Welcome Back, Crawford

There was a time when Carl Crawford was considered vital to a team’s championship hopes, when the Boston Red Sox thought it was a fantastic idea to sign him to a seven-year 142 million dollar contract. That didn’t end well obviously. Crawford called his time in Boston “a scar that I think will never go away,” and Boston moved on pretty quickly without him, winning the World Series the year after trading him.

In fact, it’s difficult to mention Crawford, whether in print or on television, without also mentioning the eight-player trade that sent him along with Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto to Los Angeles in August of 2012. Even with plenty of baseball still to be played, this sure felt like Crawford’s legacy, for good or for bad, as Boston extricated itself from 250 million in future salary commitments to the one team in baseball insane enough to absorb the cost. The Dodgers true goal, it was understood, was to add Gonzalez. He was the perfect player for their team and would be a big draw at the gate. Crawford? If he played, if he could get healthy, Crawford would make the occasional start on a team with an already crowded outfield and whose top prospect, Joc Pederson, was also an outfielder. Certainly, the Dodgers weren’t going to keep all of these outfielders? Why? My God, was there no limit to what the new Dodger ownership group was willing to spend?

Let the trade rumors begin.

Certainly here’s yet another cautionary tale in signing soon to be 30-year olds to long-term, big money contracts. Since, by his admission, Crawford chased the cash and signed with the Red Sox, the now 33-year old has battled a constant stream of injuries ranging from hamstring strains, ankle sprains, to Tommy John surgery. He’s played in just 367 of a possible 630 games, or about 58% of possible games, and for that coin toss he’s made a little over 200 thousand and change per game played.

In Boston, that kind of no-show was discussed daily by a passionate media, one that Crawford labeled as “the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.” In Los Angeles, he has become largely forgotten with Puig mania, the brilliance of Clayton Kershaw, and the effervescent Magic Johnson still stealing headlines. If ever there’s a better place to sit, catch some rays, and be lost amongst the stars, it’s out in LA. Tired of yet another Dodger no-hitter? Well, here’s a healthy Matt Kemp, and, oh by the way, will the Dodgers now be able to trade the former NL MVP, or should they trade him, and just how much will it cost? What? Puig just flipped a bat so spectacularly on a warning-track can of corn that it lives as an endless stream of animated gifs? Oh, that silly Puig.

Lost in all of this is that Crawford is healthy again and is producing. Maybe he’s no longer the 50+ stolen bases, triple-hitting machine from his youth, but he’s back from a month and a half long stint on the disabled list, or what has become something of his annual June break, and since the beginning of August he’s hit .320/.358/.400 with a pair of home runs and nine stolen bases. He went 4-for-4 in Wednesday night’s game and has gone 9-for-12 in his last three.  Of those home runs, one was a two-run shot to just left of centerfield against the Nationals Tyler Clippard that tied the game up in extra innings. Not fully appreciated in that clip is just how difficult it was to hit that ball, hidden in the shadows while staring into the sun. Chavez Ravine can be murder mid-day to batters.

Well, no one ever said Crawford wasn’t talented . . . just brittle.

The Dodgers currently lead the Giants by 2 ½ games in the West and are percentage points behind the Nationals for the NL’s best record, two games back in the loss column. If they have hopes of holding off the one and overtaking the other they’re going to need every offensive weapon at their disposal. Since August, the Nationals own the best record in the NL at 24-14 and the Giants are 21-15 but leading in runs scored in that timeframe. The Dodgers have held court by going 21-16, but there are reasons for concern.

Puig has just one home run since the Fourth of July, and in those 48 games since he’s hit .269/.363/.411 with 12 RBIs. David Schoenfield on ESPN goes into Puig’s hitting woes in much greater detail, but needless to say, for a team with title or bust aspirations, the Dodgers are going to need every available bat. Dee Gordon has an OBP of just .281 since the beginning of August, making his otherworldly speed a threat but not the game-changer it has been. Hanley Ramirez is working his way back from an oblique strain and has hit just four home runs since June 1st. Oh, and the team has been giving at-bats to Darwin Barney of late. Not many, to be sure, as he makes an occasional spot start or pinch hits, and surprisingly, his OBP with the Dodgers is .391, up from his career of .291, but you get the sense that you know how this is going to end, and the fewer at-bats he sees the better.

On the flip side, Kemp has battled his own litany of injuries, most notably a balky ankle, but he’s put in a solid year at the plate, hitting 19 home runs (five in August) while playing a respectable centerfield. Adrian Gonzalez has provided another professional season at the plate, hitting 22 home runs while driving in 100. Since August he’s hit .325/.377/.561 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs. Heck, even former Met Justin Turner is killing the ball this season, hitting .327/.394/.454 overall and .372/.449/.500 with two home runs since August. Turner won’t see the field much with Ramirez back, but he provided a solid presence at the plate while Ramirez was recovering on the DL.

Then there’s Crawford. After struggling through April, Crawford turned May into his own “Welcome Back” party, hitting .333/.358/.513 through the month, turning on pitches with four home runs hit to right. Then he sprained his ankle, was placed on the 15-day disabled list, and 43 days later he was back to playing catch up. Since his return, however, he’s seen his slash line climb from a season low of .230/.267/.342 to its current .276/.315/.387. His seven home runs on the season are the most since 2011 with Boston and perhaps more importantly, in a sign that his wheels haven’t abandoned him, he has 22 stolen bases (out of 28 attempts), which are the most since his final season in Tampa.

Most promising of all is the work he’s done on fastballs since his return. Up through April, Crawford was hitting a miserable .121 against fastballs, which was something of a problem when pitchers were throwing him the pitch 74% of the time. In May, Crawford began hitting .340 against pitches considered hard (as per BrooksBaseball.net), with the overall percentage of pitches seen to 72.5%. Since August? He’s hit .294 while seeing the pitch now 68.3% of the time. Pitchers are taking notice, adjusting accordingly, and Crawford is still successful. Since August, on pitches considered breaking balls he’s hit an even .500. See curve; hit curve; run around the bases really fast.

With such a small lead in the West, and with six games remaining against the Giants, the Dodgers need everyone to contribute. Even a run or two helps (as pointed out in my previous post on how successful the Dodgers have been when scoring only a run or two), and Crawford’s return to a productive outfielder gives them an edge. The team has 238 million reasons to want to win the West, set their rotation, and play to their overall depth than end up in the crapshoot that is a one game play in.

For Crawford, now back to “[having] that feel, that free-spirit feel,” if his performance in last season’s playoffs is any indication, the more games the better since he and the Dodgers are going to be dangerous when they get there.1

  1. Quotes for the post were taken from this Obnoxious Boston Fan article.

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