In 2020, the Tampa Bay Rays are looking to go back to the World Series for the first time since 2008. A core of dynamic offensive players such as All-Stars Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe, a starting staff with former Cy Young Blake Snell and young, lanky ace Tyler Glasnow, and a bullpen with Nick Anderson and Oliver Drake showing unique looks out of the bullpen. The MLB Lines show that the Rays are highly projected to be in the postseason again. They almost defeated the Astros in the ALDS after dealing with a number of injuries and only lost due to potential sign stealing in Game 5. The Rays have upgraded their team, too, adding veterans such Jose Martinez and Hunter Renfroe, while bringing in overseas sensation Yoshitomo TsuTsu Go.
This past Saturday, however, was Rays fanfest (which was also my 4th straight). One of the beauties of fanfest is seeing some of the old faces who no longer play show up, and it’s a fun time reminisce about a team’s history. Therefore, let’s go back to 2008. The team was anchored by a young core with Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria at the forefront.
The latter two are considered by many to be the greatest Rays of all-time, but Carl Crawford epitomized everything that the Rays were. Carl Crawford was the heart of the club that defined baseball in St. Pete. Carl Crawford was the reason people made the 40 minute drive from Clearwater, 30 minute drive from Tampa, 45 minute drive from Lutz and every city in the general area that surrounds Tropica Field, through horrific rush hour traffic to go see a 100 loss team with Toby Hall and Aubrey Huff with Cassey Fossum on the bump 25 times a year. In the Rays infancy, while being surrounded by consistent mediocrity, Carl Crawford gave the Rays a ray of hope during the obscure Devil Rays era that otherwise wouldn’t have ever came. Nicknamed the “Perfect Storm” for his explosive offense, dynamite-like baserunning that was a a throwback to a player like Vince Coleman, his pure swing and the energy he brought to the field, he was the perfect storm off the field that the Rays needed to fully usher in the Joe Maddon era. But, put under a microscope, just how good was Carl Crawford during his early years?
The lasting memory of Carl Crawford will always be a decrepit, out of shape ballplayer getting paid millions from the Los Angeles Dodgers after a very disappointing and injury prone stint in Boston. That memory, though, makes you forget that he was at one point one of the league’s premiere players that flew under the radar because of his market.
When looking at the Rays all-time counting statistics, Carl Crawford is #1 in batting average at .296, top 5 in SLG percentages (his .444 is tied for fifth with Rocco Baldelli), 6th in OPS (.781), second in games played (1235, exactly 200 behind Evan Longoria). His 1,480 hits, 105 triples and 409 SB are most in franchise history. The next closest for SB is BJ Upton at 232.
It isn’t only his traditional stats that show offensive prowess, but also his rate statistics. Carl Crawford’s power-speed number of 165.8 is the highest in Tampa Bay history, by a rather sizable margin. Power-speed #, an analytic stat from guru Bill James, is a statistic that measures a players power and baserunning. The next is 156.4, with again BJ Upton. His 789 runs created score is second in team history, as is his 17.1 RE24. His 9.4 WPA and 35.6 WAR are both third all-time.
Drafted by the Rays 52nd overall in the 1999 amateur player draft, Crawford torched the minor leagues and made his major league debut in 2002 at the age of 20. His first Major League hit came in his debut against Blue Jays Steve Farris, and it was a 2-RBI single. His first homerun was against the Royals Shawn Sedlacek. In 2004, he was elected to his first of four All-Star teams as a member of the Rays. In 2007, he became the first player to represent the Rays multiple times in an All-Star game.
2007 was a key year overall, because it was the final year of the Rays drowning in a sea of despair. The worst team in 2007 set the world on fire in 2008 and Crawford was at the forefront. In a 200 World Series the Rays would like to forget, Carl Crawford went against the Philadelphia storms and proved why he was, in fact, the Perfect Storm. Carl Crawford hit 2 homeruns, stole a base and struck out only once in 5 Fall Classic games while slashing .263/.300/.632 with a .932 Series OPS. 2009, however, was Crawford’s peak.
Elected to his third All-Star game in 2009, Crawford led baseball with an astounding 60 stolen bases, including a 6 stolen base game against the Red Sox. He batted .305, with 15 homeruns, a 116 OPS+, all the while striking out less than 100 times. 2010 was even better, when he hit to a 135 OPS+ and stole 47 bases, hit to an .856 OPS and had 19 homeruns. Being he was primarily a leadoff or #2 hitter, Crawford ranking 2nd in RBI in Rays history at 592.
Having already established his offense and his baserunning, his defense wasn’t anything to slouch at either. Having seemingly no flaw in his game, Crawford continued to ball out in every facet. Every year from 2005-2007, as well as 2009, Crawford led the American League in putouts from a left-fielder. In 2004 and 2005, his TZR was first in baseball for left field. Other than 2005 and 2010, he led every left fielder in range factor every year as a Tampa Bay Ray. For his career, his 77 TZR is top 100 of all-time. His 55 assists in LF is also top 100 of all-time. His .989 Fld% is 77th of all-time. His range factor per 9 innings as a LF is top 25 in the history of the Nation’s pastime. With his glove being as stellar as it was, the porch in LF was named Crawford’s Corner until mid-2016 when Evan Longoria opened a restaurant in that part of the dome, and it was re-christened Ducky’s Landing. The renaming may also have something to do with the iconic Longo walk-off in 2011.
Crawford ranks top 3 in almost every major offensive category, seemingly all behind Evan Longoria who had 200 more games to make that impact. Crawford’s 4 All-Star nods are most in Rays history for a position player and tied with former AL Cy Young David Price for most overall. The argument from many Tampa fans is that Evan Longoria being the big superstar warrants his number retirement first, but he’s still playing and Crawford is not. Crawford was the heart of the team for the better part of a decade and is the most accomplished offensive player in team history. Not only is 13 as synonymous with Tampa Bay as 3, 33 or 14, but it no matter which is retired first, it won’t be the first retirement anyway so is it really that big of a deal? Consider the fact that Wade Boggs had his number retired years ago. Wade Boggs is a top 5 third baseman ever, in this journalist’s opinion, but he spent his 2 worst years of his career as a Ray while Crawford spent 9 betters seasons in St. Pete. There is zero doubt that Carl Crawford warrants the honor.
Thank you for this stroll down memory lane as I glossed over my first favorite player in my childhood. I hope you remember Carl Crawford as fondly as I do, and enjoy excellent baseball coverage. For more baseball coverage, follow me on Twitter: @TheJameus.