Coco Crisp Is Surprisingly Valuable

Earlier this month, I noticed something fun while playing around with the “last calendar year” sort in the FanGraphs leaderboards:

Pujols is hardly what he once was, but still. Coco Crisp!

Crisp’s been pretty hot over the last week, and as the “last calendar year” timeframe has moved on to no longer include a brief cold spell from last June, Crisp looks even better — he’s 20th in baseball in wOBA, right in between Carlos Gonzalez & Carlos Santana. That’s pretty impressive company, and it only looks better when you go by WAR, where he sits at 17th.

You look at the other names on that list, and they make sense. There’s Miguel Cabrera, and Andrew McCutchen, Joey Votto, Robinson Cano, and so on. They’re the elite class of the game. Crisp, meanwhile, turns 34 this fall. He was once traded straight up for reliever Ramon Ramirez, who was DFA’d this week. (He was also once traded for Chuck Finley, which is notable in no other way than it allows me to work Chuck Finley into a column.) He wasn’t even guaranteed regular playing time in an Oakland outfield which added Chris Young to Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, & Seth Smith.

And now, suddenly, he’s a star, one who ranks among the top 15 fantasy outfielders in ESPN’s Player Rater?

While it’s more than unlikely Crisp has suddenly found a new true talent level at his age, this isn’t a BABIP fantasy, and it’s probably important to remember that he’s been a little underrated for years. Crisp has four different three-win seasons under his belt, peaking at 5.1 WAR in 2004, but he was injured in 2009 and missed much of the first half of 2010 as he dealt with injuries to his shoulder, fingers, and intercostal.

Finally healthy again in 2011, he managed to steal a career-high 49 bases, but offset that with one of his worst years by most other metrics; last year brought 39 steals and a slash line that was almost exactly around his career averages.

Now, Crisp has changed his game, showing patience and contact like never before. His 12.9% walk rate is very nearly a career high; his 7.9% strikeout rate is a career-low, and by a lot. (He’d never been below 10% before.) Unsurprisingly, he’s making more contact than ever, but that’s compounded by a career-low swing rate. Swing less, miss less, and don’t be surprised when strikeout rates fall.

As Crisp’s patience has improved with age, his defense has suffered, though that’s not really a concern for fantasy players. But he’s still contributing on the base paths with 13 steals; in fact, since 2010, only three players have more swipes than the 133 Crisp has. Those three players — Juan Pierre, Michael Bourn, & Rajai Davis — have combined for 35 homers, which is what Crisp’s total on his own.

On speed alone, Crisp has been a viable fantasy option for a while, even if he’s rarely been a big name in the roto world. Throw in the added power and offensive production we’re seeing this year, and his position leading off daily for one of the better run-scoring teams in the American League, and Crisp is suddenly one of the better outfield options around.

Obviously, he’s not available on the waiver wire in any reputable league. But considering how little batted-ball luck has gone into this and the fact that Crisp is neither a player bursting out from out-of-nowhere nor one with a lot of name credibility, he’s a pretty solid choice to target from those who may not realize just how valuable he’s been.


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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times site, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.

15 Responses to “Coco Crisp Is Surprisingly Valuable”

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  1. Forrest Gumption says:

    2.2 WAR in 48 games = 7.4 WAR over 162. Wow!

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  2. hernandez17 says:

    Yeah this guy is a stud. Keep waiting for the wheels to come off in ottoneu LW league, and he just keeps doing his thing. Amazing.

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  3. TheTheory says:

    When another owner drafted Coco (209 overall), I remarked that Crisp had surprising pop to go with the speed. The owner smirked and said, “minimal pop”. Said owner also dropped him three days later to take a flier on Bruce Rondon.

    Anyway, I’ve only owned him for about a month–I needed an outfielder about the time he was coming back from his injury. And every time Crisp hits a home run I smirk right back at that owner.

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    • Pops says:

      Not bad for a waiver wire pickup in my competitive ten team home league. His injury history scares me, but can you really have to be pleased with the results when he suits up.

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  4. pudieron89 says:

    Only issue is he seems to be made of glass again this season. Already one stint on the DL with a hammy, and he’s sat a couple other times for multigame periods. Thought he had embarked on another one until he made a 2-for-2 appearance in the 18 inning marathon yesterday.

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  5. Matt says:

    I love articles on Coco Crisp, and this one would be even better with pictures of his various hairdos. A Crisp hair gif request, please.

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  6. Clifford says:

    I’ve been arguing with guys in my league for almost 2 years now that Crisp is one of the most underrated players in all of fantasy baseball. Look at his numbers since the start of last season…

    169 GP, 647 ABs, .271, 110 runs, 19 HR, 70 RBI, and 52 SB

    Furthermore, look at his 162-game pace this year compared to Player X…

    Crisp: .297, 139 runs, 46 doubles, 26 HR, 79 RBI, and 43 SB

    Player X: .297, 115 runs, 49 doubles, 29 HR, 103 RBI and 34 SB

    Pretty close, huh? Player X would be one, Mike Trout.

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  7. Bab says:

    Damn I’ve been harping on this for what seems like years. Crisp might be the best player in the MLB who has never been voted to an ASG. Seriously, look at the 2005 AL selections – Posednik over Crisp’s 5 WAR season with CLE? Doesn’t look wise in retrospect.

    Small error — Crisp’s playing time in CF was never really in doubt. He’s a personal favorite of Beane & Melvin and the A’s actually moved Cespedes to LF because Crisp was still so solid in CF.

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  8. The Great Childish Bambino says:

    I’ve been saying it since last year and have only gotten intense criticism and laughed at by my league-mates. No one understood my affinity for him.. But Coco Crisp is awesome and extremely underrated.. When healthy, this guy is a top outfielder. Keep up the good work Coco! #TeamCoco

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  9. Frank says:

    Crisp belted out 5 home runs early in the season. I needed speed so I targeted him. I offered Corbin for Crisp straight up. The other owner rejected. Shortly after Crisp got hurt. In the middle of his DL stint I offered a then red hot Jeremy Guthrie for Crisp and the owner accepted. I now have Crisp, Corbin, and the other fantasy owner’s tears.

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  10. baycommuter says:

    I love Coco as a hitter (especially from the left side), baserunner and fielder, but there is a real weakness. Calling him noodle-armed is an insult to good pasta. He caught a ball in Game 2 against Detroit last year that Cespedes could have grabbed just as easily and the runner at first promptly took second, and later scored. May have cost the A’s the series.

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  11. John M says:

    I traded him for D.Ortiz straight up earlier in the season just as Ortiz came off the DL red hot and just before Coco went on the DL. At the time the guy to whom I traded Coco thought he got slaughtered in the deal, but so far it has evened out remarkably. (I needed more power and RBIs, he needed steals and runs) In hindsight, maybe I should have traded him Austin Jackson instead. :/

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  12. DBA455 says:

    Since this article was written, Crisp has put together 200+ PAs … and a .194/.262/.247 slash line.

    Sure, perhaps he’s had some bad luck in there – but it’s probably a good reminder than when a guy has 4,000+ PAs in the book, even a hot year may be too small of a sample size to get excited about.

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