Red Sox

Sox can expect good old days with Crawford

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Sox can expect good old days with Crawford

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

Before the Red Sox gave Carl Crawford a seven-year, 142 million deal, they made sure to do their homework.

The club had special assistant Allard Baird trail Crawford over the second half of the 2010 season, hoping to gain some insight. While Baird was providing more traditional scouting reports, the Sox also had consultant Bill James, the preeminent sabermatrician, provide some detailed statistical analysis.

Recognizing that a long-term deal would be necessary to land Crawford, the Red Sox wanted to know what James could uncover about how well players who base their games on speed age as they get into their mid-30s.

(Crawford's seven-year deal will have him playing out the final year of his contract with the Sox at 36.)

James has written extensively about the topic before. Without disclosing the specific details of his study on Crawford, which looked into athletic players and their late-in-career productivity, he described highlights of his past research on the subject.

"As players age," James relayed in an e-mail, "their hitting skills decline and their speed decreases, which creates a kind of pincer movement that ultimately snaps careers. The number one thing that drives players out of the game is the loss of hitting skill, but the number two thing is the loss of speed.

"As players slow down they become less able to play the key defensive positions -- center, right, shortstop -- and get pushed toward the positions for slower players, which are also the positions for big hitters. THE thing that drives them out of the game is not the loss in hitting ability in absolute terms. There are dozens of 37-year-old first basemen who could still hit enough to play -- if they could play the outfield. When their speed drops below a certain level, they're no longer able to play the outfield at a decent level, no longer able to hit enough to be a cleanup hitter, and they're gone.

"Well, visualize speed on a zero-to-ten scale, and assume that you're forced out of the game as soon as your speed drops below the level '3' or '4'. If one player starts out at '9' and the other one starts at '5', which one drops below '4' first? Of course (it would be the player who starts at '5')."

Looking at speed-based players from 1980 to the present, James found that a number of them -- including Gary Redus, Gary Pettis, Eric Young and Eddie Milner -- were out of the game at a relatively early age, their value having dissipated, at least in part, because they couldn't run as well as they once did.

But James also came up with a list of such players who had other strengths, as well -- on-base ability and extra-base power, specifically -- and found that those players aged particularly well.

"Rickey Henderson hit .315 with 37 stolen bases at the age of 40," James wrote. "Paul Molitor had 225 hits at the age of 39, hit .300 again at age 40. Craig Biggio hit 21 homers at the age of 40. Barry Bonds, as we know . . . well, let's not reference Bonds. Brett Butler played 105 games and hit .283 at the age of 40. Even Ron Gant, although you wouldn't think of him as aging well, hit .262 with 18 homers at the age of 37. Kirk Gibson hit 23 homers at the age of 37. Ken Griffey (Senior) played 106 games at the age of 39, and hit .300 as a part-time player at the age of 40. Kenny Lofton hit .296 and played 136 games at the age of 40. Larry Walker hit .298 at age 36, .289 at age 37, with power, although his wheels were gone."

Crawford appears to be the kind of player who fits into the latter group as he approaches his 30s.

For one thing, he recorded a career-best .495 slugging percentage in 2010. Correspondingly, he also posted career highs in homers (19), RBI (90) and had his second-highest total bases figure (297, just shy of his career-best 302 in 2005). Also, his on-base percentages in each of the last two seasons -- .364 in 2009, .356 in 2010 -- were higher than any in the first seven years of his career.

Moreover, Crawford won his first Gold Glove in 2010. While Gold Globe voting is highly subjective and, at times, seemingly hopelessly ill-informed (see: Jeter, Derek, and Palmeiro, Rafael) and not based on advanced defensive metrics, there's little evidence to suggest that, as he approaches 30, Crawford is slipping as an outfielder. For instance, Crawford's range factor per nine innings was 2.30 for 2010; his career range factor, meanwhile, sits at a nearly identical 2.31.

The tentative plan is for Crawford to hit third in the Red Sox lineup, which means his stolen-base total will continue to fall some while his run production skills could improve -- especially given the ballpark and the quality of the lineup.

"Nothing is 100, of course; all groups of players have washouts," James wrote. "Speed players age better, as a group, than any other group of players except what could be called the Adrian GonzalezDavid OrtizTed WilliamsJim Thome group -- the guys who are such tremendous hitters that even when they're not the same, they're plenty good enough.

"If you hit like those guys do, you're not forced out of the game until your speed reaches a very, very low level, like '1' on a 10-point scale. If you don't hit THAT much, like normal human beings don't, then you're forced out of the game when your speed reached '4' or '5'. The question of 'How fast does the player run?' is very closely related to the question of 'How long is his leash?' "

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

ALCS: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees 7-1 to force Game 7

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ALCS: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees 7-1 to force Game 7

HOUSTON -  Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

NLCS: Dodgers win first pennant since 1988 with 11-1 Game 5 rout of Cubs

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NLCS: Dodgers win first pennant since 1988 with 11-1 Game 5 rout of Cubs

CHICAGO -- Enrique Hernandez put a Hollywood ending on an LA story three decades in the making.

