Crawford bided his time and vowed to return a reshaped all-around player. And when he returned without the same speed, he found he had to relearn ways to get on base without the slap-hitting approach that had been a crutch earlier in his career.
At the end of the season, after hitting a career-low .273 with 121 hits, Crawford went back into the film room to diagnose what he did and also what he needed to do.
"I went back and saw everything, how they pitch me and stuff," Crawford said. "They never really throw strikes, they try to throw around the plate in the American League. So a lot of times you just get yourself out."
Realizing he needed to be more patient turned out be an epiphany of sorts for Crawford, who took his 37th walk of the season in the third inning Saturday against Kansas City, tying his career high. And it's only August.
A newfound plate discipline, understanding of the strike zone and another year of experience have contributed to an all-around breakthrough offensive season for the three-time All-Star. He's ninth in the American League in batting average (.317), tied for fifth in hits (129), tied for second in multihit games (41) and tied for the lead in stolen bases (48).
All of which, Rays manager Joe Maddon said, is tied in part to his approach at the plate and his higher walk totals.
"I think he understands now for him to hit at a very high average, like .320 or better, he has to accept his walks to do that," Maddon said. "Guys with too many at-bats, it's very difficult for them to hit at that high of an average. It's very difficult to get enough hits to hit .320 or .325 if you're not accepting your walks."
Crawford called the hamstring injury a "blessing in disguise" last season, as it allowed him to step back and consider other ways to make an impact without having his normal speed. He has said it made him a better basestealer, as he taught himself new ways to read pitchers and catchers. It helped him in the batter's box, too.
"I always was a guy that it didn't matter where you threw the ball, I could just hit it and run," Crawford said. "Last year, when I didn't have the speed, I had to learn to do things the right way. Now, since I learned how to do things the right way, and the combination of me having my speed back, you see what you see now."
Crawford's previous career high in on-base percentage was .355 in 2007, when he hit .315 and had 184 hits. This year, his OBP is .377.
Getting on base, obviously, has allowed Crawford to swipe more bags, too. He appears well on his way to setting a new career high in steals (59 in 2004) and is two shy of becoming just the eighth player in Major League history to steal 50 bases before Aug. 5.
Maddon said Crawford has molded into a better ballplayer because he's always had that mind-set of improving. And the thought of the speedy Crawford getting on base more and more is a nightmarish one for opposing pitchers and catchers.
"Just by laying off the borderline, he's going to see even better pitches, too," Maddon said. "And he's got a great knack for making hard contact. He's still maturing."
Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.