When the Los Angeles Dodgers took on the five years and $102 million left on Carl Crawford's contract last August, it was just the cost of doing business to get the player they really wanted: Adrian Gonzalez. The suddenly uber-wealthy Dodgers wanted a cornerstone first baseman. The Red Sox wanted salary relief. To put Gonzalez in Dodger blue, L.A. had to pay Crawford (injured and mostly ineffective the previous two seasons) a lot of green.
Someone forgot to tell Crawford he's a washed up rich guy, though. The 31-year-old is conjuring up memories of his pre-Boston, pre Tommy John glory days with the Tampa Bay Rays, batting .308/.388/.516 in 103 plate appearances. That's quite the improvement from the .260/.292/.419 triple-slash he put up in 2011-12. Crawford looks like a totally different man in 2013, laying off junk pitches he hacked at with Boston and working the count in his favor.
First, here is Crawford's swing rate by pitch location with Boston in 2011-12. He was especially jumpy versus chin-high pitches:
Crawford chased about 35% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone, far above the 28% league average. His walk rate with the Sox was downright Francoeur-like: 3.9%. In fact, the only hitters who walked less often while convincing their managers to give them 600-plus plate appearances were Yuniesky Betancourt, Miguel Olivo and Delmon Young.
Now, check out Crawford's swing rate so far in 2013. He's no longer chasing chin music:
Crawford's chase rate is down to just 20% in 2013. With a far more patient approach, he has more than doubled his walk rate to 8.7%.
One-hundred great trips to the plate don't necessarily mean that Crawford will be worth his $20-plus million a year salary between now and 2017. That said, his newfound strike zone discipline has to encourage the Dodgers that they acquired a quality table-setter instead of a sunken cost.