Carl Crawford: Should the Boston Red Sox Have Signed Him in the First Place?

Steven GoldmanMLB Lead BloggerApril 26, 2012

O say can you see Carl Crawford? Apparently not at Fenway for a while.
O say can you see Carl Crawford? Apparently not at Fenway for a while.Elsa/Getty Images

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe tweets that Carl Crawford will miss three months. Unlike the recriminations in the aftermath of Michael Pineda’s injury, it’s fair to ask if the Sox should have signed Crawford in the first place; the Pineda-Jesus Montero trade was defensible on baseball grounds, but it was much easier to poke holes in the reasoning behind the Crawford deal—a seven-year, $142 million behemoth. 

I hate to disillusion anyone, but he is just not a huge run-producer for the simple reason that he doesn’t get on base that much. Clarifying: He’s an asset. Discounting 2008, when he was hurt from 2006 to 2010, Crawford averaged .308/.354/.474 and 54 stolen bases (11 caught stealing) a year, all while playing excellent defense.

You can’t be dismissive of that, although you have to be aware that it’s not unusual for left fielders to have on-base and slugging percentages right in that zone. It’s a slugger’s position, and 2010 was the first time that Crawford was, on a per-game basis, a top-five producer at the position.

Now that Crawford is with the Red Sox, you can, just maybe, start subtracting from your expectations. Crawford is a better hitter on turf than grass. His .291/.332/.425 rates on natural surfaces aren’t spectacular for the position.

His career .275/.301/.406 at Fenway is abysmal. Stolen bases only add so much when you don’t hit overall. Add in that Crawford is going to be hanging around from age 29 to age 36 and the Red Sox could really regret this deal; that is even if Crawford doesn’t have some kind of catastrophic leg injury.

All he has to do is lose a few leg hits a year and there goes the batting average that is at the heart of his game.

It is understandable that the Sox wanted to take this risk, because left field killed them last year. The position of Teddy Ballgame, Yaz and Rice gave them just .230/.303/.396. Whatever Crawford does for them, it will be better than that.

I neglected to mention one other important factor—that putting Crawford in Fenway’s small left field for 81 games would take away from the value of his defense because his range would become less of a factor.

The larger takeaway, though, is this: Crawford is a player whose offense was based on him having a high batting average. Batting average fluctuates and is influenced by all kinds of external factors. Even hitting a lifetime .296, as he did before coming to the Red Sox, Crawford’s on-base percentage was only .337—just average for the AL during the span of his career.

Knock a few points off of that and you’ve got a corner player who doesn’t get on base at even an average clip.

Injuries are not always predictable, so the Sox aren’t to be faulted for signing a player whose performance has been affected by them for two straight seasons. What you can fault them for is buying in the first place given that the move had every chance of blowing up in their faces even if Crawford never caught so much as a mild cold.