The Oakland Athletics guaranteed that Coco Crisp would be their leadoff hitter this season when they picked up his 2014 option last November and later solidified him in the role for the following two seasons, signing him through the 2016 season last Friday.
As a table setter for the power hitters following, the cardinal rule of leadoff hitting is to avoid making an out. The leadoff batter must be able to consistently provide run-scoring opportunities to the players batting behind him.
Not since Rickey Henderson, the supreme leadoff hitter of the game, has the Oakland A’s had someone more effective in the leadoff role. Crisp, 34, fits the mold of a contemporary leadoff man emphasizing walks and on-base percentage along with speed and most importantly, commonsense on the base paths.
The number one spot in the order comes to the plate on average more than four times a game, nearly a full plate appearance more than the number nine hitter. A player able to get on base AND hit for power, gives his team additional number at bats which likely then helps the team score more runs in that instance.
With the A’s, the vibrant Crisp batted .265 last year with a .328 on-base percentage and slugging percentage of .419 In his four Athletic seasons playing in 462 games, Crisp has knocked 49 home runs — 22 of them last year — and 204 RBIs, along with 141 stolen bases. He’s was scribbled in the leadoff spot in 342 of those games.
This is not to say that speed and intelligence on the base paths — particularly the ability to take extra bases — should be played down in the leadoff slot. Crisp led the team with 21 stolen bases in 2013.
Typically, many fans only look to speed in the leadoff position, focusing on stolen bases. Base stealing however should be one of the least relevant skills for the leadoff hitter because the hitters behind him are generally the best on the team —One doesn’t want to take the bat out of the big guns’ hands by getting thrown out on the base paths. Leave the small-ball tactics to move runners into scoring position toward the bottom of the order.
It remains to be seen how Bob Melvin’s opening day line card will read, but its s sure bet, barring injury, Crisp will be the first A’s batter announced for 2014.