248/.286/.389. Those are potential non-tender numbers, not seven-year, $184 million numbers. Slowly but surely, though, Crawford has made his way towards respectability. Over the last month, the 29-year-old Crawford has compiled a .293/.311/.474 line, beginning a steady march towards the production the Red Sox are paying for.

This aforementioned march to respectability is best presented in visual form:

Ever since the calendar flipped to May, Crawford has been doing just about everything in his power to rectify his early season mishaps. In May, Crawford did it by spraying line drives all over the field. He hit frozen ropes in 22.2% of his at-bats, en route to posting a .301 batting average (and a .352 BABIP, far more in line with his .342 BABIPs from 2009 and 2010) and what should be the first of many above-average monthly wRC+ totals at 117. His success in early June has carried through, as Crawford has a 237 wRC+ so far due to three extra-base hits in only four games.

It’s striking just how similar his running totals are starting to sync up with his career averages right now. First, his BABIP, which threatened to dip below .150 at some points in April:

Second, his isolated power, which although it has never been his calling card it never has been as negligible as it was in April:

Third and finally, his strikeout rate, which was the only part of his game consistent with his days in Tampa:

This leaves but one part of Crawford’s game which has yet to regress over his hot month-and-change: his ability to reach base via the walk:

Between May and June, Crawford has taken all of four walks (and also received two hit-by-pitches) to go with the five he drew in April. Crawford has never been a celebrated walker at the plate, posting a rather pedestrian 5.4% walk rate over his career. But his 3.8% rate to begin 2011 is his lowest since breaking into the majors in 2002, and walk rate does tend to stabilize quicker than most stats.

Although there is still plenty of time for Crawford to put on his walking shoes, it may be time to start asking why. None of his plate discipline stats are markedly different from last year, and he’s actually seeing fewer first-pitch strikes and balls in the zone in general. Maybe he’s just being challenged more in hitter’s counts this year: he’s walking 33% of the time in counts that pass through 3-1 as opposed to 46% of the time last year, and similar differences exist for the other three-ball counts.

If Crawford continues to hit as he has through May and June — making contact and making pitchers pay with it — it wouldn’t be surprising to see opposing hurlers proceed with a bit more caution in hitters counts. As such, the final piece of the Crawford regression should fall into place soon. Within the last week, Carl Crawford crossed into above-replacement territory for the first time since the first week of the season. Don’t expect him to linger around zero too long. The rest of the AL can take note — here comes Carl Crawford.




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52 Responses to “Here Comes Carl Crawford”

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  1. Soam says:

    $184 mil?

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  2. lester bangs says:

    I thought Crawford got less than that.

    He still can’t hit lefties.

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  3. jesse says:

    I know we loathe the concept of protection, but maybe this is protection in reverse, with so many quality jitters in the sox lineup, maybe pitchers are less likely to pitch around Crawford even when behind, while I’m Tampa when down 3-1 more pitchers were fine with the walk and taking on the next guy.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Walking Carl Crawford?

      I’d rather challenge him, make him hit his way on.

      On the bases, he’s a pain in the arse and a distraction and well, a threat.

      Crawford isn’t walking for a (likely) combination of two things: [1] Pitchers aren’t afraid of him at the plate and are challenging more often, and [2] he’s trying to hit his way to success. Whether his contract is on his mind or not, he’s probably not thinking “well, they didn;t pay me to walk”.

      My view is that there’s not enough reason to FEAR Crawford the hitter, but walking him is a double negative … [1] you didn’t force him to hit, [2] he’s gonna run.

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  4. Dave I says:

    Still, he’s no Jose Reyes. (Joking…)

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  5. futant462 says:

    I’d guess he’s walking more because of all the pressure he’s feeling to increase his avg & production. He feels like he needs to go 4/4 every night, and that every hit will help. Misguided, but possible.

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  6. MikeS says:

    Now that Pujols and Crawford are hitting, can Dunn be next?

    Please?

