Today, Coco Crisp is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair a labrum tear in his right shoulder. There was a lot of speculation that Crisp was done for the year, leading up to the official announcement yesterday. Now that we know that the speculation was indeed correct, the logical question is what will the Royals do without Coco Crisp? To answer that question we need to examine Coco Crisp’s past, present, future, and more specifically his future as a member of the Kansas City Royals.
The past for Coco Crisp spans 7 major league seasons (2002-2008) with the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox. With Cleveland (2002-2005) Crisp played in 415 games and was a .287/.332/.424 hitter. During his Indians career he had an OPS+ of 102 which means he was just a tick above major league average. As a 22 year old rookie he played in 32 games and followed that up with 99 games in his 2nd year. Those first two seasons he posted an OPS+ of 88 and 76 respectively. 2004, his 3rd ML season, was the year Crisp started to emerge. After hitting just 4 HR in 590 PA the previous 2 seasons combined, 2004 saw Crisp go deep 15 times in 538 PA. He coupled his power surge with a line of .297/.344/.446, an OPS+ of 110, and 20 SB. 2005 saw Crisp take another step forward. In 656 PA he hit .300/.345/.465 with 42 2B, 16 HR, 15 SB, and an OPS+ of 117. It looked like the hype of Coco Crisp being a potential 20-20+ player was about to be fulfilled. Then on January 27th, 2006 Crisp was traded by the Indians, along with C-Josh Bard and RHP-David Riske, to the Boston Red Sox. To complete the deal the Red Sox sent 3B-Andy Marte, RHP-Guillermo Mota, C-Kelly Shoppach, and RHP-Randy Newsom over to Cleveland. The Red Sox thought they were getting a 26 year old budding star but what they got instead was a player who wouldn’t get close to any of the career highs he set in 2005. In 3 seasons in Boston he failed to hit more than 28 doubles or 8 HR in a season. In 2008 he hit .283/.344/.407 setting highs for his time with the Red Sox but, outside of the OBP, he was still nowhere near the 2005 version of Coco. As a member of the Red Sox he set new career highs in only 2 categories triples (7) and stolen bases (28) and both of those were set in 2007. His OPS+ numbers during his Boston career were 77, 83, and 93 respectively.
This was the player that was acquired by our Kansas City Royals in exchange for 26 year old RHP-Ramon Ramirez. Ramirez was coming off his stellar 2008 season with a 2.64 ERA, 1.228 WHIP, and an ERA+ of 162 in 2008. In case you haven’t been paying attention to what Ram-Ram has been doing in Boston this year, he has a 1.95 ERA, 0.959 WHIP, and an ERA+ of 240. If Ram-Ram was still a member of the Royals, his ERA+ would trail only Soria’s 251 and have a slight advantage of Zack Greinke’s 228. I’m not going to argue the merits of the deal at this point because it is done and over with. At the time it seemed like a reasonable move to make, but I was largely indifferent to it. That’s not to say I was thrilled that Crisp was going to be a Royal, but I figured Moore only gave up a middle reliever. In theory the move gave Kansas City a legit defensive CF that would allow DeJesus to move to LF. I assumed that the deal would, at the very least, make the Royals better defensively at two positions.
Leading up to the beginning of the season, the trade started to bother me more and more. As I researched Coco Crisp several things fell into place and I grew increasingly upset that Coco Crisp and not Ramon Ramirez would be on the 2009 opening day roster. The first thing I learned was that he was terribly injury prone. From 2004 to 2008, Crisp has played in only 130.4 games per season on average, and has never, in his career, played more than 145 games in a season. Second, the Red Sox had no use for Crisp thanks to presence of Jacoby Ellsbury. Even though Dayton “only” gave up Ram-Ram, it became apparent to me that Crisp probably could have been had for less. The third thing I learned was that Coco had a throwing arm on par with or worse than Johnny Damon’s. Seeing Coco’s arm in action this season, I do believe it is worse. At least Damon could lollipop his throws with some semblance of accuracy. Fourth, that the Royals were dead set on batting Crisp leadoff from the moment they acquired him. The fifth upsetting factor was the money involved. Ram-Ram was set to make around the league minimum of approximately $400,000 in 2009. Crisp, on the other hand, was set to make $5.75 million in 2009 and if his $8 million option for 2010 was not picked up it would cost the Royals another $500,000. This factor became an even bigger issue when just over a month after the trade to acquire Coco Crisp, the Royals signed and overpaid for Kyle Farnsworth to help fill the void of the departed Ramon Ramirez.
