Extra crispy…

May 6th, 2007 → 9:00 am @

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.

A couple of hours later, Pinto added to this knowledge base by examining the probability of his putouts using last year’s probabilistic model range and found that thus far this year, “Crisp caught nine balls that weren’t caught last year” (or wouldn’t have been caught, anyway); after further parsing the data, Dave found that the vast majority of these plus catches were in the past two weeks.

Even if the above sounds like elfin to you (unless you happen to speak elfin…and yes, I’m looking at you, Eric), know this: based on a couple of weeks, Coco’s been playing significantly better defense than at any other time since he’s set up shop in Fenway. It’s hard to know what to pin this on: last year’s injuries? Discomfort on a new team? But it strikes me that, unlike an offensive tear, it’s harder to “hot” at a defensive position like centerfield, a position that requires a good read on balls, excellent athleticism, and no small sense of self-confidence. Whatever the cause, it bears watching…

Post Categories: Bill James & Coco Crisp & David Pinto & Defensive metrics

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

May 5th, 2007 → 12:44 pm @

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

Hello, I must be going

December 14th, 2006 → 9:10 am @

I know — the second time I get to reference that album! If I wasn’t dashing to catch a flight, I’d even find a link. So here’s a quick rundown: yup, as some of you know, I need to get to Boston to take a physical; if not, Simon & Schuster might not agree to release the paperback of Feeding the Monster. Oh, and also, I’ll be signing books at the Prudential Center B&N today from noon until 2; after that I’ll be running around to Boston-area bookstores signing their stock, so if you don’t make it to the Pru you’ll still have a chance to get an autographed copy. (I’ll post a full list of those stores later.) And, of course, there are those book plates

Post Categories: 2007 Offseason & Coco Crisp & Curt Schilling & Honeymoon & Jacoby Ellsbury & Kevin Youkilis & Mike Lowell & Phil Collins

More thoughts on Aramis’s and Alfonso’s pay day: Coco and Wily Mo, Matsuzaka and Drew (fine, those last two don’t rhyme)

November 20th, 2006 → 7:48 pm @

The $8 billion to Cubs paid out to Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano make a couple of things clear:

* Despite all the talk about a new, smarter generation of GMs, there are still folks who are more than willing to shell out crazy amounts of money regardless of the long-term consequences.

* Coco Crisp’s three-year, $15.5 million contract extension (with an $8 million team option for 2010) is looking a lot more attractive. How attractive? Well, as Buster Olney points out, Carlos Lee, one of the remaining big-time free agents on the market, must be salivating at the prospect of an obscene payday (Lee is already said to have a five-year, $60 million deal on the table). From ages 24-26, Lee averaged (and I’m eyeballing this), a .275 average, a .345 OBP, and a .475 slugging percentage. If you take at face-value the notion that Coco was injured last year, his 24 and 25 year old seasons average out to somewhere around .298, .345, .450. That’s $7 million more a year for 25 points of slugging percentage. Let’s say Coco does end up being a bust; it still puts the Sox’s decision in much better perspective.

* Speaking of perspective, the WMP deal — while still, considering the dearth of good pitching (to say nothing of good two-tone mullets), an occasionally painful one — makes even more sense. Here’s a guy who has the potential to be an absolute monster who’s under the Sox’s control for two more years.

* All of which offers one more illustration of why it made sense to offer up that $51.1 million posting figure for Matsuzaka. The Sox have the revenue to spend a lot on payroll, but don’t want to shell out obscene amounts for free agents who want to be signing until they’re 52 years old. They do, however, want to spend that money on 26-year old studs.

* Finally, if the Sox were really thinking about J.D. Drew as a Trot replacement, that option just got a helluva lot more expensive. It’ll be interesting to see what happens here; overpaying on dollars and years for someone like Drew would seem to go against everything the Sox have been working towards as of late; on the other hand, maybe they can get Drew at a relative bargain because of his injury history.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Alfonso Soriano & Coco Crisp & Daisuke Matsuzaka & J.D. Drew & Red Sox front office & Wily Mo Pena

Cats and dogs, living together

September 23rd, 2006 → 6:00 am @

Be honest: if, at the beginning of the year, someone held a gun to your head and asked you who the two pitchers would be to post complete games, you’d most likely have said Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling. You would most definitely not have said Julian Tavarez and Tim Wakefield. (This was likely what came to mind when thinking about Tavarez on March 30.)

