Thursday, December 09, 2010

Comparing Carl Crawford to Bobby Abreu

There is no doubt in every one's mind that the Carl Crawford signing by the Boston Red Sox combined with their acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez makes them the team to beat in the American League East. This writer certainly has no arguments with those sentiments. The Fan thought the Red Sox were the favorites before Crawford signed. It just seemed a good time to take a good look at Crawford as a player since he will be in the thick of Red Sox seasons for years to come. When considering Crawford, the first name that came to mind was Bobby Abreu. But is that even close to being a good comparison?

Obviously when it comes to fielding, the Abreu/Crawford comparison is stupid. Abreu was at best an adequate fielder in his prime and an awful one after. Crawford, by all accounts is a wonderful left fielder. But Fenway Park and its configuration mitigates some of that value Crawford provides because left field in Fenway is like playing in a sandbox. But there are other comparables.

First, neither hit much for power. Abreu did have some good power years early in his career, but they are somewhat suspect in retrospect. His true power value seemed to be anywhere from 18 to 22 homers. Crawford hit 19 homers in 2010, his highest total in his career. That gives an edge to Abreu. Crawford hit many more triples than Abreu though. But still, Abreu's career slugging is .488. Crawford's is .444 and 2010 was the first season in Crawford's career that he slugged higher than .488 in a season.

Second, Abreu always had more patience at the plate. Both stayed around the .300 mark in batting average, but Abreu would consistently post .400 OBP or higher. Abreu walked over 100 times in a season for eight straight seasons. Crawford has never walked more than 51 times and has a career OBP of .337. In his peak years, he should post OBP totals from .350 to .365. Edge Abreu.

Base running is again a silly question, though not as silly as you would think. Crawford has averaged 50 steals a season with an incredible 82% success rate. Part of that could be explained by all those games facing Varitek and Posada, but still. It's incredible the success Crawford has had on the bases. Abreu was no slouch on the bases and in his peak nine years averaged 30 steals a season with a 77% success rate. But pitchers were never rattled with Abreu on the bases like they are with Crawford. Edge Crawford.

The Fan saved his favorite stat for last. It was interesting to note that Abreu has a career BABIP of .343. Crawford's career mark is .331. That means that more of Abreu's career batted balls fell in for hits than Crawfords. Why would that be? This observer thinks the difference is line drive percentage. Abreu's career live drive percentage is 22.1% (since 2002. The stat wasn't kept before that). It was common for Abreu to break the 25 to 26% mark during his best years. Carl Crawford has a career line drive percentage of 19.6% and it was 16.5% in 2010.  The highest mark Crawford ever put together for a season was 2003 with a 21.1% season. A lot of comments around the Net today mentioned that Crawford should pepper the Green Monster. But you have to hit line drives to do that. Crawford doesn't with regularity.

Abreu during his peak years had WAR ratings that rivaled or surpass Crawford's yearly totals and it wouldn't be close except for Crawford's fielding edge. So, believe it or not, Abreu was as good a player as Crawford is now.

What's the reason for bringing all this up? Two reasons. The first was to make the point that Bobby Abreu never scared this Fan with his play. If he was coming up in an All Star Game or a playoff game or a World Series game, there was never any quaking about what he might do at the plate. There were always other betters that scared you more. The same is true for Crawford. When the Yankees played the Bay Rays, Crawford was never a batter that put dread into you when you were watching in a close game. The question the Fan has is who would scare you more during a big playoff moment, Crawford or Werth. This Fan would have to say Werth.

The second reason for bringing all this up was to mention that Abreu's WAR totals started declining in his age 31 season. That's two years away for Crawford and his deal is for seven years. Again, don't get the Fan wrong. Crawford is a wonderful player and the Red Sox are the team to beat. The Fan just doesn't think he's as great as he's made out to be and doesn't think he will be worth over $20 million for the next seven seasons.

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