The 2011 season was an underwhelming one for Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford, to say the least. After signing a seven year, $142 million contract, Crawford earned his millions by setting career lows in on-base percentage (.289) and batting average (.255), and had second-worst career outputs in hits (129), runs (65), triples (7), and stolen bases (18) – all of which you’d expect much better from a leadoff/two-hole hitter.
So what gives?
Is it difficulty adjusting to Fenway? One would think that shouldn’t be the problem; a left-handed pull hitter like Crawford should take advantage of Pesky’s Pole and rack up at least 160 hits a season.
Is it the new club? After nine years with the Rays, then all of a sudden coming to the bright lights of Boston, the need to get acclimated to the new digs is there, but it shouldn’t take all year; plus it’s not like he’s never met any of these guys before in his life.
Is it pressure to perform? Boston does have the opposite baseball culture of Tampa Bay. Instead of playing in front of a home crowd that’s just 1/3 full and can sometimes be a bit lackadaisical (how could the Rays not even sell out a playoff game?), you’re playing in front of a sellout crowd 81 times a year that will let you know if they’re not pleased.
Or was it the multitude of injuries he played through last year? Despite leg, elbow, and neck injuries that plagued him throughout 2011, he only needed surgery on his wrist over the offseason. He’s been progressing well, according to Bobby Valentine, but he hasn’t been cleared to hit yet, nor will he be for “some time.”
Whatever the cause, we know the effect. Given all that, the Red Sox have two options once he comes back from the disabled list – one, put him back into a more traditional role as a two-hole hitter and hope he adjusts quickly; or two, ease him in at the sixth slot and let him find his swing again.
For the first option, consider this batting order, the optimal/traditional route:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury
2. Carl Crawford
3. Dustin Pedroia
4. Adrian Gonzalez
5. Kevin Youkilis
6. David Ortiz
7. Ryan Sweeney or Cody Ross
8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Kelly Shoppach, or Ryan Lavarnway
9. Mike Aviles
This lineup, however, may put less pressure on him and be better for him mentally as well as physically:
This is closer to what the Red Sox ended up using much of 2011, but this way you put Crawford in a situation where he’ll get the most pitches to hit, and as an added bonus the Sox might not feel so bad about paying $142 million to a seventh-place hitter. Ideally the Red Sox might like to start with the second lineup and eventually go with the first one as the season progresses.
Of course, none of this is up for debate until Crawford returns from the DL, which won’t be until May at the earliest, according to Boston Dirt Dogs.