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Coco Crisp & His Unsustainable Power Surge

Posted By J.P. Breen On September 20, 2013 @ 11:15 am In Outfielders | 9 Comments

Despite being 33 years old, Athletics outfielder Coco Crisp is putting together his best fantasy season since his time with Cleveland in 2004 and 2005. He swatted his 21st home run of the season last night and is one of only eight players who have stolen at least 19 bases and collected at least 20 home runs.

# Player Team HR SB
1 Carlos Gomez Brewers 21 36
2 Mike Trout Angels 26 33
3 Andrew McCutchen Pirates 20 27
4 Carlos Gonzalez Rockies 26 21
5 Hunter Pence Giants 25 21
6 Will Venable Padres 22 20
7 Ian Desmond Nationals 20 19
8 Coco Crisp Athletics 21 19

Interestingly, only one of those players, Ian Desmond, is not an outfielder. But Coco Crisp is probably the most unexpected name on that list. Sure, Will Venable is rather surprising, but he’s more fulfilling what many fantasy owners always hoped he would become. Crisp is wholly different. He’s never hit 20+ home runs in a single season. He’s never posted an ISO north of .165 — and even that came nine seasons ago in 2005.

It feels unsatisfying to argue a player cannot do something again because they’ve never previously accomplished that feat. Obviously, track record matters, and Crisp has 11 full seasons under his belt. That makes the lone 20+ HR season even more of an outlier. But there are some things to like about what Crisp is doing.

The veteran outfielder isn’t showing anything different in terms of plate discipline. His numbers are all hovering around his career norms. His batted-ball profile has slightly changed, though. His 40.7% ground-ball rate is the lowest of his career, while his 39.7% fly-ball rate is the highest of his career. Similarly, his 1.02 GB/FB ratio is the lowest it’s ever been. He’s thus putting more baseballs in the air and giving himself more chances to hit home runs. When analyzing home run spikes, that matters, as we’ve seen players like Carlos Gomez sustain power surges through getting the baseball off the ground more often.

He’s also seemingly found something from the left side of the plate. Throughout his career, his platoon splits have been roughly even. He owns a career .136 ISO against righties as a left-handed hitter and a career .144 ISO against lefties as a right-handed hitter. His career wOBAs from each side of the plate are only nine points apart, as well. This year, though, he’s found much more power from the left side with 15 of his 21 home runs coming as a left-handed hitter. Not surprisingly, his fly-ball rate is 41.2% as a lefty, and remember his composite 39.7% fly-ball rate on the season is already a career high.

All of this is great. He’s getting the baseball in the air more often — especially as a left-handed hitter — and it’s resulted in a home run binge. That’s where the good news stops. While it certainly makes sense that a player would hit more home runs with more fly balls, it also matters what happens when those fly balls are in the air. His 12.5% HR/FB ratio is the highest of his career and is likely due for some regression. More importantly, though, Crisp will have a difficult time replicating this season’s power numbers because in comparison to other home run hitters, he simply hasn’t hit his fly balls very far.

ESPN’s Hit Tracker calculates “true distance” and has a feature in which it averages that true distance for players who have launched at least 17 home runs this season. Coco Crisp ranks dead last on the list — and it’s surprising how much of a gap exists between him and the next-lowest player.

Player Team Avg Distance (ft)
Brandon Phillips Reds 388.9
Kyle Seager Mariners 388.2
Justin Smoak Mariners 388.2
Raul Ibanez Mariners 387.4
Domonic Brown Phillies 386.8
J.J. Hardy Orioles 384.9
Matt Joyce Rays 384.6
Jason Kipnis Indians 383.4
Brian Dozier Twins 383.1
Coco Crisp Athletics 369.5

That’s a major gap, and it becomes even more pronounced when comparing Crisp to guys at the top of the list, such as Mike Trout (419.0 ft) and Justin Upton (417.0 ft). On average, Crisp is hitting his home runs 50-feet shorter than Trout. With all that in mind, hitting 20+ home runs doesn’t seem sustainable when projecting his power total for the 2014 season.

Continuing to look forward to next season, Crisp can still be a useful fantasy contributor. He could reach double-digit homers and remains a safe bet for 20+ stolen bases. The batting average appears to have stagnated in the .255-.265 range, but he has finally become a good source of runs since he’s locked down the leadoff role this year. If that leadoff role extends into the 2014 season, he possesses an outside shot to reach 100 runs if he can get on base a little more.

But be careful not to overreach on Crisp. He’ll likely be overvalued because of his power surge in 2013. Fantasy owners can expect a season more like what he had in 2012, and he wasn’t even a top-40 outfielder in 2012. He’s a player who certainly has value. It’s just important to value him correctly when he’s likely to see his power numbers drop off in 2014.


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