In Defense of Coco

In the cacophany of reactions that swallowed the Red Sox following their horrible five-game sweep (in fact I think it’s now a law that one cannot refer to that sweep without using either "horrible," "horrendous" or "embarrassing" immediately before), a general consensus developed that Theo Epstein had made terrible mistakes in putting together the ballclubs of the last two years, and that he rightly or wrongly refused to trade away The Future to fix those mistakes.

This wasn’t merely SOSH or blog-comment outrage either. It was propogated in the mainstream sports media, particularly by Sports Illustrated”s Tom Verducci, who listed Coco Crisp as the No. 1 mistake.

Boston let Damon leave (thanks to a below-market bid) knowing full well they coveted Crisp. Crisp, they believed, was a Damon in the making, maybe even better. They whiffed on that evaluation. Sure, Crisp, 26, still has time to blossom, but the Red Sox now know he is not an impact player, not a premium center fielder and not a leadoff hitter who grinds out at-bats. Crisp went 1 for 19 against New York, including nine plate appearances that ended after one or two pitches. (He saw an average of 3.1 pitchers per plate appearance in the series.)

Fixable? Probably not. The odds that Crisp is playing center field next year for the Red Sox are less than 50 percent. (Emphasis mine)

This is a remarkable, unsourced piece of speculation. Gordon Edes has said in recent chats that he also thinks Crisp will be traded. I don’t find that to be any great revelation since Deadline Day reports had the Sox shopping Crisp to Hosuton for Oswalt and looking at picking up Andruw Jones from Atlanta. But the Sox "wiffed on that evaluation"? I don’t think so.

The bloggers had a field day, as well. Comments on Over the Monster were particularly bad,
one insightful commenter adding, "Crisp just blows.  He cannot get on
base and we gave up a top prospect for him in Andy Marte." Never mind
that Marte is hitting worse right now than Sox’ third baseman Mike Lowell ever has and
worse than Crisp ever will.

Most of this talk is silly. Crisp might well be dealt this offseason,
but unless Andruw Jones is coming back, I don’t see it happening. Our
center fielder has his flaws — he swings at a lot of first pitches,
his fielding judgment sometimes is poor, turning singles into
highlight-reel triples, and when he struggles at the plate he presses in
other facets of his game.

Those jumping on Crisp’s poor hitting this year are missing two points.

  1. He was not brought in to fully and immediately replace Damon’s offense.
  2. Broken hands and fingers often take the remainder of the season in which they occur, as well as the following offseason, to heal to where they do not affect a hitter’s power swing.

The fact is, Coco has not been the unmitigated, season-long failure he has recently been portrayed to be.

As with anyone who jumps on the first strike he sees, Crisp has been
streaky this year — although the depth of his biggest slump is likely because
of the injury, which left him out from April 9 to May 27.

  • April 3-June 10: 17 games, 77 AB, .312/.346/.429/.774, hit safely in 15 of the 17 games.
  • June 11-July 22: 37 games, 142 AB, .225/.299/.338/.637, hit safely in 20 of the 37 games.
  • July 23-Aug. 16: 23 games, 97 AB, .330/.369/.474/.843, hit safely in 17 of the 23 games.
  • Aug. 17-Aug. 25: 8 games, 33 AB, .121/.216/.152/.368, hit safely in 3 of the 8 games.
  • TOTAL: 85 games, 346 AB, .266/.321/.382/.706

It looked like Crisp had finally recovered from his injury in August,
as he went on a tear with some great numbers. The last eight games,
however, have been horrendous, highlighted by the 1-for-19 performance
against the Yankees while his predecessor was destroying the ball to
all parts of Fenway Park — which of course led those who had said "Johnny Who?" during the season’s first 10 games to immediately call for Crisp to be traded anywhere for anybody.

So which Crisp did Boston get? The .206/.280/.280/.560 hitter in 175 at bats? Or the .327/.361/.474/.831 hitter in 171 at bats?

These last eight games aside (which we can safely do because of sample size and because all hitters, no matter how good, go through slumps like this one), it seems clear that Crisp is improving on the season (.256 before July 22, .283 after), and reasonable to expect that he will continue to do so.

As everyone knows, Crisp’s career stats were steadily on the rise until
this year. Last year, he hit .300 for the fist time. He’s always been a
low-walk hitter, so expecting him to suddenly become Youk-like is
unrealistic. Nevertheless, Crisp’s P/PA this year (pitches per plate
appearance) are actually higher than in his previous seasons
(3.87 vs. last year’s 3.48 and a career 3.61). And, to put things in perspective, Crisp has a higher P/PA this year than Damon did in 2005.