Sixth, and this was the big one for me, Coco Crisp’s defensive reputation was more myth than reality built upon one good season. As a quick aside, if you haven’t read John Dewan’s Fielding Bible Volume II, I highly recommend it. Dewan’s book is an excellent resource on defensive ability. Coco Crisp has had one well above average season in the field and that was 2007. A Year in which, Dewan rightly suggests Coco probably should have won a Gold Glove. That season Crisp had a basic plus/minus of +18. The other seasons in the last 6 of his career in CF were +1, +2, -1, -5, and -2. A quick comparison is Endy Chavez, who appears just above Crisp on the page. Endy has had basic plus/minus’ of -4, +12, +1, +5, +3, and 0 in his last six seasons. Crisp being more or less substandard compared to Endy Chavez alone isn’t an indictment of Crisp’s ability, but Chavez is far from the only guy that comes out ahead when comparing season by season plus/minus. In his book, Dewan also includes a stat called runs saved. Coco Crisp in the last 6 seasons has a runs saved total of +15. If you take out his 2007 season of +12, his total drops to -3. In terms of MLB ranking Crisp has finished 14th, 14th, DNQ, 29th, 1st, and 16th respectively. Note: Dewan’s system ranks the 35 players with the most innings in the field at each position. In 2005 he did not qualify for a ranking in CF because he played only 10 games there. The reality, and dirty little secret, of Coco Crisp in the field is that he is major league average. He had one outstanding defensive season, but that one season was clearly the exception and not the norm in his career. Coco’s defense isn’t as horribly misconstrued as someone like Derek Jeter, but perception and reality are still pretty far apart when it comes to Coco Crisp in the field.
Now entering the present, let’s take a look at Coco’s 2009 season. He goes under the knife today having compiled a line of .228/.336/.378 with 5 3B, 13 SB, and an OPS+ of 91 in 49 games played. Not so good. In fairness to Crisp, he has been trying to play through his injury and has been miscast as a leadoff hitter by Trey Hillman. The latter in the face of a mountain of evidence that screams for Coco to hit 2nd in the order. I don’t want to go back down that road right now, and frankly it is irrelevant since Coco is done for the year. The point here is that his injury and his usage have adversely impacted his ability to perform on the field. You can argue that both those factors are out of his control. Injuries happen and cannot be planned for, but Coco batting leadoff was correctable and falls at the feet of Trey Hillman, and to an extent Dayton Moore.
Today Dr. James Andrews is getting acquainted with Crisp’s right shoulder, the Royals have Mitch Maier and David DeJesus capable of playing CF, and the question remains. Where do we go from here?
Since a pretty solid start to the season, Crisp has been struggling rather badly at the plate so from a statistical standpoint the drop-off in production may not be all that noticeable. After all, Crisp’s absence from the lineup allows DeJesus to return full time to the leadoff spot. After hitting .216/.272/.351 in April, DJ is starting to round into form hitting .261/.329/.464 during the month of June. His improvement in the month of June coincides with being inserted as the leadoff hitter more frequently. In 2009 DeJesus is hitting .277/.347/.462 when he is batting leadoff. So Crisp’s injury actually leaves the Royals with a better leadoff hitter. The problem lies in the question; who takes David’s spot further down in the lineup now that he is hitting leadoff again? The candidates, Mitch Maier, TPJ, and Luis Hernandez are not appealing, but all is not lost. Franchise savior Alex Gordon will once again have a chance to set things right and once again probably have far too much pressure placed upon him because of it. Gordon is expected to return to the team shortly after the All-Star break, and if he does a lot of positive things could happen. I say “could” because this is the Royals and things do tend to go wrong with this team. With Gordon back at 3B, Mark Teahen is freed up to play LF, which in turn allows David DeJesus to return to CF. With DJ back in CF, the Royals OF is completed with Guillen in RF and Mitch Maier appropriately cast as the 4th outfielder. With the OF set, Willie Bloomquist can become the everyday SS and Luis Hernandez can be retained as the defensive replacement and spot starter when Willie is needed elsewhere. Gordon’s return should finally push TPJ off the roster. If Mike Aviles ever makes it back this season, then he should replace Luis Hernandez on the roster and move Bloomquist back to super-utility duty. With a starting OF featuring Teahen, DJ, and Guillen, Callaspo starting at 2B and Aviles presumably starting at SS the Royals are going to need Willie Bloomquist just as much as they do today. He’s going to get his at bats. There is just no way around that at this point, and he is one of the best hitters on the roster.
The loss of Crisp deals a bigger blow to the Royals as a team. They can account for his absence in the lineup and account for his absence on defense, but Coco Crisp is still a competent veteran hitter. Without his presence the Royals are simply a lesser team. Among the position players, it is now up to DeJesus, Teahen, Guillen, and even Bloomquist to lead the team forward. The other players on the team are too young (Butler, Callaspo, and Gordon), too inconsistent (Jacobs and Olivo), or just aren’t good enough (TPJ, Hernandez, Buck, and Maier) to fill that role.
When the offseason hits, the first thing the Royals need to do is buy out the club option on Crisp’s contract and let him walk. Coco Crisp, even when healthy, is not worth $8 million a year. I would suggest that Coco Crisp, even if he had been able to repeat his 2005 season, wouldn’t be worth $8 million to the Royals. The fact of the matter is that Coco Crisp at this point in his career is not appreciably better than David DeJesus and Mark Teahen. If the Royals are going to get serious about competing, even if it is just to compete in the AL Central, they need to sign a position player that is actually significantly better than DeJesus and Teahen. Coco Crisp, as outlined above is little more than an average major league player who has already played the best baseball of his career. Taking the $500,000 buyout off what they are paying him this season leaves the Royals with $5.25 million to work with in the offseason even if they don’t increase the ML payroll for 2010 beyond its current 2009 level.