Thankfully missing from all the Red Sox clubhouse drama that's come out over the last month is one of the Sox' biggest problems during the regular season: Carl Crawford.
After being brought to Boston to act as one of the cornerstones of the team, the speedy left fielder had a disaster of a year. From a .255/.294/.405 batting line, to negative fielding metrics in left field and a mere 18 stolen bases, it was arguably the worst year of his career, even going back to 2002 when he first entered the league.
Unfortunately, the usual excuses for good players who have unusually bad years don't really explain anything away. His BABIP was low compared to his career average, yes, but not enough to cover up a career-high strikeout rate produced by Crawford swinging at more pitches outside the zone than ever before. Simply put, Crawford did not play baseball well last year. He hacked, falling behind in 37% of his plate appearances (compared to 27% in 2010) and hitting to the tune of a .493 OPS in said plate appearances.
So why did this happen? I'm one of the last people to jump to explanations that rely on emotions or personality, but in this case it seems like it might be one of the better options. The combination of hacking at outside pitches and falling apart when behind in the count do speak to a nervous batter pressing at the plate, and Boston is the sort of place that's been known to produce that sort of reaction. Even his defense speaks to it. Crawford wasn't exactly slow out there, but he made all sorts of mental mistakes--the kind that can come from paying too little, or more likely in this case too much attention to your actions in the field.
The question is whether or not this is the sort of thing Carl can adjust to. To be fair to him, he did play noticeably better when the pressure was off, such as in May, August, and the first half of September up to the point where the season was clearly on the line. Of course, the Sox need him to play well when it actually does count. Whether or not he can pull that off is pretty much up to him. He's still a supremely talented baseball player at the core of things, as evidenced by his production just last year. If he can just get over whatever it is that's holding him back, then the Sox could see the man they paid for in 2012.
To some extent a new manager and different clubhouse could help that. The only thing we've heard from Carl regarding the clubhouse is that he wasn't used to the loose environment. We know he was something of an enforcer in Tampa Bay, so maybe a stricter skipper will help bring out the best in him. If not, then it might just be time to call the sports psychologist.
Either way, it's too soon to be writing off Carl Crawford. For better or worse, the millions have been spent. and he's here with the Sox for another six years. Hopefully by 2014 we'll all be looking back at this as a blip on the radar.