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Crawford vs. Ellsbury

As we enter the mid-way point of the first month in Major League Baseball, the Red Sox have been disappointing to say the least. After acquiring Adrian Gonzalez via trade in December (and signing him to a 7 year/$154 million dollar extension on April 15), and signing Carl Crawford to a 7 year/142 million dollar deal, this was supposed to be the most prolific offense in baseball. But along the way, something has gone wrong. One of the glaring problems that this team faces, is that Crawford doesn’t fit anywhere in this lineup. He’s a tweener guy. He can hit 1, 2, 3, or even 4 or 5 in a batting order. He has great legs, a good bat, and has an aggressive swing that drives the ball. So where do you put him in this Red Sox lineup?

Fifth isn’t really a good spot, because he would be batting behind one of the slowest members of the team in Gonzalez, and that’s where they want Ortiz batting. Fourth isn’t a good spot, because that’s where the power hitters go. And in a lineup that has Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis, one of those guys will fill that hole. Third isn’t a great spot, because again, you will have Gonzalez or Youk hitting there. Second is out of the question. Pedrioa has pretty much solidified that as his spot in the lineup. So that just leaves the leadoff spot. And that is where the problem lies.

For about three years now, the leadoff spot has been reserved for Jacoby Ellsbury. When Ellsbury burst onto the scene in late ’07, he showed us what marvelous talent he has. A .300 hitter, with incredible speed, and a good glove. Ellsbury really shined brightest, on the biggest stage. The 2007 World Series against Colorado. In that series, Ellsbury went from bench player in the ALCS, to full-time superstar overnight. He showed a great ability to put the ball in play. And with his speed, any ball in the infield had to be delivered quick and accurate, or you weren’t going to get him. In 2008, Ellsbury became the full-time starter in center-field. He was terrific. He batted .280, with 22 doubles, 7 triples and 9 home runs. He also stole 50 bases, while only being caught 11 times. However, his OBP was just .336. The next year was even better for Ellsbury. He hit .301, with 27 doubles, 10 triples, and 8 home runs. He had a staggering 70 steals, being caught just 12 times. Again though, a low OBP of just .355. And in 2010, the wheels came off for the young center-fielder. He played in just 18 games, and mustered a .192 average in his injury plagued season. So, while Ellsbury’s numbers are good, they are not good enough for a leadoff man. His one fatal flaw is his OBP. Ellsbury is a very aggressive hitter, and he doesn’t have a good eye. It can be painful to watch as he consistently swings at balls down and away in the dirt. One of the things that a leadoff man has to do, is work the count. Ala, Kevin Youkilis in ’06. Youk isn’t the fastest guy, but he is someone who can work the count and is a very dangerous hitter. Insert Carl Crawford.

Crawford is a proven hitter in a weak Rays lineup. For a 2-3 year period, Crawford was the only notable hitter in Tampa. B.J. Upton has come into his own, and Evan Longoria has shown that he is a force at the plate. But Crawford was the first of these Rays to show off his skills. Crawford’s average has gone from .259 in ’02, to .281, to .296, to, .301, to .305, and then his career high of .315 in 2007. He had a drop off in ’08 batting just .278, but has since climbed back up with .305 in ’09, and .307 in 2010. Crawford averages just over 10 home runs a year, and 41 stolen bases a year. Red Sox fans would know, since he stole about 5 bases a series against them. So here’s the battle that we have.

These are two identical players. Elite speed, good contact, but both very aggressive hitters. Neither is a prototypical leadoff hitter. The Sox were hoping Jacoby would fill that void, but he hasn’t lived up to the expectations. They have been moving him around each and every game it seems like, because they feel he doesn’t have the makeup of a leadoff hitter. Now that they have Carl Crawford, a proven veteran, they have a serious problem on their hands. Since Ellsbury isn’t panning out, they’re giving Crawford a chance at leadoff. Crawford is making $20 million a year, which is not something you pay a leadoff hitter. And if the reason you went out and got Crawford was to be fast and get on base, then he wasn’t worth they money. The Red Sox want Crawford to hit somewhere around 3-5, but he’s not helping by batting only .137 with only one extra base hit. And Ellsbury is batting .195 with a .250 OBP. Neither player is stepping up. If the Sox want to get the most of these guys, they need to work with Ellsbury on his patience, and move him back to leadoff. That would allow them to move Crawford down the lineup to the number 7 or 8 spot. This would take some pressure off the $20 million dollar man, and maybe he could get into a nice groove so they can move him back up the lineup. The Sox have a very serious problem on their hands, and need to figure out where to bat these two identical players.

  1. April 16, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    Wow, I have to admit that I didn’t think I was going to like this article based on what I know is your low opinion of Ellsbury overall. But you remained objective and pointed out the good and bad sides of both players…nice job. My opinion is that they NEED Ellsbury to fill that leadoff spot. When Ells is on base and doing what he does, the Sox are a very dangerous team–even Francona has said that numerous times. The problem is, the dumb ass doesn’t know how to take a pitch. You’re right, it’s painful to watch him overcommit on every single low and away (or low and inside for that matter) pitch. If he could just muster a few more walks here and there (which he did today to everyone’s surprise), his OBP could jump to the .375-.385 range that is almost necessary for a good leadoff man.

    Crawford, on the other hand, a career .295 hitter with blazing speed, could really do damage within the dimensions of Fenway Park. And with 10 seasons under his belt, I think we can all see exactly what kind of hitter he is going to be going forward–He doesn’t get on base enough to lead off (career OBP of just .336), he doesn’t have enough power to hit 4th or 5th (never had 20 HR’s in a single season), and at 20 million dollars a year, do you really think he is suited to bat 7th-9th? That leaves 2nd, 3rd or 6th. As you pointed out, Pedroia hits very well out of the 2-hole, so why mess with a good thing. With Youk and Gonzalez, I think you have one of the best 3-4 combos in the AL. So, maybe Crawford would be better suited to hitting 6th. After Papi clears the bases, Crawford would almost be a second leadoff hitter, without all the pressure of actually leading off, and with his contact skills he would be a great guy to pick up any loose ends that Ortiz may leave on base.

    In any lineup situation, though, you still need consistency and timely hitting, and the Sox have had neither so far this season. I think once the bats come alive, and the pitchers stop serving up meatballs, the lineup will fall into place and the Sox will get to 90 wins and a playoff spot. Where Ells and Crawford end up in the order will hopefully not matter too much—like Al Davis says, Just Win, Baby!

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