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

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.