Perspective: Carl Crawford

by Matt on May 21, 2011

in Red Sox

courtesy Boston Herald

Forty five games into the year and he’s still not hitting very well. Let’s do the run down, shall we?

  • He’s lost sixty-five points off his career batting average.
  • His on-base percentage is down ninety points.
  • He’s slugging over two hundred points less on the season.

Yes, it’s still early blah blah blah, but can you believe Albert Pujols is having such a bad year?

Carl Crawford and Albert Pujols are as different as two position players can be, from their positions to their skill sets. About the only way they are comparable is that both picked this year to have their worst season to date. Pujols is sporting a .743 OPS. This from a guy who two seasons ago slugged .658. Pujols has won the NL MVP three times and finished second for the award four other times. MVP’s aren’t the greatest arbiters of player quality, but Pujols has finished first or second seven times!

Pujols is the greatest hitter in baseball over the last ten years and through forty-five games he’s performed like he’s James Loney (who’s performing like he’s Jorge Cantu (who is married to the second cousin of the sophomore year room mate of Kevin Bacon arborist’s daughter! Got it!)).

Despite immense differences as players, Crawford’s first year in Boston isn’t too dissimilar to Pujols’ season in St. Louis. Look at this Crawford slash line: .080/.085/.154. That’s how far Crawford is off of his career numbers. Compare it to the bullet points above, or heck, here they are: .065/.090/.210. You can see it’s not far from what Pujols is going through 1,200 miles to the southwest.

Are both Pujols and Crawford going to stop hitting and turn into mediocre players barely worth of roster spots in the same season? In a year where Jose Bautista is proving to be the best hitter in baseball, I suppose it’s possible, but there’s only one Bautista and that already happened.

I realize the last couple sentences don’t present the strongest argument, so here is a much stronger one. Like Pujols, Crawford has a long track record of success at the major league level. We haven’t passed the point where Crawford’s year-to-date stats are more predictive than his entire body of work in the major leagues.

Carl Crawford is very good at baseball and nothing he’s done so far has invalidated the Red Sox decision to sign him. He hasn’t done much to justify the deal yet, but he will.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

BigNachos May 21, 2011 at 10:30 am

Crawford’s performance has nicely illustrated the volatility of hitters with poor plate discipline. He’s been a sub-replacement level disaster at the plate.

J.D. Drew, on the other hand, has similarly had a down season in which his power has mostly disappeared. Yet, he’s still getting on base at an excellent .377 clip, and is thus an above average hitter despite the slump.

Given that Crawford’s baserunning and defense have also declined this year, you’ve got to wonder if he’s having physical issues or if he’s just facing a sudden physical decline like the one that plagued the similarly athletic and hacktastic Nomar.

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Matt May 21, 2011 at 11:25 am

Where are you getting information that says ? I’m not sure we have enough data yet to conclude Crawford’s base running and defense have permanently declined.

Yes, Crawford has been awful at the plate, but the point I was trying to get across in the post above was that sometimes players, really good players, have bad 50 game stretches, 100 game stretches, or bad seasons. If Albert Pujols can have a down year, anyone can.

As for the future, we don’t have enough information yet to determine what we’ve seen this year is what we can expect from Albert Pujols or Carl Crawford.

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BigNachos May 21, 2011 at 2:15 pm

According to fangraphs, Crawford’s speed score is 5.4 this season, where 5.0 is MLB average and his career score is 8.4. He has just one triple after hitting 13 last season, and is only 6 of 9 stealing. He’s also made a few outs on the basepaths.

His UZR/150 is down to 4.1 this season, whereas his career UZR/150 is 14.5.

Yeah, it’s a small sample size, but it also matches the eye test–he hasn’t looked very good at any facet of the game this season.

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Matt May 21, 2011 at 2:36 pm

UZR/150 is a good stat, but we know how playing left field at Fenway, with it’s excessively odd dimensions, skews stats. I’m not close to prepared to look at a 40 game sample and say Crawford has lost his ability to be a great fielder.

As to Speed Score, I must admit I was unfamiliar with its specifics, so I looked it up. From Fan Graphs, Spd (Speed Score) measures: Stolen Base Percentage, Frequency of Stolen Base Attempts, Percentage of Triples, and Runs Scored Percentage.

