I'll be honest: I like Bobby Crosby as a person. He seems like a really nice guy, a good teammate and he has a few things in common with me: white-guy, mid-to-late 20s, Southern California native who went to a Southern California college known as a baseball powerhouse. Yet, I'm not blind to the truly awful season he had last year and to his myriad of struggles over the past three.
But...I'm tenuously confident that he can earn back some confidence from me (and maybe even you) if given another 600 at-bats to prove himself in 2009. I hope he gets this opportunity for several reasons: 1) as stated above, I think he's a good guy, 2) he's got every incentive NOT to suck next season, 3) I personally dislike Orlando Cabrera, 4) he won't cost a draft pick to plug into the lineup and MOST importantly 4) he's going to be earning $5+ million next season and taking up a roster spot whether he gets those at-bats or not.
Now, I know for many of you, Crosby is just beyond salvation. That might still be true when all is said and done, and yet it's worth noting that even with his God-awful 2008 season at the plate, fangraphs nevertheless tabulated that Crosby was worth roughly the exact salary he was paid for his efforts last season. That is not an optimal outcome for a team like the A's that need production to surpass salary, and yet it's still an interesting indicator about how little a decent-fielding shortstop needs to hit in order to be valuable to his team.
So basically, I'm going to keep my personal expectations for Crosby very low for 2009. Let's say, league-average fielding and approaching (but not surpassing or even meeting a .700 OPS). I'm much more confident about the fielding part than the hitting part. UZR had Crosby as exactly league-average last season. Seeing as how Bobby is coming off his first fully healthy season in 4 years, is still in his prime (age 29) and has never had a UZR rating below -1.1, I'm going to say that league average glove work is perfectly within reason for him going forward.
As far as the hitting goes, I'm going to out on a limb here, but I think Bobby can approach a .700 OPS with just an ever-so-slight improvement at the plate and favorable health (I know, two concepts foreign to Crosby, but I'm gonna give him the benefit of the doubt). First off, Bobby needs to up his OBP over .300 - that much is sure. He doesn't need to become Jack Cust up there, but if he got another 600 at-bats like he did last season, all he would need to do is reach base 10 more times over the course of the entire season to get to a .315 OBP (8 more walks and 2 bean balls would do the trick). That's still quite abysmal, but actually workable.
As far as slugging percentage goes, the situation gets a bit murkier. Croz has been hitting more and more fly balls ever since his break-through 2005 campaign. Unfortunately, what has doomed his power numbers is that while the overall number of fly balls he hits has increased over time, the percentage of those fly balls that turn into homeruns has dropped dramatically ever year of his career, from a high of 14.3% in his ROY 2004 season (22 homers) to a low in 2008 with a putrid 4.2% (7 homers). Obviously, that trend needs to stop immediately and I think it will.
Crosby led the A's team in doubles last season by a wide margin with 39 total. That shows me that his "raw" power is still present. Here's where the McGwire tutelage may pay off: if Crosby can tweak his mechanics just a little bit and get a bit more loft on his swing courtesy of Big Mac or Holliday or whomever, he should be able to lift some of his deep flyballs into homeruns. How many more you ask? Well, he'll never hit 22 homers again in a season, I'm pretty sure of that. But he should be able to get back into the low double-digits, which some projection systems even expect him to do next season (Bill James predicts 12, MARCEL predicts 10). I'll take the conservative figure and say he hits 10 next season, 3 more than last season.
So all in all, if everything else about Crosby's dismal 2008 season remains the exact same except: he draws 8 more walks total over the entire season, hits 3 more homers and gets hit by two pitches you are looking at a .692 OPS player; and with a little luck thrown into the mix (and if there's anyone out there with more positive karma than Crosby, then let me know) he could even sniff up to .700 OPS. Combine that together with solid if not slightly above-average defense and about 10 steals and you're looking at a fairly acceptable 9-hole hitter.
Of course, even if the A's knew for certain that Crosby would follow these exact instructions and post the exact numbers I threw out there next season, they'd still probably be taking a hard look at Orlando Cabrera right now. And I know that even a .700 OPS would hardly earn Crosby any reprieve from his detractors here at AN. But at the very least, I'm hoping this all happens, just so the much-harangued guy can salvage some modicum of respectability in a career that was once so promising...