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    • Garrett G says:

      ha! Dunn…what a joke he is. I feel bad for ya.

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    • Billy Simmons says:

      My buddy House says there’s a giant fork sticking outta his back. Just like Billy Zabka after Daniel-san finished him off with the crane kick.

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  7. Chris says:

    I’ve asked this a couple of places, and haven’t gotten an answer:

    What does each point on the graph(s) represent?

    It’s not the value (BABIP, or whatever is being charted) season to date – that is the red line.

    It’s not his value in an individual game, since that would vary more.

    Is it the average over a week?

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  8. James says:

    My guess is the lineup is having some influence on the walk rate… Adrian Gonzalez’s BB% is also down quite a bit (although his swing/contact % seem to be higher).

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    • fredsbank says:

      what is this, bizarro world? going to boston all of a sudden DECREASES your walk rate?

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      • Levi says:

        It’s from all that coffee, it uh, ya know, decreases your patience.

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      • Michael says:

        Gonzalez has addressed his lowered BB% in the press. Basically, facing a new league’s worth of pitchers, in a beefier lineup, he is being challenged more frequently, he feels, seeing more strikes earlier in counts. Not wanting continuously to go down in counts 0-1 and 0-2 by taking strikes from pitchers who want to see what he can do, he is swinging more eagerly.

        His newness to American League pitchers is a temporary situation, and that effect on his BB% should subside, but he is in fact backed by Youkilis and Ortiz in the lineup–nothing like the situation in San Diego when pitching around him was the clear path for pitchers.

        Crawford, however, has just been playing poorly.

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  9. Obligatory Sox Fan says:

    I agree with Moore’s conclusion. Now that he’s making good contact again, pitchers will be more weary of getting a lot of the strike zone, and Crawford won’t be pressing so much for a hit.

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  10. everdiso says:

    “It’s striking just how similar his running totals are starting to sync up with his career averages right now”

    Crawford’s career averages ain’t worth $20m/yr, though. Not by a longshot.

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    • Jesse says:

      correct, since 2004 (his 2nd full year) his averages have ‘only’ been worth 18.9m per year.

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      • everdiso says:

        unfortunately for you, the “career averages” mentioned in the article include ALL his numbers, not just the ones you choose to look at.

        and even more unfortunately, the $18.9m number you reference even with your selected stats is based mostly on defensive stats, which this article makes no reference to. It’s only his batting that is regressing to career averages so far, not his fielding.

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    • BDanahy14 says:

      Well, it depends on how you value defense and base running. But according to Fan Graph… he’s been worth well over $20M a year the past two years.

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    • Jason B says:

      The assumptions on both sides of the valuation construct (doing it using bWAR, which isn’t a perfect assessment of player value by any means, and the old “$5M per win” saw) are both flawed enough that one can just say its a very, very rough approximation of player value using one of many possible valuation models, not an “exact worth” by any stretch of the imagination.

      Not that anyone ever says that exactly, but they do in so many words by saying a player was “worth” precisely X in a given season like it’s an exact science.

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  11. Fred says:

    It’ll be interested how his LF defense grades out

    Career away from the Trop 7.5 UZR/150
    Career at the Trop 22.5 UZR/150
    (8 year… so ~4 year effective samples for each)

    This year (obviously limited sample) 5.7 UZR/150

    A lot of hat contract was based on the defensive component of WAR and while he’s still obviously a very good fielder, I wonder how the contract looks as a 7.5UZR/150 vs a 15 UZR/150 LF

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    • everdiso says:

      Do you really have to wonder that much?

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    • everdiso says:

      If we take his career average of .345wOBA, and add in his career 7.5uzr/150 away from the Trop, I’m fairly certain we don’t get a $20m per year player. maybe half that.

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      • fredsbank says:

        the last time his wOBA was that low in a full season was 2004 (08 was bad but he only played in 100 games). his wOBAs have either increased or stagnated every single year since then.

