Sox can expect good old days with Crawford

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Sox can expect good old days with Crawford

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

Before the Red Sox gave Carl Crawford a seven-year, 142 million deal, they made sure to do their homework.

The club had special assistant Allard Baird trail Crawford over the second half of the 2010 season, hoping to gain some insight. While Baird was providing more traditional scouting reports, the Sox also had consultant Bill James, the preeminent sabermatrician, provide some detailed statistical analysis.

Recognizing that a long-term deal would be necessary to land Crawford, the Red Sox wanted to know what James could uncover about how well players who base their games on speed age as they get into their mid-30s.

(Crawford's seven-year deal will have him playing out the final year of his contract with the Sox at 36.)

James has written extensively about the topic before. Without disclosing the specific details of his study on Crawford, which looked into athletic players and their late-in-career productivity, he described highlights of his past research on the subject.

"As players age," James relayed in an e-mail, "their hitting skills decline and their speed decreases, which creates a kind of pincer movement that ultimately snaps careers. The number one thing that drives players out of the game is the loss of hitting skill, but the number two thing is the loss of speed.

"As players slow down they become less able to play the key defensive positions -- center, right, shortstop -- and get pushed toward the positions for slower players, which are also the positions for big hitters. THE thing that drives them out of the game is not the loss in hitting ability in absolute terms. There are dozens of 37-year-old first basemen who could still hit enough to play -- if they could play the outfield. When their speed drops below a certain level, they're no longer able to play the outfield at a decent level, no longer able to hit enough to be a cleanup hitter, and they're gone.

"Well, visualize speed on a zero-to-ten scale, and assume that you're forced out of the game as soon as your speed drops below the level '3' or '4'. If one player starts out at '9' and the other one starts at '5', which one drops below '4' first? Of course (it would be the player who starts at '5')."

Looking at speed-based players from 1980 to the present, James found that a number of them -- including Gary Redus, Gary Pettis, Eric Young and Eddie Milner -- were out of the game at a relatively early age, their value having dissipated, at least in part, because they couldn't run as well as they once did.

But James also came up with a list of such players who had other strengths, as well -- on-base ability and extra-base power, specifically -- and found that those players aged particularly well.

"Rickey Henderson hit .315 with 37 stolen bases at the age of 40," James wrote. "Paul Molitor had 225 hits at the age of 39, hit .300 again at age 40. Craig Biggio hit 21 homers at the age of 40. Barry Bonds, as we know . . . well, let's not reference Bonds. Brett Butler played 105 games and hit .283 at the age of 40. Even Ron Gant, although you wouldn't think of him as aging well, hit .262 with 18 homers at the age of 37. Kirk Gibson hit 23 homers at the age of 37. Ken Griffey (Senior) played 106 games at the age of 39, and hit .300 as a part-time player at the age of 40. Kenny Lofton hit .296 and played 136 games at the age of 40. Larry Walker hit .298 at age 36, .289 at age 37, with power, although his wheels were gone."

Crawford appears to be the kind of player who fits into the latter group as he approaches his 30s.

For one thing, he recorded a career-best .495 slugging percentage in 2010. Correspondingly, he also posted career highs in homers (19), RBI (90) and had his second-highest total bases figure (297, just shy of his career-best 302 in 2005). Also, his on-base percentages in each of the last two seasons -- .364 in 2009, .356 in 2010 -- were higher than any in the first seven years of his career.

Moreover, Crawford won his first Gold Glove in 2010. While Gold Globe voting is highly subjective and, at times, seemingly hopelessly ill-informed (see: Jeter, Derek, and Palmeiro, Rafael) and not based on advanced defensive metrics, there's little evidence to suggest that, as he approaches 30, Crawford is slipping as an outfielder. For instance, Crawford's range factor per nine innings was 2.30 for 2010; his career range factor, meanwhile, sits at a nearly identical 2.31.

The tentative plan is for Crawford to hit third in the Red Sox lineup, which means his stolen-base total will continue to fall some while his run production skills could improve -- especially given the ballpark and the quality of the lineup.

"Nothing is 100, of course; all groups of players have washouts," James wrote. "Speed players age better, as a group, than any other group of players except what could be called the Adrian GonzalezDavid OrtizTed WilliamsJim Thome group -- the guys who are such tremendous hitters that even when they're not the same, they're plenty good enough.

"If you hit like those guys do, you're not forced out of the game until your speed reaches a very, very low level, like '1' on a 10-point scale. If you don't hit THAT much, like normal human beings don't, then you're forced out of the game when your speed reached '4' or '5'. The question of 'How fast does the player run?' is very closely related to the question of 'How long is his leash?' "

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.