Could google vary the crawling rate on each site and see what effects that has on response times, and develop an algorithm to adjust crawl speed so as not to affect site performance too much? If google starts crawling a site and notices sequential crawl requests are answered in .5s w/ .1s stddev and it starts crawling with 10 parallel connections and the answers are 2s w/ 1s stddev, clearly that's a problem because user experience for real people will be impacted. Maybe google could automatically email webmaster@ and notify them of performance issues it sees when crawling.
Another thing that might help google is for them to announce and support some meta tag that would allow site owners (or web app devs) to declare how likely a page is to change in the future. Google could store that with the page metadata and when crawling a site for updates, particularly when rate limited via webmaster tools, it could first crawl those pages most likely to have changed. Forum/discussion sites could add the meta tags to older threads (particularly once they're no longer open for comments) announcing to google that those thread pages are unlikely to change in the future. For sites with lots of old threads (or lots of pages generated from data stored in a DB and not all of which can be cached), that sort of feature would help the site during google crawls and would help google keep more recent pages up to date without crawling entire sites.