And yet, those are the guys who’ve thrown the only two complete games of the season: Wakefield, more than six months ago, on April 15, and Tavarez, who worked his sinker to devastating effect while throwing a complete game, 99-pitch, 1-run gem in Toronto last night. (Tavarez was so excited about the second complete game of his career he wouldn’t shut up in the post-game, on-field interview.) Tavarez is signed for next year (for around $3 million), and his end-of-season tenure as a starter (he’s now 2-0 since moving to the rotation) makes him more valuable in a world where Chris Benson commands ten of millions of dollars; it also makes him more attractive as a trading chip, yet one more reason this offseason should be interesting.

Lots of other news out of the Sox last night:

* This column by Gordon Edes is gonna cause lots of talk show chatter. The essence of it is that Manny’s a quitter and a punk and has let his teammates down by refusing the play hurt. (Things like this will get more attention than the remaining games; as of 5:30 AM, it’s leading the Red Sox page on the Globe‘s site. The game story is only alluded to in a caption.) I did another reading last night in Burlington (MA, not VT), and was asked — as I almost am — why the media hates Manny; Edes’ piece isn’t going to help my contention that they don’t. The nut graf: “Do you suppose that 20 years from now, Ramírez will feel even the slightest bit of remorse for the way he quit on his Red Sox teammates in 2006, refusing to honor the code that is an article of faith for Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell, Curt Schilling and Coco Crisp, Trot Nixon and Alex Gonzalez, and Mark Loretta — even the now-departed fat man, David Wells — that you do all within your power to play hurt.” The answer to that rhetorical question is, of course, no. But if you look at the playing-in-pain performances of the above list, it’s unclear these warriors were doing the Sox any favors by suiting up while dinged up. Manny’s always had a low pain threshold; he’s also always been a bit flakey. But he also loves to play; you don’t rack up season after season of 155 games because you’re looking for time off. He is in some pain; other players would likely play through that pain; Manny won’t. The Sox’s baseball operations staff isn’t particularly upset by this: Manny played hard for most of the season. What’s of much more concern is the recent appearance of Manny’s agent in Boston. If you guessed that he was here to, once again, relay Manny’s late-season request for an off-season trade, you’d be right. (I think Edes is one of the best reporters, and one of the best writers, working the beat today. His column — which didn’t contain a single quote — gets to one of my pet peeves: the fact that sports writers are, uniquely given the latitude to regularly elide from the role of reporter to that of columnist. But enough of my media musings for now.)

* Speaking of dinged up, it turns out there was a good reason Coco looked like a shell of himself at the plate: on Monday, he’ll have surgery in which a pin or a screw will likely be inserted in his left index finger. This is for an injury Crisp suffered on April 8.

* Notice how devastating Keith Foulke’s split fingered fastball was on Thursday? That was as well as he’s ever thrown that pitch, and Foulke knew it, too. His change still isn’t as sharp as it was in ’04 — or any of the years before — but he has his confidence and his swagger back, and last night he was up and throwing in the eighth; if Francona hadn’t let Tavarez go for the complete game, Foulke would have appeared for the third night in a row. I think we’re seeing an audition for the role of the Red Sox’s 2007 closer… (One thing I guarantee is that Matt Clement — a guy with control issues and self-confidence issues who takes a long time to warm up — will absolutely not, under any circumstances, be closing games next year.)

Post Categories: Coco Crisp & Gordon Edes & Julian Tavarez & Keith Foulke & Manny Ramirez

And then there was one: Boston Red Sox, Job edition

August 30th, 2006 → 4:41 pm @

As in: one position player playing where he played on Opening Day. That’s right, folks: Coco injured himself last night on that diving catch. So maybe we don’t want him to make quite so many great plays in the outfield after all. Let’s hope no one else joins the ranks of the walking wounded today; there’s only one guy — and that’s not a misprint — on the bench: defensive specialist, er, immobile catcher Javy Lopez. (There are only 20 guys total in uniform today (21 if you include Coco), with Wells sent back East to “prepare” for his “start” and Papi, Manny, and WMP making appearances at Boston-area hospitals.) If anyone else goes down, we might see a Foulke to Beckett to Timlin DP combo by the end of the afternoon.