Likewise, Crisp is stealing bases at a better rate and more frequently
than ever before. He is two short of his career high of 20, and his
82-percent success rate is far above his full-season career high.

The big drops have been in his power numbers. His slugging percentage
is down 40 points from last year, and his isolated power (SLG minus BA)
is down a whopping 50 points. His AB/HR is 20 greater than last year
and 11 above his career average. In fact, Crisp is averaging more than
13 at-bats between every extra-base hit. Last year, it was just 9.5.

So Crisp has actually done several things well — he sees more pitches than he gets credit for, he’s reched base on a par with his career numbers for the past month, and he’s running the bases better than ever before.

By way of comparison, Johnny Damon in his second year with the Red Sox
— at age 29 in 2003 (Crisp is only 26) — hit .273 with a .345 OBP, not unrealistic
numbers for Crisp this year if he continues on the pace he’s set since July 22.

So here’s what the Red Sox have — a .300 hitter with fantastic speed and decent power who
has seen much of that pop robbed by a broken pinky. He’s not Johnny Damon, but he could be. The
potential is still there, and we’ve seen it of late.

So lay off him. Considering the broken finger — and the resulting
50-game layoff, recovery while playing and causitive power reduction —
and the transition to Boston baseball, Crisp hasn’t done nearly as
badly as everyone seems to think.

5 comments… add one
  • I think this is a good eval, particularly the fact that his pitches/PA have actually increased. I think we clearly were looking for Johnny and we still don’t know what he will be (probably will never foul off balls like damon though).
    But he certainly is younger and far cheaper.
    I really think he will be a better player next year. I particularly think he will be a better center fielder (it’s easy to forget he didn’t have that much time to acclimate to Fenway).
    And as everyone complains about the Red Sox, trying to find someone to blame, I don’t know why the starting pitchers have been given such an easy time of it. If you want to look to where the season went that’s as far as you need to go.
    Now whether he will be with us next season …

    John Grimes August 26, 2006, 6:53 pm
  • Lord knows I’ll be accused of being a Theo apologist here, but we cannot understate the long-term damage that went with his broken finger. I have contended all along that …
    1. The Red Sox believed Damon would be good this year and probably next year. They let him go because they belived he would be overpaid in yars 3 and 4 of the contract he wanted.
    2. The Red Sox never believed that Covelli would be as good as Damon this year.
    3. The Red Sox didn’t plan to win it all this year. They’re getting pieces together for a long-term run starting in 07 or 08.
    Much of this dissent is because of the venom of losing five straight to the NYY. I’ve been a part of that, criticizing him on this site for the lack of pitches he faces. But the fact remains that we do not have an adequate sample by which to judge him. Nothing we have seen goes against the long-term expectations of the Red Sox when Damon was allowed to the EE and Covelli was brought in to replace him.
    AND … Get some the injured back and that EE lead might well shrink very fast.

    I'm Bill McNeal August 26, 2006, 9:02 pm
  • But the Sox “wiffed on that evaluation”? I don’t think so.
    I think so. Crisp is not a player you build around.
    The book’s still open on Clement, Pena and Beckett. Most Sox fans seem to have given up on Clement, and Beckett’s contract was a gamble that could backfire.
    Then there’s the bullpen this year and the shortstop debacle last year.

    anonyf August 26, 2006, 9:28 pm
  • All this stuff has been discussed ad nauseum, anon, and franly I’m tired of rebutting it. Simply put, the Sox were not planning to build around Coco. They were planning to build around Beckett, and it’s too soon — and Beckett has had too many good starts — to simply write him off as a mistake.
    The shortstop debacle lst year has little bearing on the current discussion, and the bullpen debacle everyone agrees is something that needs to stop happening.
    But hey, looks like that Yankee pitching is working out real well as they gear up for the stretch run!

    Paul SF August 26, 2006, 9:35 pm
  • Nice piece, Paul. I’m glad to hear some rational talk about Coco for a change. I like the guy, and I like the tools he brings to the team. He plays hard, he’s fast, and he has some real pop in his bat. He’s a better player than what we’ve seen so far this year. I think that if given a clean, healthy start next season, Coco will look a lot better to most observers. The Sox may still shop him during the offseason, but it won’t be to dump him like with Renteria; it’ll be if they can get something better in return.
    But I hope they keep him, personally. Guys like Coco and Beckett are A LOT different from guys like Renteria and Clement, despite what some are saying. The former are both young with high upsides, while the latter two are proven middle-aged mediocrities.

    mouse August 27, 2006, 2:36 am

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