Matt’s working on a Carl Crawford post of his own, but in the interim I’d like to weigh in with a couple of notes on Crawford’s 7-year, $142 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.
– For starters, while Carl Crawford is an admittedly dynamic and exciting player, we’re also talking about a hitter with a career .347 wOBA, and who is coming off a career-high .378 mark. Of course, with a player like Crawford one also has to factor in his defense, which is where he derives a significant amount of his value. Is Crawford worth $20.3 million per year? According to Fangraphs he certainly was and then some in 2010, putting up a 6.9 fWAR worth $27.4 million. He was also excellent in 2009, with a 5.7 fWAR that was worth $25.4 million. It’s probably worth nothing that Baseball-Reference has a rather drastically different opinion of Crawford, as bWAR has his 2010 season at 4.8 and his 2009 at 4.4.
– I also find the move somewhat odd from an OBP perspective. Without doing the research, I’d have to imagine that Crawford has the lowest career OBP — a rather uninspiring .337 — for a $100 million man in history. For a team that values on-base percentage just as much as the Yankees do, I find it somewhat surprising that the Sox were willing to go this high for the lefty Crawford and not, say Jayson Werth, whose overall skill set (and right-handedness) seemingly would’ve been a perfect match for the Green Monster. I know Werth’s two years older and all that, but he’s coming off four straight seasons of .380-plus wOBA production — a level that Crawford has never reached once in his nine-year career — and could’ve presumably been had for $16 million less. Additionally, Crawford isn’t even that much younger than Werth — he’ll turn 30 next August.
– In trying to figure out whether this is a significant overpay, I thought it’d be helpful to parrot what SG did yesterday with his Cliff Lee hypothetical. According to SG by way of Tom Tango, a general rule of thumb is to assume a player in their 30s will decline around 0.5 WAR a season. If you read Tango’s post it’s a bit more complex than that, but for our purposes I’m fine with using that as a general baseline. I also don’t think we can expect a decline immediately off the bat from an elite player like Crawford, so I’ll assume he’ll maintain his lofty 2010 performance for the first year of the deal. I’m going to ape SG’s table showing the various scenarios depending on how much a win is valued, as we don’t know how much the Red Sox value a win. I’m also using bWAR, as it appears SG’s CAIRO forecast for WAR more closely tracks bWAR than fWAR.
Bear in mind this is a rudimentary calculation and the first time I’ve ever attempted something like this. In any event, even if the Sox value a win at $6 million, it appears the overall pact still may be a slight overpay, but it’s probably not a dramatic overpay. One also has to figure that Crawford’s offensive game will see a boost getting to play 81 games a season at Fenway Park, although I’m not sure there’s a way to quantify that. On the flip side, as Ben notes his defensive impact may be somewhat limited manning left field in front of the Monstah, and David Pinto notes that Crawford’s speed may not age all that well.
– How does this affect Boston’s lineup? Well for one, it makes it quite dangerous (and quite left-handed), perhaps moreso than 2010, although Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have some fairly large shoes to fill in Adrian Beltre (.390 wOBA) and Victor Martinez (.364 wOBA), so I don’t know that I’d expect the Sox’s offense to be overwhemingly better in 2011. If we use SG’s CAIRO projections for 2011 and plug them into Baseball Musings’ lineup analyzer, we get 5.5 runs per game (5.6 in the ideal iteration) for Boston’s presumed starting lineup, a ridiculously robust lineup any way you slice it. Of course, we also have to keep in mind that A-Gon’s and Crawford’s projections are for the Padres and Rays, respectively, and we can expect their overall numbers to see some inflation due to Fenway.
Plugging SG’s 2011 CAIRO projections in for the Yankee starting lineup, we get 5.6 runs per game (5.7 with lineup optimization), so yes, while the Red Sox certainly improved their team significantly with Carl Crawford, the Yankee lineup didn’t exactly get worse. Factor in presumed bounceback years for Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, and I don’t think Yankee fans have anything to worry about. As has been the case for the better part of the last decade, both the Yankees and Red Sox will be fielding elite offensive powerhouses, and we shouldn’t expect anything less from the game’s premier franchises.
If anything, not throwing obscene amounts of money at Crawford should make Yankee fans do a jig, as the team can now keep its cost-effective outfield in place and spend whatever extra money they may have on continuing to improve the pitching staff.