- FanGraphs Fantasy Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy -

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.