Thursday, May 6, 2010

Carl Crawford: Losing a step or bulking up?

Carl Crawford has been my keeper for a while.  Even the year he wasn't, he fell to me in the second round of the draft.  The last time he wasn't killing my slugging and RBI totals was 2005 (a strange year that involved four future Mets, who are all now awful).  I know Carl Crawford's habits and streak tendencies (he's streaky like Ryan Braun, who'll both lay dormant for entire weeks before unleashing a 10-game flurry of homeruns and base swipes).  I know that he's played on historically bad teams (the only .500 slugger on the 2006 crew was Rocco Baldelli, the same year that Ty Wigginton led the team in RBI with 79, two ahead of Crawford).

I also know that now he's on one of the best offensive teams in baseball.  The Rays currently lead MLB in total runs scored, though they fall behind in specific power and batting categories.  They're just a very good, well-rounded offensive club in 2010, despite some key 2009 breakouts having poor starts.  I believe this has flowed through to Carl's own personal statistics.  Currently sandwiched between Bartlett and Zobrist, he's upped his walk rate to 11.1%, compared to his 5.4% career mark.  He's scoring more runs thanks to a Longoria-Upton-Pena lineup batting while he's on base.  He's also batting .330, due in part to his high .378 BABIP.  He's on pace for the following line:

.330/.400/.530  115 runs, 75 RBI, 40 SB

Sustainable?  I don't know.  High-speed guys who can beat out throws tend to have an inflated BABIP, so it's harder to use that statistic as a loose measure of batting luck (Ichiro's career BABIP is .357, for example).  .378 is possible to maintain for a full year; Crawford did it in 2007.  I have my suspicions about the walk rate, since he's swinging at more balls compared to 2009 and making contact with fewer of them, which would suggest the OBP is due to come down.  There are two things that are puzzling me.

Power:  Crawford's ISO is .200, small in the world of sluggers but far and away a career high for a player known more for his stolen bases than his extra-base hits.  He's on pace for 57 doubles, 35% higher than his career high, with a healthy number of homeruns and triples too.  .530 slugging is nearly 100 points higher than his career figure.  But there's no supporting data for this power surge.  He's not hitting significantly more line drives or ground balls or flyballs than any other line in his career.  If anything he's popping out more.  He's obviously not swinging for the fences.  What's the deal?

Speed:  Through May 5th of 2009, Crawford had 19 stolen bases.  Granted six of them came when the Rays exposed the Red Sox defensive catcher woes and opened the floodgates for future beatdowns like Nelson Cruz's 5-SB romp, so let's dial that back down to 1, and credit Crawford with 14 non-Varitek SBs.    He'd also accrued a grand total of zero CS.  He wasn't caught.  He was a golden god of sliding into second base.  Now he only has seven swipes.  He hasn't successfully stolen a base since April 22nd, and has been thrown out three times since.  That's nineteen times on base, though six of those times he was already standing on second or third.  I specifically avoided drafting another 50+ SB guy because I figured I had one already.  I don't even have one SB this week from any of my players, and only four last week.  What's the deal?

Theory:  Based on nothing but uninformed speculation and idle observation, I think Carl's bulked up a bit.  I think his playing weight this year is higher than years prior, mostly muscle, which has translated into more balls getting punched out into the gaps.  He's swinging harder, which has upped his slugging rates.  The extra few pounds means he's not quite as spry on the basepath, still speedy but no longer league-leading.

Alternative Theory:  He's only a month younger than I am, but this was the year, approaching age 29, when my knee started hurting for no particular reason, when my metabolism completely lost it, when I had to drop all snack foods and sugars from my diet to avoid ballooning weight concerns, when I couldn't wake up refreshed even after eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, when staying awake past 12:30am is an ordeal.  I know Crawford's a professional athlete in a physical condition I couldn't even dream of having, but just maybe he's transitioning into the same middle-age phase that I am, and his body's holding more weight, and he lost a millisecond off his jump, and playing 155 games is taking more of a toll on his body (in 2009 he had more SBs in May than in July-September combined) than it used to.

Either way, Crawford is my second best hitter right now, and I'll have to enjoy the ride.

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