By all standards the 2011 baseball season was a lackluster one for Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford. He came to the Red Sox as a free agent after signing a seven-year, $142M contract. Having also acquired Adrian Gonzalez via trade with San Diego, the Red Sox line up seemed formidable. Crawford, however, went on to hit .255 and even his Gold Glove caliber defense came in to question when he failed to make a play on a catchable fly ball on the last game of the season that ultimately sealed the fate of the Red Sox and cost them a playoff spot.
Much has been written about Crawford being uncomfortable with the switch from Tampa Bay, where fans show up in sparse numbers for all but the most critical of games. Red Sox manager Terry Francona often batted Crawford lower in the batting order in an effort to relieve some of the pressure from their struggling left fielder. Nothing, however, seemed to help much as Crawford ended the season with an anemic OPS (on base average plus slugging percentage) of .694, which is 79 points below his career average.
One of Crawford’s key attributes is his speed, so we have to also look to that area of his performance to properly evaluate his season. Unfortunately, although he has stolen as many as 60 bases in a season and led the American League in that category four times, last year he stole only 18.
So how does the new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine get Crawford’s production back to his pre-2011 levels? Valentine has reached out to most of the players during the off-season, but has not yet spoken with Crawford and has only been contacted by his agent, which is an ominous sign. No doubt this will be addressed soon by one side or the other, and all will appear well by the time players arrive for spring training. However, it does not appear that Crawford has the proper mind-set to start the season anew.
Crawford is in many ways the epitome of a full-time player, having value both offensively and defensively. Although it is probably best to go through spring training and start the regular season with Crawford being a consistent presence on Valentine’s line up card, it may be best to scuttle that plan rather quickly if Crawford is unable to replicate production similar to levels he has achieved for most of his career.
Despite the lofty contract dollars, Crawford simply is not that good against left-handed pitching. He hit an anemic .195 against left-handers in 2011, but is only a career .262 hitter against lefties. His power numbers, which are nothing special regardless of the pitcher, are especially woeful against lefties. He has hit a grand total of 22 home runs in his career against southpaws. His OPS against them is typically 150 to 250 points lower than against righties, at least going back to 2007. Which brings up another point – this trend has been getting worse in recent years. In 2006 and 2007 he had splits characteristic of a solid everyday player, with stats that only slightly favored the bias toward hitting against right-handers. Since then, the differential has grown extreme.
Okay, but he can still run like the wind against any pitcher, right? Wrong…as a base stealing threat he is no more than average when facing lefty hurlers. For his 10 year career he has stolen 60 bases against lefties, which is a paltry total for a supposedly premier base stealer. Of course, in order to steal a base, you have to attempt the steal. Last year he attempted only four stolen bases with lefties on the mound, and was caught three times! Yes, that’s a whopping one stolen base last year against southpaws.
All of which points toward trouble if the Red Sox continue to trot Crawford out day after day without taking in to account who is toeing the mound. The contract commitment almost guarantees that that will continue to be the strategy in the near future. However, unless a dramatic turn around occurs at the start of the 2012 season, the Red Sox would be wise to bench Crawford against many lefties while he builds up some confidence hitting more productively against right-handers.
Sources: Carl Crawford – Boston Red Sox – Split Statistics – MLB – Yahoo! Sports, Yahoo Sports
Carl Crawford Stats, Bio, Photos, Highlights | redsox.com: Team, MLB.com
Red Sox Team Report – MLB – Yahoo! Sports, Dec 25, 2011, Yahoo Sports