Carl Crawford makes his first and likely only appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot this season. His case for induction is interesting, albeit not the strongest.
Once a star outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays, Crawford’s career has seen itself overshadowed by his lackluster performance after signing a long-term deal with the Red Sox ahead of 2011. He briefly redeemed himself with above-average play with the Dodgers in 2013 and 2014, but still underperformed his contract.
Overall, he was a productive big league player for two-thirds of a 15-year career. In 1,716 games, Crawford slashed .290/.330/.435 with a .332 wOBA and a 104 wRC+. For his career, he posted 39.1 rWAR, 480 stolen bases, 1,931 hits, and just shy of 1,000 runs scored.
A lot of people will only remember Crawford from his time in Boston, but he was a four-time All-Star before his 10th season in the majors.
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There’s a uniqueness to the career of Crawford. For starters, he played fewer than 2,000 big league games. However, he managed to steal 480 bases, approach 2,000 hits and still manage at least 100 homers, triples and doubles.
Crawford is one of only three players in MLB history to play fewer than 1,750 games, steal 450 or more bases and have at least 100 of every extra-base hit. Among those three include Hall of Fame outfielder Hugh Duffy, who won multiple batting titles with the Boston Beaneaters in the 1890s.
Crawford also made four All-Star appearances, so he was regarded as one of the best at his position for the first decade of his career.
Retiring at 34 didn’t help, but the final four seasons of Crawford’s prime yielded him just 4.8 rWAR (from 29 to 32). His peak was great, as he averaged 4.6 rWAR per season from 2004 to 2010. 39.1 rWAR is an incredibly tough sell as it is, but factor in a lack of significant hardware, no major milestones like 500 steals or 2,000 hits, it’s tough to justify voting for Crawford.
On top of that, there is an added emphasis on how you performed both in October and big markets. Crawford posted a 101 wRC+ and sub-.300 on-base percentage in 161 postseason plate appearances. Not to mention posting a 97 wRC+ from 2011 to his final game in 2016, both in big markets.
Not that it’s fair to hold something as mythical as “ability to perform in big markets” against him, it just can be hard to put someone over the top when they perform at an average level for seven years in a big market environment.
Crawford is someone who had multiple careers, it seems. In Tampa Bay, he was a star, and a hot commodity when he hit free agency after the 2010 season. There’s no question he was worthy of a significant contract, it just didn’t work out.
Hypothetically, had Crawford retired after the 2010 season and never gone on to have his Red Sox or Dodgers career, his case would be stronger on peak alone. Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened and he isn’t a Hall of Famer because of it.
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