August 8, 2011
Preparation Only Gets You So Far
Ed Bradley once said that he found the harder he worked, the better his luck was because he was prepared. Ben Franklin told us that diligence is the mother of good luck. Seneca told us that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. That is all fine and dandy, but any fantasy player that does not admit to luck being more than just a miniscule factor in a fantasy season is simply not being honest.
Heading into Sunday, Coco Crisp was leading baseball in stolen bases with 37 after swiping four bases in the 8-0 blowout of the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night. Crisp’s stolen base total also represents 45 percent of the Athletics’ stolen base total on the season. These are both surprising developments for a player that was coming off a career high of just 32 steals and a player that has an incredibly tough time staying healthy since the end of the 2007 season. The injury portion of his player card alone requires the use of a scrolling wheel on your mouse just to keep track of, but it is not a pretty sight. In 2008, it was hamstring strains, thumb sprains, and the flu. In 2009, it was shoulder soreness that eventually led to a torn labrum diagnosis that ended his season the day after I declined a trade offer of Edwin Jackson for Crisp in Tout Wars AL. Last season, it was a broken pinky finger, a strained chest muscle, and another broken finger ending his season.
Despite the struggles, Crisp has one of the highest stolen base totals over the past two seasons in far fewer plate appearances than the names in front of him. Still, his draft status in high stakes leagues was still rather interesting. The National Fantasy Baseball Championship players were taking Crisp well after fellow speedsters Rajai Davis and Brett Gardner. The national experts in the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) were cool on Crisp while Oakland resident Lawr Michaels was a bit more committed to Crisp in his own bidding. Meanwhile, I had him valued at $5 in a 15-team mixed keeper league, and I was less than thrilled with the prospects of keeping him having been burned in 2009 and 2010 with his struggles.
I tried in vain to trade Crisp to every team in the league, already owning Brett Gardner and Peter Bourjos and wanting to move speed for power. I ended up being stuck with Crisp, and thanks to he and Gardner, I currently sit on top of the league standings in stolen bases this season. The fact that Crisp has stayed healthy to this point in the season (knock of every piece of wood available) is just the type of luck I am talking about. It is beyond anyone’s control, no matter how much preparation one puts into their draft plans.
Looking at Crisp coming into the season, it was easy to see how most were underwhelmed with Crisp. The injury history was tough to overlook, and his skills were rather average in that he was good for a .270-ish average and would get on base 34 percent of the time. The only bit of planning one would have been wise to look at with Crisp was his Stolen Base Attempt percentage (SBA%). In his last full season in Boston, his SBA% was 18 percent, but in 2010 that jumped up to 25 percent. Bob Geren trusted Crisp enough to put him in motion often last season, and he stole 32 bases in between stints on the disabled list. This season, his SBO% is once again at 25 percent, and the pure fact that he is remaining healthy has allowed him to set a career high in stolen bases with another eight scoring periods to go. Crisp is actually on pace to steal 50 bases this season at the age of 31, which is a rare feat. Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index shows us that there are 52 instances of players stealing 50 or more bases at age 31 or older.
In 2004 and 2005, Crisp was a nice fantasy asset with more pop than speed while hitting .300, but from 2006 to 2009, he was not someone that was targeted on draft day and was thought of more as a fallback plan when other targets for stolen bases were off the board. O.com Coliseum is not helping Crisp in the power department, nor is it helping his teammates drive him in as he is unlikely to crack 80 runs scored this season despite hitting leadoff, but the stolen base production has been an extremely pleasant surprise to owners who either picked him up as a draft day bargain or were stuck with him in keeper leagues.
People were going crazy for Rajai Davis in March as he came to Toronto, and people were predicting 10+ homers and 50+ steals in a friendlier ballpark and a more aggressive (at least professed) manager in John Farrell. Davis was going 80 picks before Crisp in NFBC drafts. While I thought the love for Davis heading into draft season was over the top—and said as much in a rather lengthy discussion in the comments for this article—I still would have taken Davis and his stolen base potential over Crisp, all things being equal (as I’m sure most of you would have too). If you did not end up with Davis because of the helium his draft status was inhaling in March and ended up with Crisp based on availability, thank your lucky charms because he has delivered his draft day value and then some.
Landing those types of bargains are absolutely critical to any fantasy league title. Even the best prognosticators are going to miss on 30-35 percent of their projections, and the surprise production that a normally predictable guy like Crisp is providing this season are the types of events that are difference makers in leagues. The frustrating part is that breakouts from veterans like this are very tough to predict, and the unknowns with new management in Oakland made it tough to know whether Crisp would have the same kind of green light Geren afforded he and Rajai Davis last season. The fact that Crisp has been much better than anyone expected should be chalked up to a bit of preparation for those that looked at his stolen base attempt rate last season but with a tip of the cap to whichever lucky charm was brought to the draft table in March as well.