Bill James: Say hello to CC…this year’s AG? The secret of the Sox’s success…

May 5th, 2007 → 12:44 pm @ // 12 Comments

Last year, lots of time was spent discussing Alex Gonzalez’s defense…and indeed, in the several decades I’ve been watching Red Sox baseball, I’d never seen a shortstop make so many challenging plays look effortless. (I’m not the most trained viewer, but at times Gonzalez’s grace reminded me a bit of the beauty that was Carlos Beltran when he patrolled center field for the Royals.) A-Gon was, in the field, a sort of anti-Jeter, who should get some kind of lifetime award for making routine plays looking insanely difficult.

Coco Crisp, on the other hand, received a fair amount of criticism for his play. Outside of at least one mind-blowing, game-saving, head-first diving catch, he looked a little lost (which mirrored how he looked at the plate). In late August, Baseball Think Factory rated him dead last among AL center fielders (tied, oddly enough, with Gary Matthews Jr., who also made an all-time highlight reel grab in early July); around the same time, ESPN’s Zone Ratings also had him at the bottom of the heap.

Things have looked different this year. Coco’s been on a bit of a hot streak at the plate — a fact that’s been much discussed. He’s also been on a bit of a hot streak in the field. I’ve seen this mentioned a couple of times in the internetoblogosphere, but it hasn’t gotten much mention elsewhere.

That’s about to change. This morning, Bill James wrote in an email, “It seems to me that the BIGGEST factor in our team’s performance over the last week or so has been that Coco has been just unbelievable in center field…he’s just catching EVERYTHING that looks like it might be trouble. There’s been no gap in right center, no gap in left center, nothing getting over his head and nothing has been landing in front of him.” Want an example? Take the ninth inning of last night’s game. The first batter Papelbon faced was Justin Morneau, who crushed a ball to dead center. It could have headed out…except Crisp made a nice play at the fence. It didn’t look spectacular, but it sure as shit had a huge impact. If Morneau’s ball had been a four-bagger, suddenly Pap’s given up two home runs in his last two outings; Okajima is on ice for the night; and Romero and Donnelly are already out of the game. Oh, and now it’s a one-run game with no outs. (If the Sox had lost the game, that arguably would have been the least of their problems, because the entire region would have been gripped in a frenzy of Papelbon-induced panic. Also, Tim Wakefield might have shot himself in the head due to lack-of-run-support induced insanity.)

As Bill wrote, “It’s not that he’s been making spectacular catches; it’s that he’s been making plays that had me scared shitless look they were no problem.” Sort of like A-Gon did last year. The thing is, nobody expected A-Gon to have anything but a noodle bat. That’s not the case with CC; perhaps that’s why his performance has gotten little-to-no recognition.

At least not from the hoi polloi; the same obviously isn’t true on Yawkey Way. “If Coco had been 11-for-20 with the bat over the last week, everybody would be talking about that,” Bill wrote in his email. “If he’d had a few good games as a reliever, like Okajima, everybody would be talking about that. But he’s just had this unbelievable streak in center field, and…nobody has noticed. Nothing about it in the papers, guys on TV haven’t said anything about it (that I’ve heard), radio guys haven’t said anything that I’ve heard. I tried to find his defense day-by-day to see how many putouts he has had in the last week, and I couldn’t even find THAT, let alone some up-to-date information about how many catches he’s made that were difficult plays that could have killed us.” (Baseball Musings author David Pinto points out that Crisp currently has a centerfield rating of 123 from Baseball Prospective, which translates into Crisp being about 38 runs better than average over the course of a 162-game season.)

It’ll be interesting to watch how this plays out, both on the field (is the first month of the season an accurate indicator of Coco’s true talent level in the field?) and in the press. Stay tuned…


Post Categories: Bill James & Coco Crisp & Defensive metrics

12 Comments → “Bill James: Say hello to CC…this year’s AG? The secret of the Sox’s success…”


  1. jtredsox5

    6 years ago

    He certainly has been amazing in the field–I’ve actually thought to myself, “what happened to the guy from last year who always took the LONGEST route possible to catch a fly ball?” He’s looked fast, confident, and simply vacuum-like!

    On another note, I think David Pinto’s PMR actually had Crisp a few runs above average last year in CF. Might want to check that out.

    Reply

  2. mtalinm

    6 years ago

    his comparables (both fielding and batting) vs. JD are looking better and better by the game.

    Reply

  3. mtalinm

    6 years ago

    his comparables (both fielding and batting) vs. JD are looking better and better by the game. and I’m a WMP fan…

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  4. HFXBOB

    6 years ago

    I’ve been thinking from the start that Crisp was a key to the fortunes of the team this year. He seemed to be the guy who could go either way in a big way, and if he went good it would be a huge boost. The hit he had against Rivera must have been a real breakthrough for his confidence with the stick. But yeah, what he’s been doing with the glove has gotten some attention but obviously not enough.

