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Thursday, July 26, 2012
Red Sox better off platooning Crawford?

By Jeremy Lundblad

The Boston Red Sox have a $20 million platoon player. They just haven’t faced that fact yet.

Carl Crawford
This heat map shows how cold Carl Crawford has been since 2009.
Carl Crawford has always struggled against left-handed pitching. Among the 56 active outfielders with 750 plate appearances against lefties, Crawford ranks 52nd in on-base percentage.

These woes predate his Red Sox tenure. Over his final three seasons in Tampa Bay, Crawford hit .259 with a .685 OPS against southpaws. So it’s no surprise that Crawford has struggled.

Since joining the Red Sox, Crawford is hitting .196 against lefties. That’s the second lowest average of any outfielder against left-handed pitching over that span. Only David DeJesus (.157) has been worse.

Crawford’s speed and defense helped mitigate his southpaw problem, which kept him in the lineup on a daily basis. The 2010 Gold Glove winner was consistently among the leaders in defensive runs saved among left fielders. Even without a strong bat against a lefty, Crawford’s other skills made him an asset.

That hasn’t been the case his brief 2012 stint.

With a left elbow that he admits might eventually require Tommy John surgery, Crawford’s defense is no longer an asset. According the defensive runs saved, he’s cost the Red Sox four runs in nine games thus far.

His limitations in the outfield have led to late-inning defensive substitutions in each of the past two games. On Thursday, Bobby Valentine rejected the idea of using Crawford at designated hitter.

But if the Red Sox don’t trust Crawford’s defense in a close game, it’s difficult to see why he’s in the lineup against left-handed pitchers. Valentine wants to get Crawford at-bats. But if the Red Sox want to make a postseason push, the best lineup against southpaws might not include Crawford.

Would switch-hitting Daniel Nava make sense as a platoon partner for Crawford? Nope. Nava is even worse than Crawford against lefties. He is hitting .148 against them this season. Lefty Ryan Sweeney (2 hits in 19 at bats vs. southpaws; .105 average) isn't an option, either.

With the trade deadline less than a week away, Boston’s shopping list could include a right-handed outfield bat to pair with Crawford.