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      • everdiso says:

        hence why him “returning to his career average rates” as mentioned in the article is a far cry from him “returning to the player they thought they were getting”.

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  12. RobM says:

    Crawford was bound to pick up his game since it seemed unlikely he turned into a .150 hitter overnight. Yet he’s never been a high on-base guy considering his .300 batting average.

    I don’t think his walks will increase at all. I expected them to decrease in the Red Sox line up. As comparison, when Jeter first came up, he drew more than 90 walks one season, and ever since then he’s been in the 50 range. Bottom line, in a batting order as powerful as the Yankees, or the Red Sox, pitchers are going right after a Jeter and a Crawford more than they will in another, weaker line up. Both have some HR power (well, Jeter up until 2010 before that nasty age thing kicked i), but are not the guys pitchers worry about hitting the ball over the wall. In those lineups, pitchers will make them work their way in by hitting.

    I expect Crawford’s walk rate to go down from 2010, which was unnaturally high for him. With some loss of foot speed as he enters his 30s in a couple months, and loss of the fast infield turn in Tampa, I really don’t expect Crawford to be much more than league average in getting on base.

    I didn’t understand the contract at the time, and I still don’t. It could turn nasty in a couple seasons, unless Crawford can alter his hitting style to take more advange of the green monster. I think Theo Epstein may have overreated to the loss of Werth, taking one of his options off the board, and then the fear that he thought the Yankees might step in if they lost Lee. I think there was almost a zero percent chance the Yankees were going to target Crawford.

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    • Chucky says:

      I agree with everything you said, except with how you suggested that he should start hitting to take advantage of the green monster. Personally, I think that was one of Crawford’s problems in the early months. He’s naturally a pull hitter, most of his solid line drives go to right field. I think he tried to do too much too early. I also think that he tried to go opposite field way too often and that affected his swing

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  13. dangnewt says:

    I like him in the 6 or 7 hole – there are going to be plenty of guys to drive him in and his speed comes in handy when trying to score in front of the weaker part of the lineup.

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  14. pft says:

    Crawford at this point looks to me like a guy who will be platooned after JD leaves. Really struggles against LHP’ing, despite the HR off Anderson.

    Also, defensively he has been a disappointment. Looks to be a bit wallshy, and his arm is not very strong nor accurate. In fact, he has 0 assists in LF this year, and I struggle to remember any LF’er for the Red Sox with such a dismal start to the season in this area. Maybe he will improve as he gets more comfortable with the wall, but he looks to be a LF’er whose biggest strength defensively is east to west, while he is average at best north to south. Exact opposite of what you want patrolling LF in Fenway.

    Crawford is still a very good player, but I am afraid he will not live up to expectations of a 20 million per year guy.

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    • BigNachos says:

      I agree with everything you’ve said, aside from Crawford still being a very good player. He’s been a well below average player this year, but will probably rebound to be just average.

      Below average on-base skills and below average power do not make for a very good left fielder, especially not at Fenway.

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      • Jason B says:

        “He’s been a well below average player this year, but will probably rebound to be just average.”

        ?!?!?!?! SSS alert…Crawford is a good hitter, an excellent fielder. If he’s “just average” your bar is pretty damn high. I would hate to see how some other players rate on this scale.

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    • Fred says:

      I mentioned this earlier but I don’t think his defense is disappointing at all.

      In 8 years playing outside of the trop he is a career 7.5 UZR/150. At the Trop he somehow transformed to a 22.5 UZR/150 guy.

      The #’s thus far are in line (maybe just slightly lower) with his career defensive stats in 8 years of away games. His arm has never been good (yet again somehow at the Trop he has a +armR component while on the road he had a -armR).

      I think folks need to reset the defensive expectations based on how he has played over an 8 year period outside of the Trop (not exactly a small sample size). I don’t think he is the +15 defender that people expect.

