Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Uggla Effect

If it were another player (perhaps Jayson Werth), the vitriol coming from How Youz Doin Baseball would have been steady, tedious, and deafening at this point.  It's the end of August, about 80% of the way through the baseball season, and the new big-money acquisition has still yet to get out of this funk he's in.  They're turning on him on Twitter, and they're turning on him on the radio.  They respect the well-traveled rumor that he's still working his rear end off in preparation for games, but this is not working.

I'm writing, of course, about Carl Crawford, who momentarily looked like he was going to revert to the old him the last weekend the Red Sox and Yankees played (he's hitting .302 since August 5th), but that was short-lived (he's hitting .196 since August 8th, think about that).  It's been confounding all year, and I've been taking in information from many places to try to find the silver lining on such a good player playing so poorly for such a long period of time.

The snarky question to ask would be why Theo's hired private investigators couldn't have seen this coming while they were tailing Crawford last fall.  But when this season's over, you can say definitively, what a 14% disaster (he'll be 14% of the way through the length of his contract).

The silver lining comes from three different places - one is looking at recent baseball history, one is looking at the numbers, and one is looking at the player like a jeans salesman (if you don't get the reference, go read Moneyball again).

The part about recent baseball history is what inspired the title.  Dan Uggla this winter signed a big contract and on July 4th, he was hitting .173.  He had an okay 12 home runs, but was OPSing something sub-.600 and was apparently swinging at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone.  He was pressing, and at some time this summer, he admitted to everyone how much he was pressing.  This admission coincided with, of course, his hitting streak which has upped his batting average to a still-rough .233.  But the story about players signing big-money contracts and trying too hard to live up to the dollars is real.  You might be able to say the same thing with Josh Beckett's machismo coming out too much in 2006, where he threw one pitch (the fastball, of course) and surrendered a hellacious 36 home runs.  If Uggla can come out of it, Crawford can come out of it.  There have been very brief flashes of this guy being the player they paid for. 

With Uggla, a lot of sabermetricians looked at some of Uggla's peripherals.  As you guys know, as of September 30, 2009 sabermetrics and I have had our relationship terminated due to our irreconcilable differences.  I don't even know where you can find any kind of Pitch/FX on the location of whatever pitches Crawford is swinging at.  What I'm interested in, however, is the kind of pitches Crawford is NOT swinging at, and I have seen a number indicating that some of the pitches he had previously knocked around are pitches that find the catcher's glove. 

Historically, Crawford had been an impatient hitter, frequently among the league leaders of the LEAST pitches seen per at-bat.  As he became more of an established dangerous hitter, that number inevitably rose, as he got fewer pitches to hit.  However, in Boston, he is not the most feared hitter - even theoretically, he might be the 3rd- or 4th-most dangerous hitter in his own lineup.  Pitchers can nibble around Gonzalez, Ortiz, and Pedroia, NOT Crawford.  You'd think that number would decrease as he got more pitches to hit.  Wrong.  He's seeing 3.82 pitches per at-bat, a career high by a sizeable margin and in the top 40 of American Leaguers.  Is this because the Red Sox are teaching him the "system" of plate patience?  I sure hope not.  Because the pitch to hit is sometimes pitch 1, 2, or 3 of the plate appearance.  The old Carl Crawford hit that pitch.  Is the new Carl Crawford taking it in the name of the Red Sox' system?  F that.  Just be yourself.

Finally, and this goes back to the "pressing" issue, the eyes are telling me Crawford is tired.  He's looking like Varitek has looked in a few recent Augusts.  He's kinda trotting around, and I'm wondering seriously what he's doing before the game.  At some point, an extra swing or an extra rep has diminishing returns, and therefore at another point, those diminishing returns become negative returns.  My father has said for years that Ray Allen takes too many shots in practice and therefore shoots himself out of hot streaks.  Is Carl Crawford BPing himself out of hot streaks and into exhaustion? 

