2014 Dodgers In Review: OF Carl Crawford

MLB 370 .300 .339 .429 119 8 2.5

What Happened In 2014: After an extremely rough start, finished a successful season on a crazy hot streak.

I don’t generally like to split the season up into months, because generally it does not help with evaluating player skill. However, this is a season review, so we’re trying to describe the past here. And when talking about Carl Crawford‘s season, splitting the season up helps tell the story:

  • March/April – 76 PA, .194/.224/.278 – 39 wRC+
  • May – 81 PA, .333/.358/.513 – 149 wRC+
  • July – 49 PA, .163/.245/.209 – 34 wRC+
  • August 89 PA, .313/.360/.361 – 110 wRC+
  • September 75 PA, .448/.473/.716 – 234 wRC+

At the beginning of the season, Crawford was seeing part-time work against right-handed pitching almost exclusively, and his numbers were not rewarding that (correct) platoon use. He would often start even over Matt Kemp, which caused some problems, but he was behind Scott Van Slyke on the depth chart against lefties.

Crawford slumped horribly in April, but finally seemed to turn a corner on May 3rd, entering the game as a pinch hitter in the 11th inning. At the time he was hitting just .185/.212/.259 in 2014, and he was on the bench for this particular game even though a right-handed pitcher started for the Marlins. However, Crawford was the hero that night in Miami:

Note the helpful “they call him C.C.” at the end of the highlight. Thanks, Charlie.

Following the homer, Crawford finally started hitting. He certainly wasn’t thrilled with a part-time bench role for one of the first times of his career, but as Mike wrote in mid-May, the Dodger outfield was only a problem “if you hate great production”:

Maybe, some would say, it really ought to be this good, considering how much talent and money has been accumulated here. Maybe. But as we’ve learned time and again, dollars don’t always equal production, and considering how much hand-wringing has gone on about the situation, someone who doesn’t watch the team regularly might assume that the whole thing was a disaster.

Crawford continued platooning in left field until late May. The Kemp center field situation had finally blown up, and a few days into Kemp’s mysterious benching Crawford suffered a gruesome-looking ankle sprain. A Crawford injury is an annual event at this point, and his trip to the disabled list finally opened a spot in left for Kemp to move to a corner full-time. While, initially, it looked like Crawford would only be out for a couple of weeks, he didn’t return until mid-July. During the absence, we learned, hilariously, that the Dodgers tried unsuccessfully to shop Crawford to the Astros. Those talks didn’t get off the ground, but it did show that the front office was aware that unloading Crawford would be one way to solve the crowded outfield.

On the day of Crawford’s return, I wrote a long post on how to lay out the Dodgers outfield according to the Steamer platoon projections. The results were surprising: at the time of the post, against right-handed pitching, Crawford had a projection of .339 wOBA to Kemp’s .337. And that was before including baserunning and defense, two aspects of the game where Crawford was better. It was close enough to wonder if pushing Crawford into the lineup wasn’t a bad decision:

There is also the non-quantifiable impact on player happiness/chemistry, but given how the outfield is currently constructed there probably isn’t a way to make either of the players happy while both are healthy. On the plus side, splitting playing time against right-handed pitching would keep two players who have been prone to injuries in the past more rested.

The long-term solution to this problem is probably a complete overhaul of the outfield, but that just isn’t realistic in the middle of the season. The Dodgers are going to have to make do with what they have for now, and if that involves Kemp sitting against right-handed pitching sometimes, that’s not the end of the world. It might actually be better.

The point there was not advocating a strict platoon, and after re-reading the old post in preparation for this one I realize I could have phrased that better. The point was that Crawford getting a start over Kemp here and there in the outfield was not necessarily a bad idea. Both were/are fragile and both could use rest here and there.

Don Mattingly did continue to insert Crawford into the lineup against right-handed pitching, but the outfield was in complete disarray for the two weeks after his return. Between July 10th and July 25th, the Dodgers used twelve different outfields. At one point they even talked about moving Crawford to center, which, given his arm, would have been equally disastrous as the other options.

All the while, Crawford couldn’t get his bat going. On August 9th, he was just hitting just .234/.268/.333 for the season. He was playing over Ethier as Puig’s move to center (and Kemp to right) stabilized the rest of the outfield. Crawford had one of the highest line drive rates of any Dodger, but his BABIP didn’t match. Nothing was going right. But, then, the end of the season happened. Crawford finished on an absolute tear.

After the roller coaster ride, Crawford finished the season with his highest wRC+ since 2010. He only had 370 plate appearances between the platoon usage and the ankle injury, but he ended up being a pretty valuable substitute. Don Mattingly deserves a lot of credit for having faith in Crawford, even after most of us had lost hope for his future value.

Despite Crawford’s puzzling platoon splits this year (151 wRC+ v LHP, 112 wRC+ v RHP), he still profiles best as a platoon bat. One year platoon splits aren’t really meaningful (L v L takes 1000 plate appearances to stabilize), and Crawford has a very long history of extreme splits. Luckily, the Dodgers have Scott Van Slyke. The two of them make a really useful pairing. Van Slyke has a decent amount of trade value right now, and the Dodgers could trade Crawford away if they eat $20 million or so of his remaining $62.25 million due to him. If Crawford stays around, he can still be pretty valuable to the team in 2015.

2015 Status: Under contract for three more years, likely to continue platoon outfield role going forward.

About Daniel Brim

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Daniel Brim grew up in the Los Angeles area but doesn't live there anymore. He still watches the Dodgers and writes about them sometimes.