Some of you may have noticed that my postings have been a bit, well, nonexistent as of late. I won’t bore you with the vagaries of how I spend my days; suffice to say that I apologize. I’ll try to be better.
One thing I’ve especially wanted to do is provide some sort of midseason report card; if you regularly read the papers’ Sox coverage, it’s the type of thing you’ve been getting a lot of already. This is going to be a bit different; for one thing, I’m not going to evaluate each and every player (along with the manager, coaches, and members of the front office) — instead, I’ll just anoint the first half’s valedictorian. Another difference: it’s not going to be Okajima, or Beckett, or Lowell, or Youkilis, or even everyone’s favorite muppet, Pedroia.
Nope: it’s Coco Crisp, the man Tony Massarotti gave a D+ in his report card. Now, sure, a .322 OBP is not what anyone would want from someone who’s supposed to be a potent offensive weapon, to say nothing a .709 OPS. In fact, none of his offensive stats are anything to write home about (if, that is, we lived in a world in which people still wrote letters). There are signs, however, that he’s turning that around: he’s been on an absolute tear since the middle of June, and since that 3-HR series in Atlanta, he’s been arguably the Sox’s most potent offensive force.
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 teamâ€šÃ„Ã´s performance over the last week or so has been that Coco has been just unbelievable in center fieldâ€šÃ„Â¶heâ€šÃ„Ã´s just catching EVERYTHING that looks like it might be trouble. Thereâ€šÃ„Ã´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.”
That stretch of defensive excellence didn’t let up, and there’s good reason to hope that Coco’s has discovered something (or made a Robert Johnsonesque deal with the devil) that’s allowed him to go from appearing lost to playing above virtually everyone else in baseball. This has been valuable for any number of reasons: first, and most obviously, because he’s saved a lot of hits. He’s also given the corner outfielders more freedom to cheat out. Finally — and this is crucial — he’s given pitchers the confidence to pitch to contact when need be; they know that if a ball is hit anywhere near to him, he’ll come up with it. My favorite example of this also came in that Atlanta series, when Hudson smoked a sinking line drive to left-center (an inning after Beckett had a shot of his own, incidentally). Coco seemed to materialize out of nowhere to snare the ball. It was a great play, obviously, but what was most telling was the fact that Alex Cora, playing shortstop, held up a congratulatory fist even before Coco had made the catch. That’s a kind of Bird-like confidence (I know the analogy isn’t exact). Afterwards, when Beckett told reporters he constantly had to re-evaluate which of CC’s catches were the most impressive, you got the sense that this is a guy who could be having a Lugo-like season at the plate and he’d still be valuable.
So there you have it. Call me crazy, but I’m handing Coco my 2007 first half MVP award. Congrats, you rascal you.