Carl Crawford’s struggles exacerbates Dodgers’ left field woes

Carl Crawford‘s Tampa Bay homecoming may have brought fond memories back to Rays fans who regard the outfielder as one of their all-time best players. For the Dodgers, though, Crawford’s inability to stay healthy and productive has been a detriment to the team’s success this season.

Dave Roberts did not start Crawford during the two-game series at Tropicana Field, and he will likely not start in the Toronto series either. Crawford just returned from a back injury, and the Roberts wants to be cautious with his injury-prone outfielder on artificial turf.

The one-time dynamic Crawford had an opportunity in the series finale in Tampa Bay to impact the game as a pinch-hitter. The Rays were melting down in the top of the eighth inning. The Dodgers found themselves back in the game after the Rays’ bullpen walked in two runs and Joc Pederson brought in a third with a sacrifice fly. After Xavier Cedeno uncorked a wild pitch, Corey Seager and Chase Utley advanced to second and third with two outs. Crawford, representing the tying run, ended the inning by striking out after swinging and missing on ball four.

The futile at-bat, along with Crawford’s .179/.233/.286 slash line, 40 wRC+ and -0.4 WAR spurred some harsh reaction.

Crawford has only played in 11 games and had 30 plate appearances this season, and although it’s still early, every plate appearance is important for Crawford since he’s no longer an everyday player. Roberts has stated that he is well aware of Crawford’s injury history, and he only plans to play him 3-4 times per week.

Given that playing on artificial turf for nine seasons is part of the reason Crawford says he’s had multiple stints on the disabled list since leaving Tampa Bay, it’s expected that he misses the games in the Tampa Bay and Toronto series.

“I played real aggressively on turf for nine years,” he said. “I’m lucky I’m still walking the way I’m walking now. I’m still walking, at least.”

Walking is good, but after this stretch of games on turf, the Dodgers will likely start playing Crawford regularly again and the team needs him to also be able to run, catch and hit.

Typically when Crawford is in one of his healthy spurts, we get some glimpse of the good Crawford. Back in 2014, Crawford declared that he was working to bring back his once remarkable running game. He stole 23 bases for the Dodgers that year, the most since 2010 when he swiped 47 bases and was an All-Star with the Rays. This season, Crawford has not attempted to steal one base, and he hasn’t even given us a glimmer of hope.

In her book The Best Team Money Can Buy, Molly Knight wrote about Crawford:

“For almost a decade, Carl Crawford was the human embodiment of a tree falling in the woods and making no sound: he was the best baseball player that no one saw.”

The Dodgers could really use that Crawford right now. Left fielders for the Dodgers have combined for a .229 batting average, 24 hits (12th in the NL) and just three home runs, so there’s hardly any offense coming from the position typically associated with sluggers.

Of course, nothing has gone as planned. Roberts announced that Andre Ethier was the Dodgers’ starting left fielder during spring training before he succumbed to a fractured leg. Scott Van Slyke subsequently went down as well with a back injury, and the Dodgers traded outfield prospect Scott Schebler to Cincinnati in the offseason. Left field has been a problem area for the Dodgers in recent times, and they even had to use Jay Gibbons there not too long ago. While Crawford is not quite at Gibbons level yet, things aren’t going well for the 34-year-old veteran.

Crawford has just one hit in the last seven days, and he has only collected two hits since returning from the disabled list on April 26. I don’t want to put all the blame on a player who has only 28 at-bats and is coming off of injury, but it is concerning when combined with the recent struggles of Enrique Hernandez.

Crawford may still find his way, but he hasn’t been hitting the ball very hard (when he does hit it) so far this season compared to his career totals.

Year Soft% Med% Hard%
2016 37 50 12.5
Total 16.4 58.7 24.9

His ground ball to fly ball ratio is 3.50 compared to his career 1.60 GB/FB and his 2015 1.50 GB/FB, so basically Crawford has been hitting a lot of weak ground balls for most of the year.

While Crawford can be one of the most vibrant players in the game when healthy, his constant injuries have put a damper on his contributions to the team since joining the Dodgers. A healthy and productive Crawford would certainly give a boost to the Dodgers, but his time as a starter has seemingly all but gone. With his diminished speed, a weak arm and flaccid offense, Roberts will need to go with Enrique Hernandez, Trayce Thompson and even Howie Kendrick in left field until Van Slyke and Ethier return unless CC can turn things around and in a hurry.

Crawford is signed through 2017 and owed over $43 million remaining on his 7-year, $142 million contract the Dodgers took on when they acquired him from Boston in the infamous 2012 trade. Ned Colletti as well as the new front office likely have attempted to move Crawford (as well as Ethier) since, but there haven’t been any takers for rather obvious reasons.

It’s unclear whether Crawford will play beyond next season, but with all the injuries plaguing their outfielders right now, the Dodgers still need him. CC is somehow still the only left-field option against right-handers in the platoon situation on this team, but the Dodgers may soon have no choice but to try and matchup Hernandez/Thompson against right-handers. Obviously the preferred option is that Crawford stays healthy and regains even the tiniest bit of his old form, but the Dodgers can’t afford to be patient with him if his struggles continue, regardless of which side of the plate he bats from.

About Stacie Wheeler

Stacie Wheeler, born and raised in So Cal, has been writing about the Dodgers since 2010. She wrote daily as the co-editor of Lasorda's Lair for five long years, and she has also written for Dodgers Nation, Dodger Blue 1958 and The Hardball Times. She currently contributes to True Blue LA. Stacie graduated from the University Of Southern California with a bachelor's degree in Cinema-Television. You can also watch her videos on her YouTube channel, DishingUpTheDodgers.