    And does anybody have any sort of plausible theory as to why Wakefield continues to get such miserable run support? It’s really getting to be a weird phenomenon. I have to think there’s some sort of psychological thing going on, that the offence is very aware of the trend and it puts pressure on them when he pitches. Does that make any sense? I dunno. Maybe it’s just the presence of Mirabelli in the lineup casting a pall over everyone.

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  5. [...] More on Coco’s defensive proficiency and his effect on the Sox: yesterday, Baseball Musings’ David Pinto took a more statistically-minded look at the number of plays CC has been making in the field and found that, over the previous seven games, Coco’s been averaging about five putouts per game, compared to about three per game in his first 15 starts of the year. As Pinto points out, there’s not a lot of context there; a chart Pinto puts together goes a good way towards providing that context…and does, indeed, show that, as Bill James observed, Coco’s pulling down everything hit anywhere near him. [...]

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  6. [...] Now that Coco Crisp has silenced his critics by playing incredible defense and seemingly hitting better (which isn’t supported by the facts, but he did go on a tear for a bit), the critics have been casting about for a new goat on the Red Sox. [...]

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  7. [...] So in here we sit on April 14th after the first home stand, and fans are revolting in the bleachers in center at Fenway against Crisp and he isn’t doing anything to prove them wrong. But then, what do you know, he quietly starts turning it around. Before we get to the details, I think it’s important to make note of a couple of people around the blogosphere who not only noticed the signs of Coco’s “resurgence”, but also put it out there. I’m not sure if the mainstream media was ready to gamble on a feel good Coco story and risk the backlash of latent negative fan opinion. But to his credit, Seth Mnookin prompted by an email from Bill James put it out there; Coco was more than turning it around, he was making it happen. This morning, Bill James wrote in an email, “It seems to me that the BIGGEST factor in our team’s performance over the last week or so has been that Coco has been just unbelievable in center field…he’s just catching EVERYTHING that looks like it might be trouble. There’s been no gap in right center, no gap in left center, nothing getting over his head and nothing has been landing in front of him.” [...]

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  8. [...] We all know what Crisp brings to the table offensively: not much (.236/.289/.321). He’s simply not viable, and he’s lost whatever offense he had in Cleveland. However, he’s cost-controlled at $15.5 million through 2009, and he’s been quite the defensive whiz this year. To expound on that link (seriously, click it), here are the numbers for the most popular defensive metrics out there: fielding percentage, range factor and zone rating: [...]

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  9. [...] * Manny’s two home runs were great to see, but even better was the authority with which he was swinging the bat. He was back to the showing off perhaps the most beautiful swing in the game. Historically, when he finds that swing, he doesn’t lose it for a while. Ortiz, on the other hand, still looks like he’s swinging from his heels too much, and he’s also beginning to look over anxious. Yesterday’s two ground-rule doubles were great, don’t get me wrong…but they weren’t the kind of majestic drives we’ve come to expect from Papi. * JDD continues to miss badly on some pitches, but the balls he is hitting, he’s hit squarely and with authority. All season I’ve been a guy who’s preached patience with Drew; you don’t put up the kind of track record he does and suddenly forget how to play ball. Coco looks much more confident at the plate too, and he continues to play good-to-great center field. (Lugo is a whole other story; he looked desperate and confused.) [...]

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  10. [...] But what’s made Crisp the first half’s MVP is what he’s doing on defense. This is something I’ve been paying attention to since May, when Bill James wrote that the Sox’s surge happened at precisely the same time that Coco became the best center fielder since Micky Mantle. As Bill wrote, “It seems to me that the BIGGEST factor in our team’s performance over the last week or so has been that Coco has been just unbelievable in center field…he’s just catching EVERYTHING that looks like it might be trouble. There’s been no gap in right center, no gap in left center, nothing getting over his head and nothing has been landing in front of him.” [...]

    Reply
  11. [...] This year, the highlight reel catches have continued, but he seems to be improving in center field. A lot. Apparently, Bill James has been raving about his defense, and Seth Mnookin has officially named him the Red Sox first-half MVP. Baseball Musings has done an analysis on Crisp’s defense, and has quantitatively determined that he is significantly better this year than last year. [...]

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  12. [...] In other news, I’m going to address defense once again.  I’m dumbfounded in how little value the Long Ball Loonies have for it.  The amazing thing is…  their icon, their hero, Bill James, who started the revolution, has enormous value for defense.  Even just this year, he wrote on how one Red Sox player’s defense had a dramatic effect on overall team performance.  Here’s a link and some highlights: [...]

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