After acquiring one of the top prospects in the minors in Andy Marte for Edgar Renteria last offseason, the Boston Red Sox shipped Marte and Kelly Shoppach to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for David Riske, Josh Bard, and Coco Crisp, who they expected to be their centerfielder for the next few years. The deal was applauded by some who felt the Sox had a replacement for the departed Johnny Damon, and criticized by others who felt the Sox should have held on to Marte.

Crisp never really had a chance to show whether he was capable of replacing Damon’s production, as he broke his finger sliding into third base during the fifth game of the 2006 season. Even though Crisp returned at the end of May from the injury, his finger required surgery at the end of the season, leading many to believe the fractured knuckle was at the root of his disappointing offensive campaign.

Covelli Crisp was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1999 amateur draft, draftee #222 overall, out of Los Angeles Pierce College at age 19. He signed shortly afterward and was placed in Johns City of the Appalachian Rookie League as a second basemen. He spent his first two seasons hitting like a second baseman as well:

           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
Joh.(Rk)  229 .258/.379/.354 .384  20%  .096    9   15.4%  14.4%
New.(A-)  134 .239/.301/.276 .284  16%  .037    5    7.3%  14.6%
Peo.(A)    98 .276/.377/.367 .296  33%  .091    9   13.6%  12.7%

The walk rates are encouraging, but at this stage Crisp had no discernible power output, with three straight Isolated Power (ISO) figures under .100. After his debut season, Crisp moved to the outfield; with this positional switch, he would have to add some power to his game. He was also only 20 years old, so there was clearly no reason to panic as of yet. One other thing keeping Crisp’s numbers down was a low BABIP, relative to the league averages. If you are wondering why Crisp’s Secondary Averages are so much better than his actual batting averages, look no further then some excellent stolen base success rates: Crisp stole at an 83 percent success rate (59/71) over the course of the two years.

For the 2001 season, Crisp was placed in High-A Potomac of the Carolina League, where he rebounded from his poor rate stats of the previous two seasons, but suffered when it came to stealing bases:

           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
Pot.(A+)  530 .306/.368/.423 .249  23%  .117   26    8.8%  10.8%

Crisp had a few more hits drop in with his .332 BABIP, but his ISO was not all that much higher than his previous stints, and his walk rate had fallen by around five percent. It was certainly an improvement overall, but not a significant departure from his previous numbers.

Baseball Prospectus 2001 summarized the Crisp situation well and concisely:

How can you not root for someone with that name? Crisp was tabbed the best hitting prospect in the Carolina League in 2001 by Baseball America, and he was the Cardinals’ Minor League Player of the Year. He’s a natural left-handed hitter whom the Cardinals are teaching to switch-hit. Crisp has been noted for his confidence and aggressiveness. If he’s going to make it to St. Louis as an outfielder, it’s time to get it in gear immediately. For a 21-year-old, a .306 batting average in the Carolina League is good, not great.

Crisp’s 2001 season was really not that impressive: a 21-year old outfielder in High-A with a sub-.800 OPS and a 65 percent success rate for stealing wins your organization’s Minor League Player of the Year award? Looks like a thin farm system isn’t anything new.

22-year old Covelli would split time between the Cardinals and Indians organizations in 2002, as he was dealt as the player to be named later in the Chuck Finley deal of that year:

           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
New.(AA)  355 .301/.365/.428 .273  24%  .127   17    9.1%  14.1%
Akr.(AA)   32 .406/.457/.531 .344  15%  .125    1    8.3%   8.3%
Buf.(AAA)  21 .238/.238/.286 .095  20%  .048    1    0.0%   9.5%
Cle.(MLB) 127 .260/.314/.386 .236  36%  .126   11    7.7%  13.3%

Given his age, his major league debut was not all that bad. He posted an ISO .001 behind his Double-A figure from the same season − also the best ISO of his professional career thus far − and if not for his .299 BABIP, a low figure for a line drive hitter such as Crisp, his rate stats would have looked a bit more like his Double-A ones as well. Granted, he still profiled as an outfielder with an .800 OPS and poor base stealing instincts.

Baseball Prospectus 2003 warned against getting too excited about Crisp’s potential as the Indians leadoff hitter of the future:

Coco Crisp was the player to be named later in the Chuck Finley trade. The Indians see him as a leadoff hitter, and he’s certainly capable of swiping bases, and his season line in the Eastern League was .310/.372/.437, so he’s got the on-base skills as well. Looking over his minor league career though, he looks like another fourth outfielder in the making, and how many of those are floating around? If he develops some power and his defense improves, he’ll be interesting, but there are more guys like this floating around than potential planets in the Kuiper Belt.

