Coco Crisp was re-signed by the A’s after last season to a two year contract worth $14 million. This move was seen as a stop gap for outfield prospect Michael Choice. (Choice was injured midseason and did not return at Double-A Midland but will start there next year). Crisp’s numbers justified the contract as he put up above or at his career averages in 2011. His offense, most think, is what really makes him of value to the A’s. He has great defensive range but an extremely below average arm. Using the classic business model cost versus benefit we can see what Crisp’s actual meaning to this A’s team is. The benefit is his offense and speed, creating runs at the top of the lineup by being smart on the base paths. Unfortunately, the cost is the runs he surrenders with his lack of arm strength. Runners advance on him at ease which proves costly over the course of a game, especially for a team whose offense is not extremely potent. The A’s rely on their pitching staff to keep the game close so any unnecessary advancements of 90 feet (i.e. a runner tagging up from second to third on a routine fly ball, etc.) create a greater chance of losing that game. The numbers tell the real story though.
Offensively Crisp has had a down year. Even with his recent hot streak his numbers are below that of his career norms. His batting average is twenty-one points and his on base percentage is ten points lower than his career average. He has fifteen less stolen bases than he did last year with only sixteen more games to play this season. However, there is no doubt the offense gets a bump when he is in the lineup. When he is in, the team is 65-46. When Crisp is out, the A’s are 19-16. Three games over five hundred is still good but not as good as the nineteen games over five hundred the A’s are when he is in the lineup.
Defensively Crisp has excellent range but a mediocre arm. This can be seen from a few sabermetric stats. The first being ROF. This stat looks at a player’s arm above or below the average fielder’s at that particular position by determining runs saved or cost. It calculates the amount of throws that hindered base runners and base runner advancements from one base to another. A positive number is above average while a negative is below average. Crisp’s ROF was -7. This means that Crisp’s arm is seven runs below the level of arm the average center fielder has. However, Crisp makes up for this defensively in another area, his defensive range and smarts. The sabermetric stat RTZ shows a player’s value above or below the league average for plays made. Again, a positive number is good, negative bad. Crisp’s RTZ came out to an outstanding 16. What does this mean? Combine the numbers and you get an RTOT, or total sabermetrically, of nine runs above average. Crisp’s defense is worth nine runs above the league average center fielder. Therefore, Crisp’s arm is not as costly over the course of a season as it may seem.
Crisp was a critical signing this offseason. His offense, though below his norms, has been a catalyst all season for a scrappy team that has to claw for its runs. His defense, regardless of his arm, is still above average. His effect on the lineup everyday is very tangible. The A’s have a lot more options when he plays, whether that be offensively or defensively. With him at the top of the order you know he always has chance to get on and score because of his speed. At $7 million a season he is a bargain for a team that can only afford high value for low cost. Call it what you want but the Coco Crisp effect is something the A’s will need to rely on if they want to continue playing beyond September.