Following the 2005 season the Red Sox made a move that, while unpopular, appeared to benefit them in the long run. Beloved member of the 2004 World Championship team, Johnny Damon hit free agency. He had spent four mostly solid years in Boston, though 2004 was the clear highlight (.373 wOBA). After negotiations led to a less than desired offer from the Sox, Damon signed a four-year, $51 million contract with the Yankees.
With Damon out of the picture, the Red Sox moved onto another target — a younger player who perhaps represented the potential of a young Damon. And so they traded Edgar Renteria, after one terrible season, to the Braves for top prospect Andy Marte, whom they then flipped to the Indians for Coco Crisp. Given Crisp’s track record at the time, it was hard to find fault with the move.
During his time with the Indians, Crisp compiled a .287/.332/.424 line, which was right around league average. His power wasn’t overwhelming, but a .137 ISO is hardly terrible for a center fielder. Better yet, it was trending upward, going from .096 in his first two seasons to .149 in his third and then to .165 in his fourth. In his four years at Fenway Damon compiled a .146 ISO. Crisp was also a pull-heavy hitter from the left side in 2005, which figured to play well at Fenway Park. The fit seemed to be perfect. That he was just 26 years old made things sweet — so sweet, in fact, that the Sox signed him to a three-year, $15.5 million contract, with an $8 million option, during the first month of the 2006 season.
In that first month he got off to a great start, going 8 for 24 with a double, a triple, and two walks in his first five games. That’s when injury struck. Crisp fractured his left index finger while sliding into third base on a steal attempt, which cost him almost two months. The rest of the season didn’t go well at all, as he hit .260/.313/.380 in his remaining 426 PA (.120 ISO). In his next two seasons he produced similarly poor power numbers, leaving him with a .271/.330/.390 (.119 ISO) during his time with the Red Sox. That’s not exactly what they expected when they traded for a 26-year-old who was entering his prime.
After the 2008 season the Red Sox had little use for Crisp. They had a young center fielder in Jacoby Ellsbury who they thought was not only better than Crisp, but was also much cheaper. In exchange for Crisp’s one remaining guaranteed year, the Sox got Ramon Ramirez from the Royals. The Royals, surprisingly, got something of a resurgent Crisp.
It’s hard to say anything definitive about Crisp’s first year in Kansas City, since he came to the plate only 215 times. On June 14 the Royals placed him on the DL with a sore right shoulder, and he didn’t make another appearance all year. His numbers in general weren’t anything special — .228/.336/.378 — but one thing did stand out. His power had come back somewhat. He collected just 41 hits on the season, but 16 of them were for extra bases, which led to a .150 ISO. At the time there was no statistical way to read into that. That is, any low-power hitter can go on a 200-PA tear where he sports a .150 ISO. But with Crisp maybe there was something to it. After all, he always had the potential.
In 2010 Crisp headed to Oakland, and again he spent time on the disabled list. He started the year on the shelf with a broken pinky — beware the hand injury. That didn’t make the A’s signing look very smart. But Crisp made it back by late May, only to hit the DL again, after just two games, with a strained chest muscle. He finally made his way back for good on June 22, and in his second plate appearance he clubbed a home run. Again, you couldn’t take it as a sign of things to come, but in a way it ended up being the case. Crisp hit .278/.344/.437 (.159 ISO), and the A’s picked up his 2011 option.
This year Crisp, just 31 years old, is at it again, hitting .279/.308/.429. In this morning’s TMA I said that Crisp’s start was slow, looking mainly at his OBP. One commenter pointed to his wRC+, 114 vs. 98 for his career, as a counterpoint. That’s when I saw that he again had a .150 ISO. At this point Crisp has about a season’s worth of PA since leaving Boston: 159 games and 690 PA. In that time he has hit .264/.333/.418, good for a .154 ISO. That is almost identical to the mark that he produced during his final two years in Cleveland.
Why did Crisp experience a power failure in Boston? Was it the pressure of the environment? The AL East? The ballpark? It sounds as though this is an instance where providing a reason for the oddity might defy statistics. It’s a shame, too. Crisp was a player on the rise, heading to a winning team in a hitter-friendly ballpark. Everything seemed to be in place for his success. The story ends well, of course, as Crisp has been productive in his years post-Boston. He might not be an elite center fielder — his wRC+ ranks 13th among his peers — but he has returned to being a useful player. After his stint in Boston, it didn’t seem as though that was very likely.
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