These are all aspects of Crawford’s game that are adversely affected by his lousy hitting. Not that they shouldn’t be either, but using Speed Score as a proxy for base running ability seems incorrect to me. The fact that he’s hitting as horrifically as he is and still has an above average Speed Score indicates to me that he’s still an effective base runner and what is missing from the equation is quantity, not quality.

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TsB May 22, 2011 at 11:57 am

I know you admit it’s a small saple size, but really? It’s well known thtat UZR take 3 years to give reliable results. 7 weeks of data is utterly meaningless.

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Jake May 21, 2011 at 12:41 pm

I guess I’m somewhere between the two of you on the panic scale. BigNacho’s point is an important one that does disrupt your comparison somewhat, Matt. While Pujols is slumping, he is still an above-average offensive player thanks to his plate discipline and power (even if his epic slump continues all season, he’s still on pace to hit 25-ish home runs). On the other hand, when Crawford has an epic slump, you get an OPS+ of 40. His need for a high BA to be valuable offensively is troubling considering we just gave him a 40 billion dollar, 18-year contract.

That said, comparing his slump—which we have zero evidence to believe is going to last all season—to the decline of Nomar is a pretty big stretch, BigNachos. Nomar had a long history of injury problems and a very different body (and probably a PED-aided one, but that’s another argument). They were both athletic, but I wouldn’t call them “similarly” athletic. Crawford will rebound, I think, but he’ll also slump like this again most likely, and that freaks me out for the length of the contract.

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Matt May 21, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I acknowledge Crawford has been, to reuse a favorite phrase I first heard from Marc Normandin, a black hole of suck at the plate this season. The Red Sox signed Crawford for not only his hitting, but for his defense and certainly to a lesser extent, his base running ability as well. I haven’t seen anything that makes me think those two skills have disappeared. So even with his quite bad offensive performance this season, Crawford is still contributing, though nowhere near the level of what was expected.

And yes, I believe it is stated above, Crawford is nothing like Pujols as a player. The only common threads between them is both are way off their career numbers and to similar extents this season. Two great players in the primes of their careers having bad seasons compared to their career norms, or in Crawford’s case, compared to a piece of fruit. If Crawford could be more selective (like Pujols) that would obviously be an improvement in his game, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

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BigNachos May 21, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Aside from the wrist injury which caused his to basically miss a year, Nomar was a pretty healthy player through his age 29 season. Then, his body broke down and his production fell off a cliff.

Like Crawford, Nomar relied very heavily on his athletic ability. He had no plate discipline to speak of, so once his body started betraying him, he had nothing to fall back on. I don’t know if Crawford is hurt at all or if he’s losing his athleticism, but if he is, it’s certainly possible his production will never rebound.

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Jim May 21, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Most years there is one or two very good players who struggle badly and then comeback to reach their previous productivity. Crawford was not a player who had several mostly average years and then had a breakout season. He has been consistently good for several years and there is no reason to think he won’t be again. As far as base running and defense, he has not been on base enough to know if he has slipped there and frankly I didn’t expect him to be a 50+ base stealer. Regarding defense, too few games to know. Both scouting and statistical measurement of defensive productivity are more accurate over time.

If we’re still talking about what happen to CC in August there will be cause for concern.

JD Drew has an OPB of .377, but it is as awfully quiet .377 and his bat has not contributed much.

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Matt May 21, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Drew is an interesting case because over the last season and a third (or however far we are into this season) he hasn’t hit for much power at all. His homer the other day was encouraging. Hopefully there is more to come from him on that front.

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Jim May 21, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Whenever a ball is hit toward Jed Lowry, I’m getting that feeling of impending doom that I got when Julio Lugo was at short.

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David May 22, 2011 at 3:34 am

I disagree that Crawford picked the worst time to have a bad season. He has 142 million gauranteed. I am glad Tampa did not pay that money. I am hoping the Yankees are stupid enough to pay Pujols the money he is asking from the Cardinals. I have to seriously wonder if Pujols was juicing. I am just saying.

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TsB May 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Juicing wouldn’t account for his BA and OBP being much lower.

More likely he’s human and is declining like every other player. Ever. And he may be 32 or 33 already for all we know.

That and small sample size blahblahblah.

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