Crisp did his best to shed the fourth outfielder tag during the 2003 season, tearing up Buffalo before finishing up in Cleveland:

           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
Buf.(AAA) 225 .360/.434/.511 .320  32%  .151   25    9.7%   9.0%
Cle.(MLB) 414 .266/.302/.353 .157  22%  .087   21    5.1%  11.4%

For those of you playing along at home, Crisp’s BABIP was .400 in his Buffalo stint, much higher than the league average, and given his major league line drive rates and subsequent production, most likely just a product of a quarter season’s luck. When he was promoted to the majors, his walk rate fell all the way to five percent, which is the level where your OBP becomes very batting average driven. He only stole bases at a 63 percent success rate, and his BABIP fell .103 points, bringing his batting, on-base and slugging averages down at least that much on the way. Given his line drive percentage of 21 percent from 2003, we could expect Crisp to have hit about .030 points better in every one of the above categories, which would place him much closer to his previous minor league work. It’s not quite Buffalo’s performance, but somewhere around .299/.335/.386 is not a terrible season’s work for a 23-year old thrust into the majors when he wasn’t ready. He would need some more power in his game if he was going to be of any use to the Indians, and his walk rate would need to improve if they wanted him to lead off.

From 2004-2005, Crisp was essentially the same player, but his numbers dropped after the finger injury in Boston:

        AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
2004   491 .297/.344/.446 .236  28%  .149   26    6.7%  12.8%
2005   594 .300/.345/.465 .254  35%  .165   46    6.7%  12.3%
2006   413 .264/.317/.385 .240  29%  .121   24    6.9%  14.8%

The walk rate was very steady, as was the batting average for two years. His most productive power year was 2005, with 46 2B+3B and 16 homeruns, but his first year in Boston was his most productive on the basepaths during his time in the majors, as he finished with an 85 percent success rate. The finger injury is the most likely culprit for the drop in production, but how exactly did it affect Crisp? The most discussed outcome was that it sapped his power, a conclusion reached easily enough given the considerable drop in his raw and rate totals. Let’s dig a little deeper, though:

2004  3.7   31.3%  19.7%  49.0%   N/A   12.6%  .322   .317
2005  3.5   34.2%  19.6%  46.2%  14.0%  10.1%  .326   .316
2006  3.9   35.7%  15.9%  48.4%  12.4%   6.7%  .299   .279

Crisp’s flyball rates continued to increase slightly by the year, but there was a significant drop in his homeruns per flyball in 2006, most likely due to the finger injury. Also of note is his 15.9 percent line drive rate; since 2002, Crisp’s line drive percentages have been 21, 21, 20, 20, and 16 percent. The outlier is 2006, which was most likely a product of his fractured knuckle. He outperformed his expected BABIP by .020 points, mostly due to having a high groundball rate and being a speedy runner. An increase in his line drive rate back to his normal output would do wonders for his rate stats. In fact, if you add in the lost line drives to his season line, Crisp would have hit roughly .304/.357/.425, assuming all of the hits were singles. Given Crisp’s doubles power from 2006, the slugging is most likely a conservative estimate.

So what does this all mean? Crisp’s 2007 season is more likely to reflect his 2004-2005 (and 2006 hypothetical numbers) than it is likely to reflect his actual 2006 line. Combined with his defensive abilities − The Fielding Bible ranked him as the second best left fielder in the league from 2003-2005, and David Pinto’s Probabilistic Model of Range showed Crisp to be a few outs above average defensively in center in 2006, while these charts break down the data further − we can expect Crisp to be productive for the Sox. If his stolen base success rate is a more accurate reflection of his abilities going forward than his past numbers are, even better for the Red Sox, as they will have a stolen base threat back in the lineup. This would amount to a vast improvement in Crisp’s ability in a part of the game where that’s possible, as opposed to a base stealing style that caused Baseball Prospectus 2005 to say Crisp should be “flat out tackled by the coach as soon as he reaches first base” in order to avoid a steal attempt.

With a healthy and more experienced Crisp and potentially J.D. Drew in the outfield for what the Sox hope is a full season’s worth of games, the Red Sox outfield should be somewhat improved defensively as well as offensively, and this will go a long way towards the organization rebounding from what turned out to be an incredibly disappointing 2006 season. The batted-ball data shows us that the chances of a rebound are in Covelli’s favor. Great news for a Sox organization without a real backup solution.

Marc Normandin is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can reach Marc by clicking here or click here to see Marc’s other articles. You can find some of Marc’s other work here.

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