Let's be fair here: Carl Crawford isn't having a bad season. He's having a disastrous season, in its own way every bit (any maybe more) horrific as John Lackey's.
There are 82 players in the American League with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title. Carl Crawford -- batting .242, 51 points below his career average and 31 points lower than any other full season in his career -- ranks 68th, tied with Alcides Escobar (making $428K this year).
I know, I know. Batting average is a seriously flawed way of gauging whether or not a player is having a successful season. I think most of us understand this. But how about on-base percentage? Well, out of those same 82 players Carl Crawford ranks 79th. I'm pretty sure I read something once about Theo and the gang putting some value in OBP, right?
The Decline of Derek Jeter has seemingly turned into an industry. He's become the woman who gets slapped around by everyone on board in Airplane! -- the media has chronicled Jeter's collision with mediocrity with the same level of glee they once used when breathlessly describing Jeter's calm eyes and ability to will teammates to win.
And again with the understanding that batting average doesn't mean as much as we thought it meant 10 years ago, it's still eye-opening to realize that Derek Jeter's 2011 batting average is higher than Carl Crawford's 2011 on-base percentage.
So where's the outrage? Why does it strike me that no one -- no media, no fans, no one -- seems at all interested that Carl Crawford, in the first year of a seven-year, $142 million contract, has been one of the worst offensive players in baseball this season?
Think about it: Three American League regulars have a lower on-base percentage than Carl Crawford. That's it. He's walked 13 times this season. That is tied for 133rd in the American League. He has a line against left-handed pitchers -- .137/.200/.235 -- that plenty of NL pitchers would pass on.
Remember all the stuff we read (and some of it was on this site) about Crawford moving away from stealing bases and developing more into a power hitter? Well, so far it's been half-true: He has seven home runs in 341 plate appearances and 12 stolen bases.
Carl Crawford -- who has a career 162-game average of 52 stolen bases -- is on pace to steal 18 bases in 2011. In 1985 Bill Buckner stole 18 bases for the Red Sox with two busted ankles and a pair of high tops.
The point is that we haven't seen anything -- at least on a semi-consistent basis-- even close to resembling the Crawford we saw in Tampa, or the guy Sox fans were told they were getting the day the contract was signed.
And the reaction from the infamous, brutally tough Boston media and famously passionate Red Sox fanbase has been an avalanche of indifference.
Why? The easy answer -- and it's usually the one I hear whenever Crawford's struggles are mentioned -- is that it's his first year in Boston, let's give the guy some time. And I actually agree with that sentiment. I thought Crawford's contract was too much by half, but there is no reason to think that he won't be the pre-2011 Crawford next season. Guys sometimes have stinkers in the middle of their careers. Agreed.
But here's the problem: No one was giving J.D. Drew a pass during his first year in Boston. Same goes for Lackey. How about Rasheed Wallace? So the first-year syndrome doesn't really explain the universal (well, Bostonversal) shrug to Crawford's 2011 season.
"Boogie Nights" is very nearly a perfect movie. I'm serious about this. Mark Wahlberg has never been better, it has the cinematic equivalent of Brady Anderson hitting 50 home runs in a season with a "Where the hell did THAT come from?" performance from Burt Reynolds (minus the HGH -- I think), Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly all at the top of their considerable skills. Full marks to Paul Thomas Anderson, who wrote the script and coaxed terrific work from almost everyone involved as director. And, of course, Night Ranger.
I write "very nearly" because Heather Graham, who sure looks the part as Rollergirl -- her nude scenes are some of the last "pause and swing away" moments of the VHS era -- is almost impossibly vacant as an actress. Put it another way: Watching the movie again recently, I'm not sure Heather Graham doesn't realize that the entire movie isn't a porno film. She brings down any scene she's in by at least 50 percent, but the film is so strong in every other way that she can't really hurt it much.
If the 2011 Red Sox lineup is "Boogie Nights" Carl Crawford is Heather Graham. This is an all-time lineup, with three legitimate MVP candidates and two other guys (Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz) having superb seasons. Carl Crawford and his .660 OPS (Julio Lugo's OPS for the Sox in his two-plus years? .664) almost don't matter when you take a big-picture look and realize the Sox lead the league in every significant offensive category. Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and the rest of the guys have bailed Crawford out.
(And that's another reason why I simply do not buy the "big-city" pressure argument with Crawford. The truth is that he'll never have less pressure than he's had this season. Other than a couple of boos at the very beginning of the season -- the 2-10 run -- has Crawford heard anything negative from the fans or media? Not a single peep -- I can give the fans a pass for this, but it's not the job of the men and women in the press box to let Crawford off the hook, which is exactly what is happening. I'm starting to get a feel from the folks on the Red Sox beat that they think they might be part of this team, which is troubling.)
So the fact that the Sox are scoring a million runs goes a long way. We get it. But my personal theory as to why Crawford's 2011 ineptitude is being ignored? No one likes to be wrong. J.D. Drew was an easy target for the media and fans because he was a first-guess. Everyone was against the $70 million deal, so it was victory-lap time when it turned out that some of the things about Drew turned out to be true. Same goes for Rasheed Wallace, and get ready for the buffet of I Told You So's if Albert Haynesworth is a bust.
Some people thought Crawford wasn't worth $142 million, but everyone saw him in Tampa and knew, just knew, that he was going to be at least very good in Boston. Some of those same people thought he'd be better than Gonzalez. So those people are going to take their time before rendering judgement. That's fair, but not very consistent when you look at the treatment given to other first-year guys around here.
Carl Crawford is having a nightmare season, easily the worst of his career. And no one seems to care very much.
When does that change? Well, people are more forgiving when things are swell. The Sox are 68-42, a lock for the playoffs and probably second-favorite to win the World Series. People (and yes, I so include plenty of the media) don't want to rock the boat.
But if the Sox are 26-28 next season and Crawford is hitting .236? It's going to get ugly.
A free pass has to run out sometime, doesn't it?