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June 13, 2007
Bobby Crosby had some big shoes to fill when he was first brought up to the Athletics to take over at shortstop. Miguel Tejada-the Most Valuable Player award winner and a productive player for Oakland over the years-had jumped ship to sign with Baltimore, and Crosby was given the job of replacing him after a breakout year in Triple-A. Despite some initial promise, Crosby has yet to really put it together, and is worse off than ever during the current season. What went wrong with Crosby, or was there never really anything going right in the first place?
Robert Edward Crosby, son of former major leaguer Ed Crosby, was drafted by the Oakland Athletics out of Long Beach State University back in 2001. This was the second time he was chosen, as the Anaheim Angels had picked Crosby in the 34th round in 1998. The A's made him the 25th overall selection, and sent him directly to High-A Modesto that same season. A hip flexor injury kept his playing time down to only 38 at-bats. He would split the subsequent 2002 season between Modesto and Double-A Midland.
Baseball America was excited about Crosby's future, saying he was on the fast track to the majors in their team draft review. They ranked him the system's fifth-best prospect in what was, looking back, a very stacked system. Carlos Pena, Eric Byrnes, Crosby, Mark Ellis, Jeremy Bonderman, Aaron Harang, and Rich Harden were among the future major leaguers, and were all in the top thirty for the 2002 Athletics. The only concern about Crosby was his defense-due to his size and the rough time he had bending for grounders, neither the A's nor Baseball America were sure if he would be able to stick at shortstop. However, the line that sticks out from that time is, "Crosby has the potential to become a big-time hitter for a middle infielder."
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 2002 Modesto(A+) 280 .307/.393/.404 24% .097 19 10.2% 13.3% 2002 Midland(2A) 228 .281/.335/.443 36% .162 16 7.6% 16.3%
At Modesto, Crosby hit for average, but displayed almost no power whatsoever. He did show very good control of the strike zone though, with a walk rate over 10 percent and a strikeout rate not too much higher than that. At Midland, Crosby hit a few homers and improved his Isolated Power, but his walks dropped off a few percentage points while his strikeouts jumped by three percent. The one worry I have looking back is that his BABIP at this time was much higher than it has been in the major leagues for him. At Midland this was not as much of an issue-.317 is high for Crosby after generating a .281 career mark in the majors so far-but at Modesto he sported a .357 BABIP, well above anything he has done or should do given his batted-ball figures. It's much easier to generate higher BABIP numbers in the minor leagues, thanks to the inferior quality of the pitching and defense. this is probably what Crosby was doing.
Crosby moved up to the third spot on Baseball America's organization list for 2003, and Baseball Prospectus 2003 covered him as well:
He'll likely be the guy to have to fill Miguel Tejada's shoes should Tejada leave after the 2003 season. Crosby's a decent defender at short, has a quick stroke, a developing batting eye, and should develop some power as he matures. I'm sure Beane, DePodesta, and Forst would love for him to develop a little faster on all those fronts, but for now, Crosby's a solid prospect who should be ready to play middle infield in Oakland should the need arise after the 2003 season.
Crosby made the analysts look smart at Sacramento by hitting for average, drawing walks, and hitting for power:
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 2003 Sacramento(3A) 465 .308/.395/.544 42% .236 38 11.6% 20.3%
The strikeouts kept jumping up, but there is not much more to complain about with this fine age-23 season. At first glance, you have a shortstop capable of hitting for average and plenty of power, and capable of drawing a free pass often enough to post close to a .300/.400/.500 line overall. The .236 ISO might be the tastiest part of the whole package. Again, the problem with Crosby's season is that his BABIP was inflated considering the kind of hitter he was.
Why is that? Crosby is not a line-drive hitter, he's a flyball and grounder kind of guy. A line-drive rate around 20 percent is the key to a consistently average or better BABIP, and Crosby has posted a career rate 17.8 percent in that particular category. His .363 BABIP from that season, given his career line-drive percentage, is roughly 65 points higher than it should be. Adjust his line for that, and you have a .243/.330/.479 shortstop at the age of 23, rather than someone who looks ready to make a major impact as soon as tomorrow. It's possible my adjustment is off-Crosby could have had a higher line-drive rate that year-but that adjustment fits in with his major league career rather well. Given that, it's possible the Athletics called up someone who was not finished developing. Yes, he was going to be 24 years old in 2004, but Crosby had not spent all that much time in the minors, and if you count his adjusted line rather than his actual, he never produced anything you could label any more strongly than "solid" at the plate.
The Baseball America 2003 Prospect Handbook said that, "He stunned the A's by being a much better player in 2003...", and that goes along with what we're seeing in his numbers, doesn't it? Part of the problem is that Crosby is the son of a former major leaguer, has the attitude you like to see in a ballplayer, and has the tools and potential to boot. When he had one season inflated by a BABIP 50-60 points above the league average, the A's jumped on it and promoted him. Miguel Tejada had left town, and everyone expected Crosby to turn into a star almost immediately thanks to his pedigree, potential, and his "breakout" season. PECOTA was spot-on with his 2004 projection though, forecasting a .254/.323/.421 weighted mean, but his comment was in the overzealous vein previously discussed:
Meet the man who makes Miguel Tejada expendable. Crosby's capable defensively, hits well, and is actually fairly reminiscent of Tejada at the same age. With Tejada off to Baltimore, Crosby's ready to step in and contribute at a reasonable level immediately. He'll hit for some average, moderate power, and draw a few more walks than Tejada. Crosby's a quality ballplayer, and can contribute on a potential championship club. Offensively, his peak should look something like .300/.380/.520 in a neutral park.
