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

Stastical proof that watching Coco in center field is about as much fun as doing wasabi snooters

August 28th, 2006 → 4:15 pm @

Chris Dial over at Baseball Think Factory has computed the defensive rankings for all AL players who’ve played a minimum of 500 innings. And guess what? Among center fielders, Coco comes in dead last, holding down the bottom of the order with Texas’s Gary Matthews, Jr. (Just a coincidence, but one that’s fun to point out: within a couple of days, Crisp (on June 29) and Matthews (on July 31) made two of the most memorable catches of the year.)

Crisp, according to BTF, will cost the Sox about 11 runs over the course of 150 games. This assessment is more or less backed up by ESPN’s Zone Ratings, which ranks Crisp last among regular center fielders.

Of course, BTF’s rankings, like all defensive metrics, must be taken with a grain of salt. For all the energy put into finding new ways to collect and analyze fielding data, no one has yet come up with a good way to factor Fenway’s Wall, resulting in negatively skewed numbers for any Boston left fielder. (Manny’s bad, sure…but not 41 runs bad.) In John Dewan’s fascinating Fielding Bible (worth getting just for Bill James’s essay on why Derek Jeter may be the worst fielding shortstop in history), Crisp is ranked as the second best left fielder in all of baseball for 2005 (when he played left for the Indians), and the second best in 3-year plus/minus rankings (behind Carl Crawford). And in this year’s BTF rankings, Mike Lowell comes out on top among AL third basemen, while A-Rod is dead last. Lowell’s had a good year, and his baby-soft hands and deadly accurate arm makes for fun viewing, but his range is pretty miserable. A-Rod’s made a boatload of errors, but his range is decent to good. I can buy Ichiro as the league’s best right fielder…but Vlad, hobbled as he is, as second worst? Behind Trot? (The Fielding Bible ranked Trot as the best right fielder in baseball last year and the second bet over the last three years; this, I suspect, has as much to do with Fenway’s expansive right field as Manny’s negative numbers have to do with the truncated left field.)

Anyway. Check it out. It’ll be more fun than counting down the hours to tonight’s game.

Post Categories: Coco Crisp & Defensive metrics & oblique references to Jackass