Carl Crawford’s 2011 Season

One of the running jokes around here is that I hate Carl Crawford. Really, I don’t. And I don’t take greater than usual glee in his disappointing season (at least, above seeing the Red Sox lose). It all stems from this article I wrote back in February complaining about the near-universal acclaim for the 7/$132m deal that he signed with the Red Sox. The gist of it was that I thought that while Crawford is a great player, there’s a big risk in signing a guy to a seven-year deal whose eggs are largely in one basket (speed) that can disappear quickly. We all saw how quickly it happened to Alfonso Soriano, also an exceptional athlete entering 30s.

However, I did not expect Crawford to have such a terrible first year of his contract. At first glance it doesn’t look like it can be chalked up to injury – he was awful for the first two months of the season before hitting the DL with a minor hamstring injury in June.Since then he’s had a few other minor ailments (elbow, neck) but as of now he is the not so proud owner of a .259/.293/.410 slash line, for a .310 wOBA.

However, when I look at his more directly speed-related skills, I’m not so sure that there isn’t more reason for concern going forward.

After purloining an average of fifty bases per season in his first 8 years as a regular, Crawford has only stolen eighteen this season. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern in when those stolen bases happened – he rate had declined even before his hamstring injury. Plus, it’s not like the Red Sox don’t like to set their fast players loose. Ellsbury has stolen 50, 70 and 37 bases in his last three full seasons respectively.

Crawford’s defensive numbers have also taken a nosedive. Single season defensive numbers don’t mean much, but when the metrics agree that a player has had a 20 run drop from a skill level that they widely agreed on, well, that’s something. It could be the effect of the Monster, though IIRC MGL’s latest update to UZR, at least, worked on fixing park effects.

Maybe he’s finally paying for playing all those years on the turf at TB, as Brad suggested in the comments of February’s piece, Andre Dawson style. Maybe he’s just really on the wrong side of thirty. Meathead fans/radio hosts out here have been complaining about how Crawford’s contract (and Lackey’s) is now an albatross, untradeable, etc. etc, all the stuff we’ve heard for years in Chicago. I don’t see the Red Sox trading him anytime soon – there’s more than enough reason to believe that even if he fell off a cliff on the age curve that he’ll see some regression next year.

We’re definitely going to need more data than one season to determine if Crawford is heading down the Soriano path, but even if he does that doesn’t necessarily mean that I was right. Free agent contracts are in a broad sense a quantification of the probablity distribution of outcomes that a team expects from a player. All I was trying to say was that I thought the chances of this happening were much higher than the contract suggested, based on his skillset. Any contract is a gamble, and the Red Sox lost. I just thought that it was a worse bet than they did.


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