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 2004 Oakland(MLB) 545 .239/.319/.426 44% .187 35 9.6% 25.9%
Crosby was able to maintain his success from the minors as far as earning free passes, and his power was there, but the batting average plummeted to .239 and his strikeout rate soared to just shy of 26 percent. His BABIP was below the league average, coming in at .283, but this was about what you would expect given a line-drive percentage of 17.5 percent. Crosby also struck out a lot, which keeps BABIP down if you are not much of a line-drive hitter, which Crosby is not. Secondly, Crosby plays his home games in Oakland, which hurts BABIP on its own thanks to massive foul territory.
Baseball Prospectus 2005 was not deterred by his debut season:
There was some concern that, at 6'3", Crosby might be too tall to comfortably handle short, but he turned out to be one of the best in the league in his Rookie of the Year campaign. He has quick hands and feet, positions himself well, and sports a strong arm that allows him to set up deeper than most. The .239 batting average was an outlier, and Crosby should continue to improve his power and plate judgment as he progresses. A championship-caliber player about to happen.
I don't really see how his low batting average was an outlier; .239 is on the low end of Crosby's potential outcomes, but .250-.260 is probably your best possible outcome if he has a league average BABIP. PECOTA and the comment held opposite positions, and PECOTA came out on top again. Crosby's forecasted line of .260/.338/.443 is very close to his actual line of .276/.346/.456. Crosby's season was cut short by injury though, since he broke a rib in spring training and an ankle later during the year. This left him with just 333 at-bats, but the injury trend would continue in 2006, with struggles carrying over into 2007. For good measure, PECOTA wasn't guilty of being too excited about Crosby in 2006 either, forecasting a .269/.346/.453 line for him at the age of 26.
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 2005 Oakland(MLB) 333 .276/.346/.456 41% .180 29 9.5% 16.2% 2006 Oakland(MLB) 358 .229/.298/.338 27% .109 12 9.1% 21.2% 2007 Oakland(MLB) 223 .242/.287/.368 30% .126 10 5.5% 17.9%
Crosby's strikeout rate dropped in 2005, which benefited his overall line. Injuries cut his season short though, and in 2006 his strained lower back kept him from ever putting it together. He was able to maintain his walk rate, although his strikeout rate climbed back up to 21 percent, while his power was almost cut in half. Now, 2007 has brought more of the same, with a drop in his BB% to boot. It's a disappointment for A's fans and for analysts, who both expected much more from Crosby, but part of the problem was that his horizons were initially set higher than Crosby may have ever been capable of. PECOTA had Crosby nailed in the forecasts as a shortstop with a little bit of pop and low batting averages who was capable of drawing a walk. That .300/.380/.520 shortstop never really existed, as it was a fluky high batting average campaign that made it seem like Crosby was ready to dominate in the big leagues at a young age.
His batted-ball data suggests the kind of player he was during his better seasons:
Year P/PA FB% LINEDR% GB% IF/F% HR/F% BABIP eBABIP Diff. 2004 4.2 38.0% 17.5% 44.4% 13.6% 14.3% .283 .295 +.012 2005 4.2 27.9% 18.2% 53.9% 14.1% 11.5% .307 .302 -.005 2006 4.0 35.1% 17.7% 47.2% 5.1% 9.1% .267 .297 +.030 2007 3.7 33.1% 18.8% 48.1% 18.3% 10.0% .271 .308 +.037
Crosby's one decent batting average campaign involved a much lower flyball rate and a higher groundball rate. Fewer flyballs and fewer strikeouts will boost your BABIP and your batting average, especially when coupled with that high of a groundball rate on a speedy hitter. Eight percent of his hits that season were of the infield variety, which is about the norm for Crosby. In 2006, we see that he started to underperform his expected BABIP by a considerable margin; part of that is his home park's fault, and part of it is his strikeout and flyball rates returning close to previous levels. This season, along with the underperformance on his BABIP, Crosby has started pressing and taking fewer pitches. Over 600 plate appearances, that's a 300-pitch difference, which costs him a few more walks, and more than likely, a few more better pitches to hit.
Even if you adjust his 2006 and 2007 lines for the low BABIP, you get a Bobby Crosby who hits .259/.328/.368 and .279/.324/.405. Kudos to PECOTA, which forecasted a .255/.328/.411 line for Crosby this year. For those who have not resigned themselves to the fact that Bobby Crosby is more than likely never going to be the star he was once expected to be, remember that, when healthy and adjusted properly, Crosby is a .275/.345/.460 player at his best, which is very good for a shortstop, but not the Tejada 2.0 many were expecting when a 23-year-old Bobby Crosby debuted in the big leagues just a few years ago.