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Carl Crawford: 2011 Fantasy Bust

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 14: Carl Crawford #13 of the Boston Red Sox fouls off a pitch in the second inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park on September 14, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 14: Carl Crawford #13 of the Boston Red Sox fouls off a pitch in the second inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park on September 14, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
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Every year, there are at least one or two first round picks in fantasy drafts who do not perform up to expectations, and turn in a bust of a season at the plate or on the mound. The Boston Red Sox surprised everyone last offseason by offering former Rays outfielder Carl Crawford a 7 year, $142 million contract, this after the Angels were considered the favorite to sign him when the offseason began. But, Crawford has returned the favor and surprised the Red Sox and fantasy owners with his poor performance this season. His performance at the plate this year was quite unexpected.

I ranked Crawford as my #1 fantasy outfielder coming into the season and wrote this about him in my updated outfielder rankings back in March:

1. Carl Crawford, BOS (LF)- Crawford is moving to the best lineup in baseball, and will most likely hit 3rd, in front of newly acquired Adrian Gonzalez, so he could hit 20 HRs, steal 50 bases and score 125 runs this year.

And here is what I wrote about him in my initial take on the outfielder rankings:

2. Carl Crawford, BOS (LF)-Crawford was recently dealt to one of the better lineups in baseball this offseason, and i can see his stats improve across the board similar to Adrian Beltre in 2010. Crawford hit .307-.356-.495 with 19 HRs, 90 RBIs, 110 runs scored and 47 SBs in 2010. I could see Crawford breach the 20 HR mark and 120 runs scored level in 2011. With Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and company hitting behind him, Crawford should be able to score more runs, and continue to steal 45+ bases, possibly breaching the 50 SB level again.

Crawford had a very good season at the plate in 2010, as I state above, and it wasn't far-fetched for one to think he could improve upon that performance moving to a better lineup and better hitters park, but that would not be the case. Let's take a look at what happened after the jump:

Coming into the 2011 season, Crawford averaged 13 HRs, 90+ runs, 70 RBI and 50 SBs and has hit .273 or better in all 8 of his big league seasons, so the stat line he put up this year is shocking. Crawford has gone from being a top 2-3 fantasy outfielders to one of the worst everyday fantasy outfielders in baseball. According to Fangraphs, he has been a 0.3 WAR player in 2011 after putting up a 7.5 WAR in 2010.

In 474 at bats this season, Crawford is hitting just .259-.295-.410 with 11 HRs, 55 RBI, 63 runs, 18 stolen bases in 23 attempts and a K/BB rate of 100-23. This season is by far his worst season in the big leagues, and we don't know if he had trouble adjusting to playing in a new ballpark, or had other off-field issues/concerns that could have impacted his performance on the field, but I am sure if there are any, we will hear about once the season is over. There has to be some explanation for his horrific performance in 2011.

Looking at his page on Fangraphs, a few things jump out at me, but I can't say these are why his performance has suffered this season. His strikeout rate increased from 15.7% to 19.7% this season, which could be a result of him swinging at more pitches-37.8% vs 35.6%-outside the zone (O-swing %) this season. Actually, Crawford has a negative trend forming in his strike zone judgement. Here are his O-swing % over the last few seasons:

2007- 30.3%

2008- 31.5%

2009- 31.0%

2010- 35.6%

2011- 37.8%

Wonder if he needs glasses? You never know.

Crawford has also walked in only 4.5% of his at bats this season, his lowest BB rate since 2005. His BABIP of .300 is lower than his career BABIP of .329, but really doesn't explain his 50 point drop in batting average.

Looking at his batted ball data doesn't tell much either. He has actually hit more line drives this year-17.8% vs 16.5% in 2010, which usually results in an increase in a hitter's batting average. His ground ball rate was flat vs 2010, and his fly ball rate dropped slightly, so nothing really jumps out in the batted ball data other than the increase in line drive rate.

I think we can chalk his poor performance to just a bad year, a fluke, but I am not sure where I would rank him in my 2012 outfielder rankings. I certainly wouldn't want to draft him in any of the first 3 rounds at this point. I am hoping he offers some explanation as to why he underperformed in 2011.