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March 23, 2012 posted by Patrick DiCaprio

Debate Me: Alejandro De Aza and Carl Crawford

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Carl Crawford, Red Sox OF

No this is not a misprint; this week Tom Saucke and Al Lang debate whether Alejandro De Aza will outperform Carl Crawford. Fans of the Roundtable’s Are You Crazy Segment will be licking their chops.

Thomas Saucke in defense of De Aza:

On the surface, this probably seems like an absolutely idiotic debate.  But, on the Fantasy Baseball Roundtable Show they once had an Are You Crazy segment that predicted Denard Span would outperform Jose reyes, and they were right. And here is another outlandish prediction that will come true.

Carl Crawford is a four-time All-Star and one-time Silver Slugger Award winner who was the face of the Tampa Bay Rays before bolting to Boston last season.  Alejandro de Aza, on the other hand, is a 27-year-old career Minor Leaguer who hasn’t been able to break into the Majors outside of a 158 PA-stint with the Marlins in 2007.

With De Aza slated start in center field and hit leadoff for the Chicago White Sox, many fantasy managers and buying his stock heading into 2012. I had the opportunity to see him last year with the Charlotte Knights (AAA-IL) and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with his skills.  It’s widely accepted that health has been his biggest roadblock to the Major Leagues.

De Aza suffered a hairline fracture in his right ankle in 2007 which cost him most of the season.  He re-injured the ankle chasing down a Chad Moeller inside-the-park home run during Spring Training in 2008 which cost him that entire season as well.

Alejandro has been a model of consistency throughout his Minor League career, which bodes well for him in 2012.  Since De Aza entered A+ ball in 2005, his batting averages have been north of .285 every season.  He possesses plus speed which is starting to show itself again after his ankle injuries.  He only stole 11 bases in his first full season back (2009) but upped his totals to 16 and 22 in MILB during the following two seasons.  If there’s a downside to his running ability, it was his success rate on the base paths in 2011.  He was only 22/33 in AAA but rebounded slightly by going 12/17 with the White Sox.  A 68% success rate between two levels is questionable to say the least but the fact that he is capable of stealing 30 really buoys his value.

Although De Aza isn’t on Juan Pierre’s level as a bunter, he will be good enough for the White Sox.  His only concern to sticking in the leadoff spot for Chicago is his ability to hit lefties.  He only had 19 AB during his limited time in the Majors last season and hit .263 against them.  In 64 career PA, he is a .276 hitter versus lefties.   The troubling statistic, however, is that he’s only drawn 3 walks in that 64 PA span (4.68%).  This isn’t good enough but it’s hard to knock a guy who still hasn’t had his chance as an everyday player.

Carl Crawford, on the other hand, is being drafted as the 11th-14th outfielder in drafts and does nothing to inspire much confidence.  Tim Kurkjian spoke on Boston sports radio on March 14th and had some interesting thoughts.  He said, “I’m hopelessly positive about things, but I don’t think he’s in the right place right now — not meaning Boston. I mean, I think at this point he’s going to have a similar year to last year, as opposed to those really good years in Tampa Bay.  I didn’t sense from spring training that he was in the right place mentally. He is going to have to be if he’s going to be a different player than last year. You guys saw it: He was tentative in the outfield. He was tentative on the bases. Nobody that fast should be stealing [only] 18 bases in a season. And he didn’t swing the bat like he did in Tampa Bay, either.”

Kurkjian is spot-on; a player with Crawford’s skills shouldn’t have struggled the way he did in 2011. He is now suffering from inflammation in his surgically repaired left wrist.  Words like inflammation and soreness are common in Spring Training as players resume baseball-related activities that they don’t perform at similar rates during the offseason.  Knowing that Crawford just went through surgery and the unavoidable truth that he’s 30 should make fantasy players wary, though.  We all know what he was capable of in Tampa Bay.  Between injury, age, and the pressure of playing in Boston, it remains unclear whether or not Crawford will ever resume his production with the Rays.

Statistically speaking, I have the following projections for De Aza and Crawford in 2012:

Player AB R HR RBI SB BA
Carl Crawford 499 75 12 69 31 .308
Alejandro De Aza 541 89 10 51 29 .281

 

For as crazy as you might think I am, De Aza has done nothing in his career to suggest that he can’t pull something like this over the course of a 162-game season.  He may lose at-bats here and there to Brent Lillibridge but his biggest roadblock (historically) is injury.  The White Sox don’t have the OF depth to really push him out of the line-up unless he throws up a ghastly performance.

