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Kutter Crawford: Champ or Chump for Fantasy Baseball?

Kutter Crawford - fantasy baseball draft sleepers DFS MLB injury news

We are officially deep into August now, meaning that generic waiver wire adds are no longer possible. If your team is dominating the power categories and a rival drops Pete Alonso for some reason, you couldn't gain any points by picking him up. Likewise, Jorge Mateo could be a prudent add if a couple of stolen bases are going to decide your league even if he cannot contribute anywhere else.

There is one stat many fantasy managers ignore: innings pitched. Most roto leagues don't directly award points for innings, but if your rivals end up with 1,500 and you're in the 1,100 range, you will be buried in wins, saves, strikeouts, and quality starts. Any slight ratio advantage you gain won't be enough to make up for that.

Fortunately, solid streaming options are still on the wire to help you meet your innings cap. One example is Kutter Crawford of the Boston Red Sox, currently rostered in just 31% of Yahoo! formats.

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The Surface Stats of Kutter Crawford

The 27-year-old Crawford currently sports a 3.62 ERA over 82 innings this season. He's been used in a swingman role, starting in 13 of his 21 games pitched. The club's rotation is in disarray due to injuries to Chris Sale and Tanner Houck, so Crawford figures to take a consistent turn in the rotation for the foreseeable future. The Red Sox have been forced to stretch him out as a result, so he should start pitching more innings per start as well.

Now that we can trust Crawford to start, we have to ask if his performance will be worthwhile in fantasy. His 24.6 K% is solid, and he isn't walking many guys with a 5.8 BB%. His K% may have room for growth, as his SwStr% is up a full tick compared to last season (11.3 vs. 12.4) but his K% has only increased from 23.1 to 24.6.

ERA estimators are split on his true talent, with xERA pegging him at 3.45 while xFIP sees a 4.13. His .270 BABIP, 76.8% strand rate, and 11.5% HR/FB all suggest that Crawford has been somewhat lucky to this point. However, a deeper analysis of his repertoire suggests his luck may be of his own making.


What Does Kutter Crawford Throw?

Crawford features a five-pitch mix: fastball, cutter, curve, slider, and splitter. His fastball is the baseline for the rest of his arsenal and it's very good. The pitch doesn't light up the radar gun with its 94.3 MPH average velocity, but it does average 2,495 RPM. Better yet, 99.4% of those RPMs directly contribute to the pitch's movement, a rate that ties for fifth among all MLB pitchers this year.

High-spin fastballs generate whiffs and weak, airborne contact. Crawford's fastball has a 12.8 SwStr% and 39.4% chase rate, making it a potent strikeout weapon. If opposing hitters put it in play, that's okay. Hitters are only managing a .171 AVG and .314 SLG against Crawford's heater, thanks to a very high 54.1 FB% and 21.2 IFFB%. Inducing so many pop-ups makes his BABIP feel more believable. With a 55.9 Zone%, Crawford also uses his heater to get ahead in the count and set up other pitches.

It would be foolish if Crawford didn't throw a cutter, but it is inferior to his fastball in every way. Its 45.9 Zone% isn't high enough to consistently get ahead in the count, its 10.9 SwStr% is lower than his fastball's, and opposing hitters have a .283 AVG and .424 SLG against it. It's not a bad pitch, but it takes a backseat to his fastball.

When it comes to secondary stuff, Crawford has made a slight pitch mix change with more sliders (10.6% in 2023, as opposed to 7.6% in 2022) and fewer curves (11.4% instead of 16.9%). It's the right call as Crawford's slider is by far the best secondary pitch in his arsenal. Its 24.8 SwStr% is elite, its 42% chase rate is excellent, and its 40.9 Zone% forces batters to at least consider the possibility of it landing in the zone. Hitters have a .186 AVG and .302 SLG against it as well.

In contrast, Crawford's curve is the worst pitch in his repertoire. With a 6.1 SwStr%, 49.3 Zone%, and 28% chase rate, it doesn't generate many whiffs. Opposing hitters have a .375 AVG and .781 SLG against Crawford's curve, so it isn't limiting quality contact either. It's slightly more effective against left-handed batters, but turning every lefty into a .330 hitter still isn't good.

The final pitch Crawford uses is a splitter that ranks between the slider and curve. Its 9.7 SwStr% and 43.5 Zone% are middling at best, while its 22.9% chase rate is atrocious. Still, it limits opposing hitters to a .171 AVG and .314 SLG.


Does Pitching for Boston Help or Hurt Kutter Crawford?

The Red Sox are a team of extremes, and it's fair to say that this both helps and hurts Crawford. The team scores runs in bunches, so Crawford figures to get above-average run support. Fenway Park is also a bandbox, helping his teammates put more runs on the board for him.

Of course, Fenway is also a risk to Crawford's ERA. Every team in the AL East is currently above .500, so pitching for Boston doesn't offer many soft opponents either.

However, the biggest negative of pitching for Boston is the club's horrific defense. The team ranks last in MLB with -51 OAA. To put that into context, the Reds are the second-worst defensive unit with -18 OAA. The terrible glovework hasn't affected Crawford yet as the team has -1 OAA behind him, but his BABIP could spike if he starts receiving the same defensive support as his teammates.


The Verdict on Kutter Crawford

Crawford is a solid pitcher, so the best fantasy play is to use him in favorable matchups. Pitching against Kansas City tonight definitely qualifies, and his next scheduled start against Detroit on August 13 looks good as well. He's tentatively scheduled to face the Yankees after that, and who knows what the Bronx Bombers will look like by then.

We're getting two solid matchups in a row, so Crawford is a Champ worthy of an immediate pick-up.

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