Just some things to think about before you burn him at the stake.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

First, on Ray, he is only on such hot streaks because he shoots so much. He MAY shoot himself out of it, but, were he not the type to shoot 5,000 shots per hour of practice, he would never BE on a hot streak in the first place. I understand it is a tricky balance but I would much rather a guy shoot himself out of a streak than never get on one at all.

I started there because I think Crawford is not Ray Allen in the sense that you compared them. Ray, when he shoots, shoots the way he has done for all time. He did not, as you suggested with Crawford and the Boston 'system', join a new team and alter his shooting style to accommodate that. With Crawford, it may be the case that his practice sessions now involve both changing his approach and refining that new approach in the same session. So, when compared to someone who is set in his approach (say, Gonzalez?) Crawford will probably get less out of, say, two hours than Gonzalez might get out of just one.

I think, if true, I am in full agreement that Crawford should just swing as he has swung. Then again, we've seen this story in this town time and again- a guy join the team, cannot find his way out of a funk, and eventually goes down as a 'bust'. We'll see, but I hope that's not where this one is headed as it will probably cost the team both the investment in Crawford and a chance to re-sign 46.

TimC

Anonymous said...

Tim,

It's impossible to shoot 5,000 shots an hour. That would be 1.4 shots per second. Not even Mark Gaudet could do that.

I think the analysis on Crawford by both DV and TimC has been good. I don't view Crawford as a bust. I view Crawford as a guy that is having a bad year. Maybe it is because he's pressing too much. It could also be because sometimes players just have bad years.

I understand that when you pay someone as much as he is getting paid you don't get a transition year to figure everything out. You are expected to perform right away. However I don't think Crawford will be a bust in the sense that I think at some point during his time here he'll figure out how to be a productive contributor. He's been a pretty good player at the professional level and he's not over the hill age-wise. He'll figure it out eventually, though it has been frustrating to see him struggle.

What I will say though is that if you look at his career statistics it's hard to justify the amount of money he was paid. While he has tortured the Red Sox in the past, for his career he has not been the player he was last year- the guy who hit .300+ with 19 home runs and 90 RBIs. That was a bit of an aberration. More realistically he's a guy that hits .290-.300 with 13-15 hrs and 70 RBIs and a whole bunch of steals. I know we'd all take that compared to what we are getting now, but those types of numbers are not worth the contract he got.

bandi

Anonymous said...

lot of good points flying around here.

bandi, i'm glad you mentioned someone just having a bad year. we always want to find a reason for it. and that's a good thing, because often times there is a reason. but sometimes there is no reason. we are dealing with human beings here, human beings that are performing a tough task and are expected to do so at a high level. sometimes they are just off, with no real rhyme or reason, and it there is a correction the following season. whether or not there is a reason for crawford's performance this season, i see it as likely it corrects and he has a year at least in line with his career averages next year.

dv, i'm glad you mentioned guys conforming to a team strategy. i see this as definitely possible with crawford. i see a guy trying to change his game as bad for two reasons: 1. it is very difficult to do so after you have been successful doing things one way for so long (as both you and timc pointed out); and 2. it's a GOOD thing to have a few players who don't conform to the team strategy in my opinion. that is, in a team full of patient hitters, it's not necessarily a bad thing to have a super-aggressive guy looking to put pressure on the pitcher/defense from pitch 1 (within reason, i'm not promoting a free swinger with no regard for the strike zone). like the red sox, the yankees are an ultra-patient team. but i like when they have 1-2 guys in the regular lineup who take a slightly more swing-first approach.

derek jeter has often been an extreme example of that guy (because of the success he's had). this year i look at a guy like russell martin. he's probably the 7th or 8th best bat in the yankees' everyday lineup. he has a very solid 42 walks, 5th on the team, so he is looking to take what the pitcher gives him. but he's also up there looking to swing and make something happen, as his 15 homers support. even though he's only hitting .232, i love having a guy like this around (to say nothing of his spectacular defense). i wouldn't want martin to change the way he played. having him, jeter, and cano - all of whom are more in attack mode from the get go - balance the extreme plate patience of granderson, tex, rodriguez, swisher, and gardner. i think the not only crawford, but the red sox, could benefit from crawford being himself.

dv and timc, i'm glad you mentioned crawford overworking himself. when you struggle in baseball, you tend to overwork. sometimes the best thing is to just take a few days and really pull of the reigns, reset both mentally and physically, and then try to go back to what works naturally. granderson did this for two days last august in texas, and the results have been ridiculous. he is the extreme, extreme example, but if crawford could get even a portion of his results i think everybody involved in boston would be very happy.

