FORT MYERS, Fla. Mired in the worst offensive season of his 10-year big league career, its no surprise Carl Crawfords confidence was pretty well shot last year. Across the board, many of his offensive numbers were the worst he had posted in a full season.
That includes stolen bases, which had been Crawfords bread and butter for much of his career. His 427 career stolen bases trail only Juan Pierres 554 (in 12 seasons) among active players. Crawford has been caught just 96 times, giving him an impressive 81.6 percent success rate. Pierre, by comparison, has been successful on 74.4 percent of his attempts.
Crawford led the American League in steals in 2003, with 55, 2004 (59), 2006 (58), and 2007 (50). In every other one of his full big league seasons, he was either second (in 2009 with 60) or third (in 2005 with 46 and 2010 with 47). Leaving 2011 as the glaring exception, when 26 players in the league including teammates Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia -- finished with more stolen bases than Crawford, who had just 18. With 24 attempts, his success rate of 75 percent, while certainly acceptable, was also his career low for a single season.
Crawford acknowledges he lost confidence on the bases last season. And in baseball, confidence or the lack of in one area can affect other areas.
Which is why his agent, Bryan Peters, arranged with the Red Sox to bring a baserunning specialist to camp to work with Crawford this spring. And, while Crawford waits for his left wrist, on which he had arthroscopic surgery in January to fully heal, running is one aspect of his game he can concentrate on.
For two days, after the teams regular workouts, Crawford went back out to Field 3 to work with Mike Roberts, a former college coach and a baserunning specialist. Roberts and Crawford have worked together for several years, most recently before Crawfords last season with the Rays, in 2010.
Its usually like for a reminder, Crawford said of these sessions. I dont care how good you get at something, its always nice to have guys like Mr. Roberts come in and remind you of the little things that make you successful at it.
Last year I lost my confidence on the basepaths and thats one thing we were talking about, having confidence on the bases. It might translate to my playing better defense and hitting better.
The best word to use is refine, said Roberts. Hes got to refine his technique. And the other thing that I mentioned to Carl is by refining and working on the little things on basestealing, if it clicks, his legs are more alive, he has more confidence. With some of the athletes that Ive worked with it seems that they have more confidence when theyre hitting, they have more in their outfield play, when they have to make a throw. So I think it transcends the entire game. A lot of people start with offense. With a player like Carl, I think you start with his baserunning to regain his confidence.
Crawford cant explain why he lost confidence last season. Perhaps it was playing for a new team, in a new city, with a hefty new contract. Perhaps he wasnt comfortable where he was in the lineup. Perhaps it was the left hamstring strain that sidelined him for 24 games in June and July.
No telling why, Crawford said. I had a few injuries. Just didnt feel like I was a good runner last year. Just one of those things, I just felt like I wasnt really good at it.
I think for almost every athlete confidence has a great deal to do with it, said Roberts, who is also the head coach of the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod League, and the father of Brian Roberts, who led the AL in stolen bases in 2007 with 50.
For Carl I think the total key is that when he loses confidence, he doesnt want to run. He also gets kind of stuck. So getting his confidence back and seeing if he can again believe that he is a dominant basestealer, I think, is what we probably worked on the most and to get him to think about two or three items that he can actually do while hes on the bases. The biggest word that were talking about is anticipation. And anticipation, if youre kind of ahead of the pitcher, then youre confidence usually comes back.
Crawford believes he has the ability to return to the form that made him one of the most dangerous baserunners in baseball.
I definitely want to try and get back to stealing 50-plus bases like I always did, he said. Thats a goal of mine to try to get back up to that number and I think with the help of Mr. Roberts and me really wanting to do it, I think I can get back to that.
One of the things they worked on was Crawfords lead at first base.
That, and trying to come back to the base, sliding in, have confidence, and not worry about I might get picked off, Crawford said. I think that was a problem last year. I was worried about getting picked off. And a guy with my kind of ability, I shouldnt be worried about getting picked off and stuff like that.
Hes already came in and made adjustments about how wide I was. Kind of like when I was hitting, my batting stance was too wide. The same thing on the basepaths. Just kind of thinning things up and try to run from A to B and shorten things up a little bit.
Some of my keys are just like what I need to get on my lead. If Im popping up or not. How Im going to slide, things like that. So I just try to remember all the little things.
And if it works, Crawford could test that against one of his former teammates.
Right now, Id have to say the toughest pitcher to steal on would probably be Rays right-hander James Shields, Crawford said. He comes over a lot, and hes really quick. So, definitely hes one of the guys that I would like to try to get better at stealing against.
And while it may be unorthodox to bring in someone from outside the organization to work with a player, its not all that unusual. Especially if it helps to get a talented, multi-tool player back onto a league-leading track.
Usually guys who are multi-talented feed off of their multi-talents, said manager Bobby Valentine. When they're running, they're hitting. When theyre hitting, theyre fielding. When theyre fielding, theyre running. They just feed on each other. And a lot of times when you shut one of them down the others follow. And in order to do anything in life, you need to have confidence which is the word that I replace for courage. And the way you build courage is through repetition. And when you build up the reps and you have some success you can go forward.
That's what our Army does. Thats what our Marines do. Thats what our Navy pilots are trained to do. They practice so when the time comes theyre ready. Because you cant beat courage. It comes from repetitions, and its got to be proper repetitions. And hopefully its going to work with all of our players and with Carl. He has a lot of talent. I think its a good thing.