photo © 2011 Keith Allison | more info (via: Wylio)My statistical analysis can often get blamed for ignoring the “human” aspect, but I would say with all the writers willing to pile on millions of suggestions and reasons for slumps and streaks I think it’s fair to ignore them on my end. Of course I have to be discussing Carl Crawford after that intro as he has one epic “slump” at the worst time of year to have one. If you do this in July you will be questioned, but you can hide some of it with the numbers you have already amassed.
According to Peter Abraham at Boston.com Carl Crawford is now working on his swing, but I would ask is it possible they’re just going to make things worse? It definitely looks bad now, but even the best of hitters have 100 plate appearances that are far from their norm. Crawford is currently batting 45 percent lower than his career average, which is a huge value. (In gambling terms, that’s one huge point spread.) At the same time Youkilis is about 30 percent of his career level.
To find if a hitter is really different then what you have seen before you must look at the deeper numbers. In Crawford’s career he strikes out 15.4 percent and has struck out a few more times at 18.1 percent. He has been around that rate the past few years including a rate of 19.2 percent in 2007.
Perhaps he’s swinging at the wrong pitches as many have noted his low pitches per plate appearance numbers. He’s swing a bit more than his career rates at pitches out of the zone and less at those in the zone. He also is swinging at the lowest rate in his career at 46 percent. When he swings though he is connecting for sure with solid contact rates at or above career rates on all pitches.
I’m going to ignore the walk rate right now as it wasn’t very good to begin with, but it is down slightly from his career rate. The next question I’ll address is about the type of contact he is getting. His overall numbers actually look very good. His ground ball rate is right at career levels, while his line drive rate is down a bit and resulting in more fly balls. That is fairly normal and should adjust in time. This could be hurting him a bit as fly balls are the easiest out.
Sometimes a spike in infield fly balls can be a sign that hitters are trying to upper cut pitches or changing their swing, but no red flags either. His rate this year is 7.1 percent so far and he has a career rate of 8.4 percent.
So what is the problem with Crawford? Even with the low line drive rate he should be looking at a minimum BABIP of .260, but his career rate of .329 says you should expect a lot more. His BABIP for 2011 stands at a stupefying .184. Of players with 100 PA only Dan Uggla has a lower BABIP this season.
The one thing I did see is a bit of change in his spray charts:
There isn’t a lot of data in the 2011 chart yet but there is a small trend in hitting more pitches the other way, but at home last year he seemed to hit equally to all fields and for more power to right field. This could be a sign that while he is making contact and his BABIP does show he is unlucky perhaps he is struggling at the plate.
I think this chart might backup what the team is seeing according to Francona in the article by Peter Abraham:
“If there’s one thing I know they’re talking about, it’s just getting ready sooner,” Francona said. “When it’s a rush, it’s a little but harder to see the ball and to react. They’re trying to get him ready a little earlier.”
This puts him behind and results in hitting pitches to the opposite field and with less power. Even if they didn’t fix this problem his numbers should be much better than they are right now based on normal regression. He has also face a healthy number of left handed starters this season, which will result in plenty of weak hits based on his career SLG of .379 against lefties.
The start to 2011 is obviously wearing on Crawford as he looked lost in the dugout after the game last Thursday. His spray chart suggests the same thing the coaches are seeing and helping him make better contact and giving him more chances against righties should get him right back on track.
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