Coco Crisp Should Quit Center Field


41% of the time, Coco Crisp works 82% of the time. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It is often said, within the Athletics organization, that Coco Crisp is the engine of the team. When Coco is hot, the team is hot and there are a plethora of statistics to support the idea that Coco Crisp is a catalyst for success. In fact, Shooty Babbit is fond of calling Crisp the “second best leadoff man in Oakland history” the first, of course, being Rickey Henderson.

When Coco Crisp is in the lineup, there are statistical advantages. For instance, the Athletics win 82% of the games that Coco scores at least one run in and he did so in 41% of the games he played in 2014. Having missed 36 games last season and having another 26 incomplete games (for an inning total of around 50 games), a significant amount of opportunity was lost due to injuries incurred on the field. No one can tell for sure if having him in those games would have changed the outcome  but having a player with a .412 scoring average in the lineup every day certainly increases your odds. For comparison, Josh Donaldson scored in 43% of his games, Brandon Moss in 40%, Josh Reddick in 37% and Alberto Callaspo in 25%. 

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So why, then, should Coco Crisp quit in center? Because he’s a liability to the Athletics in center. Sure, he has great range, above average speed and solid accuracy but he has a rubber arm and, at 34, is prone to injury when playing 110% defense. A deep bloop to center is a guaranteed double when Crisp is in the field where a similar ball to right will have the runner second guessing whether to run on Reddick. Coco’s neck issues this season, the culprit of most the missed games, were caused by playing too hard on defense, not at the plate. If the Athletics are going to succeed in 2015, they need to take a good hard look at Crisp’s value offensively versus his likelihood of injury defensively.

Before you flood me with hate mail, I love Coco Crisp. He’s one of my favorite players both on and off the field and I want him to play in every game of the season. With a defensive WAR of 4.8, I realize that he is a good defensive player despite his throwing deficiencies but I’d rather have him at DH for 162 games in 2015 than in center for 100.

So, who do we put out in Center? The Athletics lineup will be the most speculated lineup in all of baseball during this off season and none of us have any real insight. When I set my ideal outfield, it makes the infield impossible to staff and vice versa but, for the sake of this article, I will give it a try. In right field, you have Reddick. That goes without saying, nobody will argue that. In center, I would put Craig Gentry whose defensive WAR is 5.4, higher than Coco’s. Gentry is fast with good range and a stronger arm. In left, I’d go with Sam Fuld who is fast, has a strong arm and plays as hard as Reddick or Crisp without the fondness for injuries.

With those three in the outfield and Coco as DH, you’ve got a solid wall of defense and three incredibly fast base runners in Fuld, Crisp and Gentry that you can scatter through the lineup thus utilizing the most from each player while insuring the least injury potential for Coco Crisp.

The A’s know first hand what it is like to face a team with solid defense and speed on the bases having lost to such a team in the wildcard game. This roster has the potential to be one of those teams with a slight tweak to philosophy. Keep the core, Fuld (7), Gentry (8), Reddick (9) and Crisp (DH), as your every day players and use 2,3,4, and 6 as your platoon positions, if you’re still married to the platoon (which I’m not) and you’ll get a winning blend of defense and offense for the 2015 season.