Oakland Athletics’ Outfielder Coco Crisp Is Beginning His Return to the Majors
The last time Oakland Athletics’ fans saw Coco Crisp, he was struggling to do anything at the plate. On Tuesday night, he made his first rehab appearance since being placed on the disabled list in mid-May.
Crisp slugged two home runs, walked and singled in his High-A Stockton Ports debut, reminding everyone of what he’s capable of when he’s healthy. However, what are the odds that he can keep that up when he returns to the major leagues?
Let’s throw out Crisp’s 13 games this season. Yes, he had a .044 average after getting just two hits in 45 at-bats, but he also had a batting average on balls in play of just .057. Even the worst hitters have a higher BABIP than Crisp, and there’s no reason to think it wasn’t just an anomaly caused, at least in part, by injury issues and bad luck. There isn’t any evidence in last season’s numbers to suggest that he was headed for a precipitous decline.
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There’s no denying that Crisp is aging. At 35, he’s approaching the time when even the best outfielders decide to call it quits. The outfield is a demanding position, and Crisp’s speed has declined rapidly over the last several seasons. After having 49 stolen bases in 2011, he swiped just 19 bags last season. While that’s plenty for most players, it’s a sharp decline for Crisp, especially considering that the speedy Billy Burns has already replaced him in that role quite nicely.
What the A’s need in their outfield is more power, and that’s something that Crisp can provide, but not in the quantities that Oakland needs. In 2013, Crisp showed a sudden burst of strength, hitting 22 home runs. It was the second year in a row and the fourth time overall in his 13-year career that he hit double-digit homers, after doing it twice with the Indians as a young player. Last season, he slugged just nine home runs. While no one expects him to hit a pair of homers in each game the way he did in his first rehab appearance, the fact that he is already showing signs of returning power is a good thing.
One positive aspect of Crisp’s game is that he hasn’t shown a drop in line drive rate throughout the last several seasons. Line drive rate is the biggest indicator of successful at-bats, because they’re the hardest outcomes to turn into outs. Crisp, with the occasional deviation, has hovered near the 20 percent mark throughout his career.
In fact, most of Crisp’s underlying numbers have remained the same. The one stat that belies a problem is his hit location ratio. While Crisp pulled the ball at less than a 40 percent rate throughout most of his career, the last three seasons have hovered around 45 percent. With the popularity of shifts, there’s no reason for the defense not to take advantage of the fact that he’s only hitting the ball to the opposite field about 23 percent of the time. In his earlier career, he hit the opposite way at a much higher rate – sometimes averaging nearly 30 percent opposite field hits. These changes make him more predictable, and will lead to a decline in his BABIP and, consequently, his average.
Crisp isn’t going to help the A’s like he once might have, but once he returns, he will be a nice fill-in on a team that isn’t exactly going anywhere. The A’s owe him $11 million both this year and next season, so they will need to take whatever they can get from their injury-prone veteran. He isn’t likely to be a hot trade commodity, so he’ll have to find a home on the roster.