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The Curious Case of Coco Crisp

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Check out an in-depth analysis of the Athletics' lead-off man extraordinaire Coco Crisp.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

When I meet a hitter for a first time, for my last question I always ask "If there is one MLB player whom you would like to model your swing after, who would it be?" Unfortunately the majority of the time I hear Buster Posey. But one time I heard Coco Crisp. My response, "Can you think of someone else?"

I didn't want to put a kid's favorite player down, but when I reviewed his swing last year I found it to be less than sexy. Let's have a look at Crisp's homerun against Verlander in the 2012 ALDS.

Let's run through a few mechanical checkpoints. Stride? Not so good. His front foot actually moves toward the catcher. He doesn't land in a strong position and has A LOT of lateral drift over the front knee. Launching the bat? Not good there either. Crisp doesn't get the rear arm in good position and almost "chicken wings" it. Bat drag? Yep. Strong hip drive so the lead leg gets locked out by contact? Not so much. Good front shoulder function? Can't say he does. Bat path match the plane of the pitch through the hitting zone? Not quite. You get the idea. Crisp doesn't swing the bat as well as say Tony Gwynn (I will skip the analysis of his RH swing. Trust me, it is equally funky. We will see it later.)

So how does Crisp achieve success? Well, for that question we have to define success. For the first three years in Oakland (2010-2012), Crisp's .325 wOBA ranks 25th among centerfielders alone. And some of that wOBA is due to beating out groundballs and stretching base hits another bag. So we see that Crisp really doesn't earn his paycheck with what he does with the bat in his hands. It's what he does once he gets on base that counts. His 140 stolen bags is third among centerfielders in that time frame, and Fangraph's BsR (base-running above average) has him 4th. So combine that with center-field defense (I know the metrics aren't in his favor), the Bernie lean, and some awesome handshakes and you start to get a picture of Crisp's success. So don't hate me if I don't like Crisp's swing.

What about 2013? I singled it out it from his time in Oakland because, well, it is curious. For his age 33 season, Crisp has gone off and had his arguably best season. His walk rate is his highest for a full season at 10.5%, his strikeout rate is equal to a career low at 11.4%, and his ISO (isolated slugging) is at a career high at .186. And of course the 22 homeruns, easily a career high.

How has he done it? Let's take a look at his 2013 swing. (Sorry for the awkward angle, there is not much good video on Coco.)

Better, though still not textbook. Crisp has improved his stride. He no longer has the "negative" front foot movement. He still gets on the front leg a ton (notice the knee bend), but opens his front side better to allow the legs to work more (Hello foul pole!). Also, notice how Crisp is launching the bat better in 2013. In 2012, his rear elbow has zero movement to get the bat into position. But in 2013, his sequence is improved by letting the lower half work just a fraction before the elbow initiates the bat swing. Here is the movement I am talking about. Compare this to the swing at the top. The elbow works the bat up into position before launching down.

His RH swing is still pretty funky. Check it out.

Yikes. That's not a good swing. And no matter how you slice it, Crisp has not had success from the right side in 2013. His wOBA .285 is terrible. For as much as Chris Young has struggled in 2013, Crisp's at-bats would have been better served had Young been in the batter's box.

Despite the career year, not everything about Crisp's 2013 is worthy of excitement. His batted-ball profile has taken a hit this year. Crisp posted a career low ground-ball rate and career high fly-ball rate which hurt his BABIP and in turn his .261 batting average (both career lows for a full season, BABIP by A LOT). Also, through one lens it looks like his speed his taking a turn for the worse. His infield-hit percentage is the lowest of his career, and base thievery is down from recent years in both quantity and success rate. Plus, a couple sources (here and here) have shown that Crisp's recent power output is well, curious.

So what do we know about Crisp? In 2013 he has a slightly improved swing that allowed in part him to hit for more power and strike out less. And his walk rate is a career high which may or may not be related to the swing changes. However, he may have gotten a little power hungry and that affected his batted-ball profile and his ability to use his speed, which may or may not be declining. And that the Bernie lean may be losing steam. But he is still good for awesome hand-shakes and commercials.

How does all this mean for the future? I'm not going against Crisp. He seems to be another player on the A's roster who is 100% function over form. My guess is he will find a way to be successful one way or another. Plus he is my wife's favorite player. If I said the A's shouldn't pick up his option for next year she would pray for my ruination.