As we continue our series on Hall of Fame ballot previews with the MLB season not yet started due to the coronavirus pandemic, we move our focus to Carl Crawford. The former Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays left fielder was a four-time All-Star in Tampa before going to Boston and LA with the Dodgers at the end of his career.
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Why is he on the ballot?
Crawford was one of the best speedsters in his era, stealing at least 50 bases five times in his career, topping out at 60 in 2009, the only time he didn’t lead the AL when stealing 50+ bags. Jacoby Ellsbury stole 70 bases that year with the Red Sox. His speed led to great outfield defense, producing 81 WAR runs fielding during his nine seasons with the Rays and a Gold Glove in 2010. 2010 was also his best offensive season, logging career highs in home runs (19), slugging (.495) OPS (.851) OPS+ (135), runs (110), and RBI (90). His 480 stolen bases rank 43rd all-time and his stolen base percentage of 81.5% ranks 10th among players with at least 300 attempts since 1951 (as far back as Baseball-Reference will search for stolen base percentage).
Why won’t he make the Hall of Fame?
Outside of his seventh-place finish in 2010, Crawford received just two MVP vote points (in 2006) in his career. During his peak from 2005-2010, he had a 115 OPS+ and he only won one Gold Glove. He was a very good outfield defender, but he wasn’t one of the best in the league and he was a barely above-average hitter. Stolen bases are nice, but a comparison of Crawford to Kenny Lofton shows why he won’t make the Hall of Fame.
Lofton had 622 stolen bases in his career to Crawford’s 480. His stolen base percentage was slightly lower, at 79.5% to Crawford’s 81.5%, but ranking 15th compared to 43rd easily makes up for that difference. Lofton had a 107 OPS+ in his career compared to 105 for Crawford. Lofton won four Gold Gloves and had 108 WAR runs fielding playing primarily center field even at age 40 while Crawford won just one Gold Glove and had 72 WAR runs fielding playing left field. Crawford’s positional adjustment for WAR was -61 runs while Loftons was +43. Lofton had a longer career, logging over 9000 plate appearances while Crawford got just over 7000. Lofton made seven All-Star games to Crawford’s four and had 68.4 WAR to Crawford’s 39.1. Lofton received 3.2% of the vote in his first year of eligibility and dropped off the ballot.
To be fair, that was in 2013 when the logjam was possibly at its worst, as that was part of the transition period from 15 to 10 years on the ballot, with Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly all on the ballot past their 10th year. No one was elected that year, but Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Morris, Smith and Trammell are all now in the Hall of Fame (though Morris, Smith and Trammell had to wait for a veterans committee to put them in). That was also the year when Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa all debuted on the ballot, and they’re all still on it, with Schilling, Clemens and Bonds all receiving over 60% of the vote in 2020. Also, somehow Sandy Alomar got 16 votes that year, likely also helping keep Lofton from clearing the 5% threshold.
Lofton getting bumped off the ballot in his first year is nearly criminal. Considering just the now-Hall of Famers from that class, Lofton had a higher career WAR than three of them, including the top two vote-getters that year in Biggio and Morris. He was also dead even with Edgar Martinez at 68.4. But we just outlined that Lofton was much better than Crawford in careers that revolved around doing similar things. Crawford’s 39.1 career WAR is less than the average Hall of Fame left fielder’s seven-year peak (41.7), and JAWS ranks him as the 43rd-best left fielder in MLB history with 20 in the Hall of Fame. Lofton ranks 10th among center fielders with 19 in the Hall of Fame. They’re not the same, and Crawford will fall well short of induction.
Up next: Justin Morneau.
Stats and info courtesy of Baseball-Reference.