Crawford’s numbers above don’t suggest regression of any kind but if he can’t swing the bat effectively and the wrist gets in his head, it’s plausible that he loses 150 AB.  While I never project for injury in the preseason, it’s much more likely at this stage since he hasn’t begun to swing the bat and Bobby Valentine doesn’t think it’s realistic that he will be ready for Opening Day.

If you take these projections to heart, the debate may not even be whether or not De Aza has better value than Crawford; it may be whether he will be superior straight-up.  Even if the latter has a minute chance of materializing and is more appropriately slotted in the Fantasy Roundtable’s “Are You Crazy” segment, one thing’s for sure: De Aza is the better buy in 2012.

Albert Lang for Carl Crawford:

Alejandro de Aza will not have more fantasy baseball value than Carl Crawford, no matter how far apart they are drafted.

For starters, there are three reasons Alejandro de Aza hasn’t gotten a shot at a fulltime gig in the majors until now:

  1. He’s slightly injury prone and has rarely played 100 games between the majors and the minors;
  2. He loves to swing, but usually comes up with nothing. In the minors he has 432 K’s in 672 games;
  3. While he’s fast, he doesn’t know how to use his speed, as he’s just a 70% base stealer in the minors and 16/22 in the majors.

People look at his glittering .329 MLB average last year, see a similar .322 at AAA and think he can be a capable batsman. Well, his average on balls in play was .404 and .373 respectively. Now, he is fast and posted solid BABIP in the minors, but nothing like that.

So he is going to swing a lot, and will get worse and worse pitches to hit as pitchers adjust and will fare poorly when he puts those balls in play. In fact, even allowing for a .330 BABIP doesn’t get him to an average much better than .280.

In addition, given his inability to steal at a high success rate and suspect on-base skills, projecting more than 40 SB attempts is foolish. If so, he’ll post 25-28 SBs. Twenty-three players stole 25 bases last season. Aside from Ian Desmond and Juan Pierre, they bring a better average or more power than de Aza could ever hope to achieve.

When it’s all said and done, de Aza will bat .273/.334/.425 with nine HRs and 27 SBs. Only if he keeps his job and stays at the top of the lineup can he flirt with 80 runs.

Carl Crawford was atrocious last season, no getting around that. However, including 2011, he has a .291/.340/.453 line and has averaged 42 SBs a season over the last three years. In just 130 games last season, with a .289 OBP, Crawford stole 18 bags.

While Crawford is banged up and unlikely to be ready for Opening Day, he is progressing nicely, going through his throwing program and swinging the bat. Let’s give Crawford 140 games (86 percent of the season). If you take Crawford’s average line over the past three years for a 140 game season, he will steal you 36 bases. In addition he’ll add 13 HRs and, no matter where he slots in the Red Sox lineup, will have plenty of run and RBI chances, probably amounting to at least 85 of each.

As it stands, Crawford is the 39th selected player according to Mock Draft Central, but has gone as late as 80 and his draft status is trending down.  Even a partial season of Crawford will mirror the performance of players like Shane Victorino and Adam Jones, making Crawford a fine value in the sixth or seventh round.

Over the last three years, 29 players have stolen at least 64 bases, with 24 stealing 69+. Of those, 14 have 34+ HRs, 12 have 240+ runs and 20 batted .270 or better. The point being, de Aza is not special, as the numbers above would be about de Aza’s three year average. Meanwhile, of this group, Crawford is eighth in average, eighth in HRs, seventh in runs, fifth in RBIs and tied for second in steals.

Basically, de Aza is Lorenzo Cain or Juan Pierre or Angel Pagan or Scott Podsednik, whereas Crawford is a reasonable facsimile of Jacoby Ellsbury or Andrew McCutchen or Drew Stubbs or Shane Victorino. De Aza is replaceable in the free agent pool, Crawford is not.

In short, Crawford will score more runs, hit more HRs, knock in way more, steal more bases and post a better average than de Aza. In addition, he’s assured playing time. De Aza is a fine late draft option, but he has zero chance of reaching the same value as Crawford.

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