Hold Your Panic

The slow-starting Red Sox might have reasons to worry—but their new leftfielder isn't one of them
April 17, 2011

Carl Crawford's first 10 days with the Red Sox were forgettable. He opened the season with no hits and four strikeouts in seven at bats, then was dropped to seventh in the order in the third game of the year. Through the team's 2--7 start the $142 million man was hitting .132 with no extra-base hits and had started in four lineup spots in nine games.

To put it mildly, it was a disappointing start for a player expected to help put Boston back in the postseason. But the team and its fans should resist the temptation to panic. Crawford is the ninth position player to change teams on a free-agent contract worth at least $100 million, and a number of the others also got off to difficult starts in their new homes. Two years ago first baseman Mark Teixeira signed a $180 million contract with the Yankees. He introduced himself to New York by starting the year 4 for 25 and was under .200 as late as May 12. In 2002, after signing a $120 million deal with the Yankees, Jason Giambi got off to a slow start: .207 with no extra-base hits in his first eight games. And after Alex Rodriguez went to Texas for a deal worth $252 million, he began the 2001 season with a 10-game homerless streak. Alfonso Soriano? The outfielder took $136 million from the Cubs and opened 2007 by going all of April without a home run.

All of these players quickly reverted to their established levels of performance. Teixeira wound up matching his career averages in batting, OBP and slugging; made the All-Star team; and finished second in the 2009 AL MVP voting. Giambi finished his first year in New York with 41 home runs and a 1.034 OPS. Rodriguez was the best player in the AL in '01—52 homers, a 1.021 OPS and above-average defense at shortstop—although poor play by his teammates hindered the perception of his value. Even Soriano had a year right in line with his established levels, with a .299 average and 33 homers.

Great players have bad weeks, even bad months. Crawford's nine-game slump isn't unusual and certainly isn't meaningful. He began last year batting .188 through five games. He came out of the 2010 All-Star break ice-cold, batting .200/.212/.320 for two weeks. These are the normal ebbs and flows of all players. Deciding that Crawford is playing poorly because of his new team or his contract is overly simplistic. There's nothing in his track record to indicate that he's somehow incapable of playing under pressure.

Perhaps Crawford's slow start is for the best. The last time the Red Sox committed nine figures to a free-agent outfielder, he hit the ground running, racking up 16 RBIs, a .415 average and a 1.133 OPS in his first two weeks. He kept his batting average above .400 almost through the end of May. It was a great start and a great introduction to his new team—but this week, of all weeks, you'd just as soon avoid comparisons with Manny Ramirez.

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THE NUMBERS

Boom Is Over

Need another reminder of why not to overreact to the small sample sizes of early April? Consider that a week ago the big story across baseball was the return of offense to the game. From March 31 to April 3, the season's first four days, there was an average of 9.7 runs per game; in the AL the figure was 10.5. After four straight years of declining offense—last year's per-game mark of 8.8 was the lowest since 1992—it was an eye-opening surge, leading conspiracy theorists to wonder about juiced balls. But since then bats have gone quiet: Teams averaged 8.4 runs per game last week, dragging the overall average down to 8.8 runs per game. Whether dealing with a player, a team or an entire sport, all you can do in the season's first month is wait and see.

PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYER (CRAWFORD)KEEP YOUR HEAD UP Crawford's slump may be ill-timed, but in the past such cold stretches didn't affect his overall production. PHOTOJOHN BIEVER

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)