Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Supporting Crawford's Call

Little more than a month after it began, Carl Crawford's season has ended
Carl Crawford's season is over.

Boston's much maligned leftfielder will undergo Tommy John surgery on Thursday, an operation he should have had performed more than a month ago.  It's been another tough season for Crawford, who underwent wrist surgery last winter, started the season on the 60 Day DL and suffered multiple setbacks throughout his rehab, including the torn ligament in his elbow that requires the aforementioned procedure.  By the time he finally returned to action on July 16th, the season was already half over.  But to his credit, he came back and tried to help his underachieving team salvage something out of their lost season.  He didn't quit on them, even though he's bailing out with nearly a quarter of the season left to play.  He tried to spark a second half push.  He tried to earn some of his 19.5 million dollar salary.   It's not his fault Boston continued to slip in the standings.

Now, if the Sox had made a second half surge like they were supposed to, I think Crawford would suck it up and keep on trotting out there everyday.  He's a hard-working competitor who wants to help the team win. I'm sure he'd also like to redeem himself and restore his reputation as one of the best all-around players in the game. He's a sensitive guy, too; he cares what people think and knows what kind of backlash he'd have to endure if he pulled a Manny Ramirez stunt like that.  New England would crucify him if he shut it down while the team was still battling for a postseason berth (merciless booing, scathing newspaper articles, nasty phone calls to sports radio--the works). And while Boston isn't clinically dead just yet, they're bleeding out on the operating table. Let's be realistic here; no matter what Bobby Valentine says, the Boston Red Sox are not going to play October baseball this season (coolstandings.com supports me, giving the Sox a measly 4.3 percent chance of making the playoffs).  Even with the second wild card in play, it's not gonna happen, not given plethora of injuries and slumps that have ravaged their key players:

Andrew Bailey-hurt
Daniel Bard-slumped, demoted
Josh Beckett-hurt and slumped
Clay Buchholz-hurt
Adrian Gonzalez-slumped
John Lackey-hurt
Jon Lester-slumped
Daisuke Matsuzaka-hurt
Mark Melancon-slumped, demoted
Will Middlebrooks-hurt
David Ortiz-hurt
Dustin Pedroia-hurt and slumped
Cody Ross-hurt
Ryan Sweeney-hurt
Kevin Youkilis-hurt, slumped, traded

You could fill out an All-Star roster with all that talent.  It' absurd how one team could become so snake-bitten.  All year long, we waited patiently for this team to get healthy and get on a roll. Optimists promised a second half run that would vault the team into contention and erase the disappointing first half.  Instead, Boston has been even worse since the All-Star Break; they were 43-43 with a +43 run differential before it but are just 16-20 with a -9 run differential since.  They've wilted during the dog days of summer, just as they faded down the stretch a year ago.  This team has flat-out stunk for almost a full calendar year now; they've gone 66-83 since September 1st, 2011.  Not to mention that they haven't been to the postseason since 2009, or  won a playoff game since 2008. Seven games out of the second wild card with 40 to play, I can't see them putting it together.  They're done.  Toast.  Finished (really hoping this reverse jinx works).

So with the Red Sox dead in the water, it just doesn't make sense for Crawford to play out the string, to put keep playing through the pain for five weeks of meaningless baseball.  Why bother?  What's the point?  It's not worth jeopardizing his future with the possibility that he might injure himself even further (and with the way things are going for the Sox this year, he'd probably blow out a hamstring running down the first base line or suffer a broken wrist from an errant fastball).  It's not worth him waiting until October to have a surgery he needed yesterday and miss even more time next year.  The risk outweighs the reward, and with investments of this magnitude, it's always better to err on the side of caution.  The choice is clear, and if I were Crawford, I would have gone under the knife weeks ago.  I'm not taking any chances with my body, regardless of what they write in the Globe and say on WEEI?  I'm not a doctor, but if you need surgery, you should probably have it sooner rather than later.  And the sooner he gets it, the sooner he can start rehabbing and preparing for next season.  He's making the right call.

Even though he'll end the season with just 31 games played (roughly one-fifth of a season), Crawford provided enough of a snapshot for us to believe he will return to form next year.  At the plate he looked much more comfortable than he did last season, when he was clearly pressing and trying to live up to his new contract (same goes for Jayson Werth, Adam Dunn, Curtis Granderson, etc.).  He eliminated his glaring platoon splits and hit the ball with authority to all fields. Granted, his 2012 statistics are a small sample, but If you project them over the course of 155 games he'd put together a typical Carl Crawford season.  He would have scored 115 runs, slugged 50 doubles, legged out ten triples, blasted 15 homers, driven in 95 and swiped 25 bases.  Those are damn good numbers, especially in baseball's new pitching-dominated context.  As long as the four time All-Star is healthy next year, he's going to put up the numbers.  I have no doubt in my mind about that.  He might never again be the player he was in Tampa Bay, but if he can be 80-90 percent of that guy, I'd take that in a heartbeat.  Wouldn't you?

He proved his skills are still intact, but  at the end of the day it always boils down to health.  Since joining the Red Sox, the once-durable Crawford who could be counted on to play 150 games a year has morphed into a walking medical bill.  After two seasons in a Red Sox uniform, Crawford will have spent more games on the bench (163) than he did on the field (161), all the while draining millions of dollars from Boston's bloated payroll.  But the benefit of getting the surgery over with is that he can limit the amount of playing time he'll lose (if any) next year.  For position players, it typically takes anywhere from seven to nine months to recover from the procedure. Barring any major setbacks, Crawford could be good to go by Opening Day, 2013.  Then he can get back to the business of not making the franchise feel like they flushed $142 million down the toilet.  Perhaps he could even pull an Ellsbury and take home AL Comeback Player of the Year honors.  I'd still like to see him be more aggressive on the basepaths, but at least he ran more frequently than he did last year and went a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts.  30 is a good baseline for him.  He still needs to show more patience, too, as his 22/3 K/BB rate and .306 OBP are both brutal. I know he's never been a very selective hitter, but he chased a career high 38.4 percent of pitches outside the strike zone.  His plate discipline must improve, particularly as he ages and loses bat speed.

I'm looking forward to having a healthy Crawford in 2013, if everything goes according to plan.  But if this season has taught Red Sox fans anything, it's that things rarely do.

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