Boston Red Sox: 5 Reasons Carl Crawford Will Dominate in 2012
Carl Crawford is many things. A replacement-level player is not one of them.
And yet, in 2011, that is exactly what he was; Crawford’s WAR (wins above replacement) last season sat exactly 0.0. This essentially means that the Sox could have replaced him with a profoundly average player and gotten identical production at the plate and in the field. It was not quite what they had in mind when they signed Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million contract in the offseason.
However, there is hope for Crawford. The law of averages says that it is simply not possible for him to be that bad again. A man with four All-Star appearances and a Gold Glove does not suddenly become an entirely ineffective player.
Crawford’s athletic abilities have never been questioned, and there’s no reason for them to be now. His horrific season can be traced back to a unique confluence of events that included a wrist injury, adjusting to a new team and city and being shuffled around the lineup.
With the entire organization attempting to turn the page on a wholly dismal 2011, Crawford certainly has plenty of motivation to improve upon his effort from last year.
It’s not every day that a team’s owner has to call a player to apologize, but that is exactly what happened this offseason after the Sox’ principal owner John Henry said in an October radio interview that he had been “personally opposed” to signing Crawford.
Although he’s since met with Henry to clear the air, Crawford can still use the insult to fuel him this season. Athletes across all generations and sports have used both real and perceived slights to spur their performance, and Crawford will be no different.
In addition to the intangible ammunition Henry’s comment provides, here are five more reasons Crawford will return to his All-Star form in 2012:
Regression to the Mean
Normally, when we talk about regression in statistics it means that a player is going to come back down to Earth after an outstanding season. With Crawford, though, it is quite the opposite.
In 2011, the left fielder posted career lows in many offensive categories. His batting average, runs, triples, OBP, OPS, RBI, stolen bases and strikeouts were all in the top three worst single-season performances of his 10-year career.
If Crawford simply posts an average season for him, he’ll see increases of 38 points in Batting Average, 79 points in OPS and 44 runs scored. For his career, he has an average WAR of 2.7; factoring out last year, that number climbs to just over 3.0.
A Crawford that generates three additional wins for the Red Sox will make a huge difference in whether this team reaches the playoffs, and it is certainly reasonable for fans to expect this type of performance.
Crawford’s struggles from the start of last season can partially be traced back to the fact that manager Terry Francona felt compelled to shuffle Crawford around the lineup. While this move was made in a well-intentioned effort to find a comfortable spot for Crawford and to ease the mounting pressure, it unfortunately had the opposite effect.
Crawford never found a rhythm partially because he never knew where he was going to be hitting in the lineup. He was batting third on Opening Day, and by the team’s eighth game he had also hit leadoff, second and seventh.
Early on in spring training, new manager Bobby Valentine offered to the Boston Herald that while he may move players around the lineup, he is going to go out of his way to make them comfortable with any changes he might make. This bodes well for Crawford, who admitted in the offseason that constant rotating frequently left him out of sorts.
Crawford’s slow start to his Red Sox career was greatly exacerbated by injuries last season. He went down with hamstring and elbow injuries during the year, and this offseason had surgery on his wrist (from which he is still recovering).
While he may miss the first week or two of the season as he finishes rehabbing his wrist, Crawford will go into 2012 with a clean bill of health. The nagging hamstring injury likely played a huge part in his career-low 18 stolen bases last year, and the combined elbow and wrist injuries no doubt hindered him at the plate.
Crawford has been very durable over the course of his 10 years in MLB, only missing significant time in 2008 when he injured his finger on a check swing. He will undoubtedly enjoy a healthier year in Boston this season, and as a result should see a nice spike in his production.
Year 2 in Boston
Some players can transition seamlessly from a small market to a big market. The Yankees’ CC Sabathia spent his career in Cleveland (with a brief stop in Milwaukee), then moved on to New York and actually got better.
Others, though, can struggle making the initial adjustment. There are more fans, more media and more scrutiny. While this increased attention is great when the team is winning, it also magnifies any struggles a player might have and causes more of a stir than perhaps is warranted.
Such is what happened to Crawford last year, who was never really given a chance to get going. His productive months (.304 average, .810 OPS in May; .279/.791 in August) were overshadowed by his horrific April and injury-marred June and July.
However, with his first year in a Red Sox uniform behind him, Crawford has now experienced the pressures that come with playing in Boston. He has no doubt learned how to manage these weighty expectations, and will now be able to focus completely on the action on the field and ignore the distractions off it.
He's Still Young
Despite entering his 11th MLB season, Crawford is still relatively young. At 30 years old, he has many good years in front of him before his production will decline.
While counting on someone to remain incredibly athletic into their 30s is normally a dubious proposition, Crawford is rather unique. We are, after all, talking about a man who was the 52nd pick in the MLB draft and was offered scholarships to play point guard at UCLA and quarterback for Nebraska.
Simply based on his genetics, Crawford has a shelf life longer than the average player. It is the reason the Red Sox were comfortable handing him a seven-year contract, and the reason several other teams were after his services offering similar packages.
While he may not be a young man anymore, Crawford’s unique blend of age and experience will allow him to enjoy great success in 2012.