(But hey, Schilling did make it to 3000 K’s, although he whiffed Nick Swisher and not Milton Bradley as I’d predicted. I’m glad he got that, because it sure doesn’t look like he’ll get the win: the Sox are trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the third, and with three players in the lineup hitting below the Mendoza line, I can’t imagine these guys are up to making up any big defecits. Or any defecits, for that matter.)

Post Categories: Coco Crisp & Curt Schilling & Injuries

Take a deep breath (Searching for positives edition)

August 30th, 2006 → 12:19 pm @

Well, it hasn’t been a good month. For real. To wit:

* The Sox record of 8-20 is the worst single-month record since John Henry and Tom Werner bought the team.
* The team has lost 12 of its last 14 games on the road, the worst stretch since 2001. (You remember 2001, right? Jimy Williams, Dan Duquette, and Carl Everett? Good times.)
* They Old Towne Team has lost 13 of its last 16 and 18 of its last 24 games. August is only the second time the Sox have lost more than 20 games in a month since 1966, and the first time the team’s had three losing streaks of five or more games in a single month since 1985. (On the overly optimistic side, that means that if precedent holds, Boston should be back in the Series next year.) Needless to say, the team has the worst record in baseball over the last month.
* August breaks a streak of 13 straight months of over-.500 ball.

It’s not likely to get better anytime soon: there’s not a day off until September 7, and 19 of the last 30 games are versus winning teams. If only the Sox could limit their games for the rest of the season to NL teams. And the Orioles.

Let’s see, what else? Four members of the starting nine are on the DL, and another — who happens to be the best righthanded batter of the past decade — is in the hospital for tests. David Ortiz, the best thing to happen to Boston baseball in a long while, has spent two nights over the past 10 days in Mass General due to an irregular heartbeat. (As Mark Loretta said yesterday, “In all my years you’ve seen injuries and you talk about how every team has injuries, but we’re well beyond that stage.”) The team’s best pitcher over the last month has a body that resembles Bill James‘s more than it does Billy Beane‘s…and he might be traded in the next 30 hours. The active roster is almost unrecognizable. Kyle Snyder, Bryan Corey, Mike Burns, Javy Lopez, Dustin Pedroia, Carlos Pena, Eric Hinske…is this the Red Sox or a reclamation league?

Yup, it’s bad. I’ll take a deeper look at all of this in the next couple of days, but right now I need to head out to an Indian restaurant for lunch (which I’m sure will put me in an even better mood).

In the meantime — and I know, this will be hard — I’ll seek out things to look forward to. Last night, Coco made a helluva catch to rob former clubhouse snake Jay Payton of a hit, which was doubly satisfying; maybe he’ll have some more of these and less of these. I love watching Pedroia. When Carlos Pena fell, headfirst, into the stands in the early innings of his first MLB game of the year, I held my breath — please, god, not another guy on the DL — but I also was weirdly heartened by that type of effort. Hopefully Ortiz will be okay and we can go back to watching him obliterate Jimmie Foxx’s Red Sox single-season HR record (50, 1938). Regardless of whether he has a chance to notch up any more saves this year, Papelbon is a the best baby-faced bulldog anyone’s seen in a while. It’s an open question as to whether the Sox will have more hits than Schilling will have strikeouts in tonight’s game, but Curt will hit 3,000 K’s. And after holding things together with spit and luck, the Sox are, finally, a team with nothing to lose. (Except for games, I mean.) If they pull of some weird, total eclipse string of wins it’ll be a comeback of 2004 proportions. And if not, well, that’s pretty much expected at this point.

So for those of you going to Thursday’s game, do a solid and give these guys a standing O. You can’t blame any of the guys who’ll take the field for what’s been happening, from Cora to Loretta to Youks to Lowell. If Manny and Ortiz (and WMP) come back, you sure as hell can’t blame them, either. (Fine: Coco’s been a disappointment. But if you boo him he might cry. And you don’t want to see him cry.) (You can boo Mike Timlin, but only once, and only for blowing all those games and making those idiotic comments about the offense. After that you need to think back to what he did for this team in ’03, ’04, and ’05.)

I’m not kidding. Give them a standing O. Trust me, you’ll feel better, both about the team and about yourself. We can — and I’m sure we will — go back to complaining and analyzing what went wrong soon enough.

Post Categories: Coco Crisp & Curt Schilling & Injuries