In Crawford, Red Sox are getting unique talent

By Dan Holmes ♦ December 10, 2010

The Boston Red Sox completed a headline-grabbing one-two punch at baseball’s winter meetings this week when they agreed to terms with free agent Carl Crawford. Earlier at the meetings, the Sox traded for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Neither of the new additions have celebrated their 30th birthday yet, and Boston fans can expect many years of the slugging Gonzalez driving in Crawford.

Crawford has spent his entire career with Tampa Bay, where he’s collected lots of hits, put up a high batting average, stolen tons of bases, and hit lots of triples while also showing some punch as a home run threat now and again. He’s done those things at such a pace that he belongs with a select group of players in baseball history. Indeed, the Red Sox are getting a unique talent in Crawford.

In 2010, Crawford collected 184 hits, led the league with 13 triples, swiped 47 bases, and hit 19 homers, a career best. In the history of baseball, only 16 players have reached 180 hits, 10 triples, 45 stolen bases, and 10 homers in a single season. Impressively, it was the fourth time Crawford accomplished the feat.

Here’s the list of the seasons that match that criteria:

Player BA HR H 3B SB Year Age Tm Lg
Tris Speaker .383 10 222 12 52 1912 24 BOS AL
Honus Wagner .354 10 201 19 53 1908 34 PIT NL
Willie McGee .353 10 216 18 56 1985 26 STL NL
Chuck Knoblauch .341 13 197 14 45 1996 27 MIN AL
Frankie Frisch .337 10 208 11 48 1927 28 STL NL
Max Carey .329 10 207 12 51 1922 32 PIT NL
Johnny Damon .327 16 214 10 46 2000 26 KCR AL
Tim Raines .320 11 184 13 70 1985 25 MON NL
Ben Chapman .315 17 189 11 61 1931 22 NYY AL
Carl Crawford .307 19 184 13 47 2010 28 TBR AL
Carl Crawford .305 18 183 16 58 2006 24 TBD AL
Bobby Bonds .302 26 200 10 48 1970 24 SFG NL
Carl Crawford .301 15 194 15 46 2005 23 TBD AL
Jose Reyes .300 19 194 17 64 2006 23 NYM NL
Lou Brock .299 21 206 12 52 1967 28 STL NL
Lou Brock .298 12 195 10 53 1969 30 STL NL
Jose Reyes .297 16 204 19 56 2008 25 NYM NL
Carl Crawford .296 11 185 19 59 2004 22 TBD AL
Hanley Ramirez .292 17 185 11 51 2006 22 FLA NL
Lou Brock .285 15 183 12 74 1966 27 STL NL
Jose Reyes .280 12 191 12 78 2007 24 NYM NL
Jimmy Rollins .274 14 180 12 46 2001 22 PHI NL
Juan Samuel .272 15 191 19 72 1984 23 PHI NL
Stats provided by Baseball-Reference.com

Crawford eclipsed the mark of three seasons previously held by Hall of Famer Lou Brock, another left fielder. In fact, Crawford has a great deal in common with Brock. Both players were lightning fast. Both players were left handed batters who had strong wrists. Brock had great power, once hitting a  home run into the center field bleachers at the Polo Grounds, no small feat. It remains to be seen if Crawford will hit more home runs later in his career, but the switch to Fenway Park won’t hurt. Other left-handed batters who’ve moved to Fenway have seen their power numbers soar. The short foul pole in right field helps with homers, and the Green Monster in left field usually results in more doubles and a higher batting average.

Crawford not only has unique skills that have rarely been seen in baseball history, he’s also uniquely suited to perform well in Fenway. However, in nearly half a season’s worth of games in Fenway, Crawford has hit just .275 with four homers. That may have much more to do with him facing the tough Boston pitching staff than it does the ballpark. Pedro Martinez, Tim Wakefield, Jon Lester, and Josh Beckett have all stymied Crawford to varying degrees.

Like Brock, Crawford is not an ideal leadoff man because his on-base percentage is just average (.337 in his career vs. .332 league average). That’s because, like Brock, Crawford walks infrequently. One reason that goes unmentioned is that opposing pitchers don’t want to risk giving the speedy Crawford a free pass, so they are more likely to toss the ball across the plate. It’s safe to say that his low walk total has less to do with poor pitch selection than it does the strategy of opposing pitchers. In Fenway, should Crawford take advantage of the short right field seats and improve his power numbers, pitchers could avoid the strike zone more. As a result, he’d earn more walks, have more chances to steal bases, and be even more productive as an offensive weapon.

It remains to be seen where the Sox will place Crawford in their lineup, but #3 seems to be the best position if they want him to increase his power production (imagine some of those triples becoming homers, and a lot of those singles becoming doubles). If Crawford can do that, he’ll get more walks, even with Gonzalez, Ortiz, or Pedroia batting behind him. Best case scenario, the Red Sox new left fielder increases his batting average by 15 points, hits 40+ doubles (ala Wade Boggs) and increases his homers to 25 or so. If he does that, the Red Sox win, and Crawford will win – a lot of new hardware.


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