Fueled by a home run trilogy from their emotional utilityman, Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally going to the World Series.

Hernandez homered three times and drove in a record seven runs, Kershaw breezed through six crisp innings and Los Angeles ended the Chicago Cubs' title defense with an 11-1 rout in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Thursday night.

"It feels good to hear World Series," Kershaw said. "It's been a long time coming for this team."

After years of playoff heartache, there was just no stopping these Dodgers after they led the majors with 104 wins during the regular season. With Kershaw firing away at the top of a deep pitching staff and co-NLCS MVPs Justin Turner and Chris Taylor leading a tough lineup, one of baseball's most storied franchises captured its first pennant since Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Co. to Los Angeles' last championship in 1988.

"Every night it is a different guy," Turner said, "and this is one of the most unbelievable teams I've ever been a part of."

Kershaw will be on the mound again when the Dodgers host the New York Yankees or Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. The Yankees have a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 of the ALCS at Houston on Friday night, so one more New York win would set up another chapter in an old October rivalry between the Yankees and Dodgers.

Los Angeles made the playoffs eight times in the previous 13 seasons and came up short of its 22nd pennant each time, often with Kershaw shouldering much of the blame. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner took the loss when his team was eliminated by the Cubs in Game 6 of last year's NLCS at Wrigley Field.

The ace left-hander was just OK during his first two starts in this year's postseason, but Los Angeles' offense picked him up each time. Backed by Hernandez's powerful show in Chicago, Kershaw turned in an efficient three-hit performance with five strikeouts and improved to 6-7 in the playoffs - matching Burt Hooton's club record for postseason wins.

"To get to be on the mound tonight and get to be going to the World Series on the same night, it's a special thing," Kershaw said. "Who knows how many times I'm going to get to go to the World Series? I know more than anybody how hard it is to get there. So, I'm definitely not taking this one for granted."

When Kenley Jansen retired Willson Contreras on a liner to shortstop for the final out, the party was on . The Dodgers poured out of the dugout and mobbed their dominant closer near the mound, and a small but vocal group of Los Angeles fans gathered behind the visitors' dugout and chanted "Let's go Dodgers! Let's go Dodgers!"

On the field, manager Dave Roberts hugged Lasorda and told the iconic skipper the win was for him.

"I bleed Dodger blue just like you," Roberts said. "Thank you, Tommy."

Hernandez connected on the first two pitches he saw, belting a solo drive in the second for his first career playoff homer and then a grand slam in the third against Hector Rondon. Hernandez added a two-run shot in the ninth against Mike Montgomery.

The 26-year-old Hernandez became the fourth player with a three-homer game in a league championship series, joining Bob Robertson (1971 NLCS), George Brett (1978 ALCS) and Adam Kennedy (2002 ALCS). Hernandez's seven RBIs tied a postseason record shared by four other players who all did it in a Division Series.

Troy O'Leary was the previous player to have seven RBIs in a playoff game, for Boston at Cleveland in the 1999 ALDS.

It was a stunning display for a player with 28 career homers who remains concerned about his native Puerto Rico, which is recovering from a devastating hurricane. He delivered a historic performance in front of his father, Enrique Hernandez Sr., who was diagnosed with a blood cancer related to leukemia in December 2015, but got word last November that he was in remission.

"For me to be able to come here and do something like this is pretty special," said Hernandez, who also goes by Kik�. "My body's here, but my mind's kind of back home. It's hard being away from home with what's going on.

"All I want to do right now is go to my dad and give him a big hug."

Kris Bryant homered for Chicago, but the NL Central champions finished with just four hits in another tough night at the plate. Each of their eight runs in the NLCS came via the long ball, and they batted just .156 for the series with 53 strikeouts.

Long playoff runs in each of the last two years and a grueling five-game Division Series against Washington seemed to sap Chicago of some energy, and its pitching faltered against sweet-swinging Los Angeles. Jose Quintana was pulled in the third inning of the final game, and the Cubs never recovered.

"They executed their plan," Bryant said. "They pitched great and the bullpen was lights out. That makes for a tough time scoring runs."

Turner and Taylor helped put it away for Los Angeles, contributing to a 16-hit outburst while closing out a pair of impressive performances.

Turner singled home Taylor in the Dodgers' five-run third, giving him seven RBIs in the series and 24 throughout his postseason career. Taylor finished with two hits and scored two runs as the Dodgers, who have won five straight NL West titles, improved to 7-1 in this postseason.

Taylor's versatility helped Los Angeles cover for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, who missed the series with a back injury, but is expected to return in the next round. Coming off a breakout season, the 27-year-old Taylor hit .316 with two homers and scored five times against the Cubs.

"I couldn't be happier to be a part of this and be with these guys," Taylor said. "It's been an unbelievable year, and I'm just super excited."

OUT WITH A BANG

Hernandez joined Kennedy (2002), Adrian Beltre (2011), Reggie Jackson (1977 vs. the Dodgers) and Babe Ruth (1928) as players to hit three home runs in a postseason series clincher.

LIGHTS OUT

Dodgers relievers have thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings, a postseason record.