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      • everdiso says:

        When we’re dealing with a fairly new and somewhat questionable metric like UZR, I think when we see a crazy outlier like Crawford’s massive ratings the past few years at a low-impact defensive position despite an obvious weakness like his arm, and despite the fact that he’s defensively limited enough to only be able to play LF (and not CF or RF)….this is the kind of case when dealing with a new metric where we should say whoa – there’s something wrong with this new metric in this specific case. Something’s going on that the metric isn’t properly accounting for.

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  15. Michael says:

    I think it not right for people to expect Crawford to provide full value for his large contract. $20M/year is an overpay, and I think the Red Sox organization has known that from the beginning. They are willing (and able) to overpay for the best free agents – within a certain degree of reason – because they know overpaying is what it takes to acquire them. Crawford himself was taken aback at the size of his contract and nearly lost control of his car when he heard it. In order properly to assess this business decision by the Red Sox, I think expectations should be relaxed a bit, and more emphasis should be placed on the value he does provide his team than the degree to which he falls short of his market-inflated contract.

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    • Michael says:

      (In other words: They splurged a little. They can afford to. On account of doing so, they have nice things.)

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      • everdiso says:

        can they really afford it, though? seems like they have precious little roster or payroll flexibility going forward – and that’s for one of the oldest teams in basbeall, and that’s with a roster that already doesn’t look quite as good as what many thought it would be.

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  16. Jim says:

    “Crawford isn’t walking for a (likely) combination of two things: [1] Pitchers aren’t afraid of him at the plate and are challenging more often, and [2] he’s trying to hit his way to success. Whether his contract is on his mind or not, he’s probably not thinking “well, they didn;t pay me to walk”.”

    If only there were stats available on this site that could confirm/deny this theory.

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  17. Travis says:

    His walk rate is down because, up until very recently, he was swinging at over 36% of pitches outside the strike zone and making contact on 77% of those swings. Put the two together, and you have the recipe for a low walk percentage and the likelihood that your BABIP is going to suffer (due to weak contact).

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  18. dangnewt says:

    I wish I could edit my earlier comment – I meant to say from the 6 or 7 hole there will be guys on base for Crawford to drive in.

    Regarding his fielding. He has been slow to warm up to the Wall, I expect that he’ll get better with more time there. Remember that it is not only the Wall that he needs to learn but his new teammates in CF, 3B and SS that he is playing with. However, in other ballparks with more traditional dimensions he is a big upgrade over Manny – not sure if the stats agree with me – but that is what I think I am seeing.

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  19. Antonio Bananas says:

    Crawford, a speed guy, without a high OBP is signed from ages 29-35. In that time his speed (so both defensive value, triple value, and SB value) goes down and so does his already limited power. The last 3 years he probably hits below his career average.

    I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that Boston overpaid. However, it doesn’t really matter because they can afford it. At least right now they can afford it. If they make a lot of decisions like this, then they won’t be able to afford it because they’ll suck.

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  20. Antonio Bananas says:

    Just think about it. besides last year he’s never posted a WAR of 5 or higher. This is a guy in his year 29 season, he’s not likely to get better. You can say “1 win is worth 5 million” or whatever you want, however, his yearly salary of 20M plus over from age 31-35 would make him a top 10 highest paid position player (based on players this year, so probably a few more 20M/year guys). he will not be a top 10 position player by performance.

    The BoSox are paying top dollar for a “good” player.

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  21. Bobby says:

    Never posted a 5+ WAR before last year….if you don’t count the year before that. Or 2004. Or realize that 5 is pretty arbitrary and he had a couple 4.8′s.

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    • Fred says:

      well given WAR here is based on 1 year UZR samples… who knows what the error bar is on those #’s to begin with. Tack on baserunning, which not only will have small sample issues but will suffer from a complete lack of context (like not even considering where a ball is hit n the OF, just who it’s hit too or considering hit and run or game score when considering the average advance rate on a batted ball)

      WAR seems like it’s going to get even noisier year to year. who knows if those 4.8′s were 5.1′s or 4.4′s..

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  22. shred the gnar says:

    yep marching right along.

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