For years Carl Crawford has been the face of the Tampa Bay Rays organization and this year, unlike others, he actually has a talented team around him. Despite the infuse of talent and abundance of early season victories Crawford's .281/.322/.392 line is hardly impressive and his 4.6 VORP is an astonishing seventh amongst positional players for the Rays. An initial look reveals some surprising items.
Crawford's strikeout rate jumped from the mid-teens to 19.2% last season, this year it rests comfortably at 12.4%, just shy of his 14.9% career average. Meanwhile his walk rate is actually the highest of his career, although only 6.5%. With a line drive percentage of 21.6 Crawford's BABIP should be around .336 and not .306. All of Crawford's percentages otherwise play out almost exactly the same as last year with one notable exception: infield hits.
Carl amassed 8% of his hits inside of the infield dirt last year but that's drastically dropped to 2.2%. Listing some possible reasons for the drop:
1. Carl has faced tougher infield defenses this year.
2. Pure bad luck.
3. Making more contact with the ball, but not making good contact.
Reasoning one seems a bit far fetched. Defenses aren't playing Carl in any particular shift, nor would it seem that defenses are particularly better overall than the past few years. Number two seems most likely, but three should be heavily considered, after all Carl only has 13 extra-base hits thus far and is on pace for around 20 doubles, he hit 37 last year.
Another problem could be Carl's hack-tastic approach this season. Yes, he's striking out less, but still only seeing 3.27 pitches per plate appearance, last year he saw 3.59, and in 2006 3.54. A first pitch hacker for most of his career nothing has changed this season, except Carl doesn't seem to mind swinging on 0-1, and swinging a lot.
Thankfully for the Rays Crawford's speed doesn't appear to be lacking and despite Gabe Gross of all people having a higher OPS Crawford should come around to normal even if it ends his consecutive progression in the slash stats.
Edit: One interesting theory that Tommy Rancel brought up was Carl Crawford's off-season training. Crawford had a gym installed in his home and Amy Nelson amongst others wrote about how he spent most of his free time hitting the weights. Could Crawford sacrificed some of his speed for more muscle/power?