- pf

Anonymous said...

i should note that granderson did not go back to what worked naturally when he took the days last august, he actually made a substantial change to his swing. regardless, whether crawford is pressing or not, a few days off to try to reset before the playoff push might not be the worst thing.

- pf

Anonymous said...

Bandi

Thanks for the math on 5,000 shots per hour, especially because I don't think Mike King reads this blog.

DV

Well said on Crawford. I agree that at the very least he's been a bust 15% of his contract. He's trying hard, no doubt. But I can try really, REALLY hard and still not be a successful major league hitter. And to this point, that's true of Carl Crawford.

The stuff about a 'transition year' or 'big contract' is also a bunch of garbage. Adrian Gonzalez is new and signed a huge contract and he has played pretty well this year. As always, excuses are for losers.

Also, Bandi is right--if Crawford just gave the Sox the numbers he averaged in Tampa, not his contract year numbers, everyone in Boston would be happy. As fans, all we can do is hope he snaps out of it by the time the playoffs roll around.

TimC

I feel like we haven't seen much of you this summer on the old blog. Glad to have you chiming in with a gem as usual. Agreed wholeheartedly on Ray Allen--he's a great shooter because he shoots so much--not in spite of it. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, when it comes to shooting, if Ray Allen does it, it's probably a good idea.

--the Gunn

the gm at work said...

Tim C,

Your points on Allen and Crawford, especially with the fact that Allen's approach has not been "translated" at all, are fair. After shooting 5,000 per hour for 12 years (or eight for Crawford), he probably has a good idea on how to shoot a three-pointer (or hit). With your legs and arms probably getting more tired due to years and years of use, maybe it's time to scale it down to 2,500 to 3,500 shots. Especially if the last 200 in a row have been swishes. When my dad, who came up with the Allen theory (and who is actually a real athlete as opposed to what I am), started hitting shots in the pregame shootaround, he promptly stopped so he wouldn't shoot himself out of his hot streak. Maybe his theory is based in superstition.

The Red Sox' system is at times stupid. It glorifies those who go up looking for walks and vilifies guys like Nomar who want to crush the first pitch. I never had an iota of a problem with Nomar going after the first pitch if it's a good one.

Another disconcerting part about how we're talking about 15% of a bust is the fact that, as I wrote in this past offseason, fast guys don't stay fast forever. You have to look long and far to see a fast guy stay fast beyond the age of 31-32. So Crawford might be a four-tool player very soon.

So let's just hope he finds it.

Anonymous said...

DV,

This is a bit of a tangent based on one comment you made about Nomar but here we go.

It is frustrating to me that some hitters can't/won't adjust their approach at the plate based on a particular context within a game.

Like you, I didn't generally have a problem with Nomar swinging at the first pitch, except during situations where common sense would seem to dictate taking a pitch. If you are leading off the game and want to swing at the first pitch, then fine.

If it's the 8th inning with two outs and two on and the opposing pitcher has just walked the prior two batters, then you absolutely don't swing at the first pitch under any circumstances. You probably don't swing at the second pitch either.

In any event, I'm not thinking of a particular example with Nomar or anyone else, just mentioning one of my pet peeves in watching baseball. You look at someone like Derek Jeter and I think one of things that made him so good and so clutch was the ability to adjust the approach/mentality at the plate based on what the team needed at that time in the game.

bandi

the gm said...

Bandi,

Absolutely. If Javier Lopez is pitching, you take a strike. Agreed completely.