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Carl Crawford: Bounce Back Candidate in 2012

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Note: for those of you who watch the MLB Channel, I started writing this before seeing their show on bounce back candidates.

Last September, I wrote this article calling Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford a bust in 2011. Now that we are in a new year, we can all forget about his poor performance last year because Crawford is a bounce back candidate in 2012. I recently ranked my Top 50 Fantasy Outfielders for 2012, and I ranked Crawford at #9. Here is what I wrote about him:

9. Carl Crawford, BOS-wow, what a bust he was, huh? He had his worst major league season by far, and many will be calling him a bounce back candidate in 2012. I think he will bounce back, because no one saw THIS from him before the 2011 season started. I ranked him as my #1 outfielder last March, and boy was I wrong. Crawford hit .255-.289-.405 with 11 HRs, 56 RBI, 65 runs and 18 stolen bases in 130 games in 2011. Crawford turned 30 in August, which was his second best month of the season, so he certainly hasn't peaked, and the Red Sox lineup is still one of the best in baseball, so he should return to the Carl Crawford we knew before the 2011 season. I can see him going 15-75-100-40 in 2012.

If Crawford hasn't gone all Adam Dunn on us in 2012, I fully expect him to be the Carl Crawford we saw man left field for the Tampa Bay Rays for 8.5 seasons. I fully expect him to return to the hitter who has a career .293 batting average and averaged 50 steals per season in Tampa.

More on Crawford after the jump:

If you take a look at Crawford's .299 BABIP in 2011, you see he was right around league average, but it was his second lowest BABIP of his career, so he was a bit unlucky. He owns a career BABIP of .328, so he was slightly unlucky in 2011. I honestly think he underperformed because he was feeling the pressure of 1) playing in Boston everyday, and 2) living up to his huge contract.

One glaring stat that jumps out at me is Crawford hit a career low .195 vs left handed pitchers in 2011. His career BA vs. lefties, according to Baseball-Reference, is .262, so we can expect Crawford to hit better vs lefties in 2012.

Looking at his monthly stats, Crawford got off to a terrible start in April, hitting just .155. Here are his monthly batting averages for April through September 2011 vs his career mark in each month:

April: .155/.267

May: .304/.301

June: .278/.295

July: .250/.296

August: .279/.296

September: .264/.301

A couple months stand out, but April 2011 was a killer month for Crawford. Actually, Crawford hit below his career BA in every month except May, so we can expect Crawford to bounce back in 2012 in the BA category due to normal regression to the mean.

Digging deeper into what caused Crawford to have his worst season as a pro, I looked at how he fared in certain counts, and discovered that he hit a paltry .175 when he was ahead in the count 2-1, covering 80 at bats in 2011. His career BA when ahead in the count 2-1 is .304.

Crawford also hit well below his career norms when behind in the count. Let's take a look at his 2011 BA vs his career BA:

0-2 count: .170 vs. .192

1-2 count: .168 vs. .197

2-2 count: .152 vs. .219

3-2 count: .224 vs. 288

This exercise tells me that Crawford was very unlucky in 2011, and with some normal regression to the mean Crawford should be able to raise his BA in 2012 back to his career .293 average.

Another stat where Crawford underperformed in 2011 was in the stolen base category. He stole just 18 bases after averaging 50 SBs in his career, and attempted just 24 stolen bases after averaging 60 stolen base attempts in his career. Did he suffer an injury that prevented him from running more? He did suffer a hamstring injury, so maybe he was more cautious on the base paths. Did he not get the green light as much? According the the Baseball Forecaster, Crawford SBO% dropped from 34% in 2010 to just 23% in 2011, his lowest since 2008 where injuries limited him to just 25 stolen bases.

Bill James projects Crawford to hit right around his career triple slash line of .293-.333-.441 with 15 HRs, 73 RBI, 93 runs and 34 stolen bases in 2012. I think that is a bit conservative and think he can score more runs and steal more bases this season, assuming good health.

Fantasy owners may be able to draft Crawford in the 3rd round of most drafts in 2012, and he could outperform that draft round with a bounce back season. He hits in one of the best lineups in baseball, and will have plenty of opportunities to score runs and to make things happen on the base paths.