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Athletics 2014 season review: Coco Crisp

Coco yoyo-ed in and out of the lineup all year due to his neck injury.
Coco yoyo-ed in and out of the lineup all year due to his neck injury.
Dilip Vishwanat

We left off last week with No. 3 Craig Gentry, and then I went out of town for a few days. Let's pick back up with No. 4: Coco Crisp.

Player profile

Name: Coco Crisp, aka ... Coco
Position: CF
Stats: .246/.336/.363, 9 HR, 19 SB, 1:1 K:BB, minus-17 DRS
WAR: 1.1 bWAR, 0.9 fWAR
How he got here: Signed as free agent prior to 2010, re-signed twice
2014 Salary: $7.5 million
2015 Status: Under contract
2015 Salary: $11 million

Season summary

It was a lost season for Coco. He had a career year in 2013, with one of his highest OPS marks and a personal-best 22 home runs, and entering a May 7 doubleheader against the Mariners he was plugging right along once again. Then, this happened:

I was at the stadium for that game, and it was one of the scariest moments I've witnessed in person in my baseball life. Coco stayed down for a long time after that, and the results thereafter were mixed. On one hand, he didn't have a serious injury that knocked him out for the year. On the other hand, maybe it would have been better if he had sat out for a while. His neck strain turned out to be a degenerative condition that couldn't be addressed until the offseason, and he was visibly not the same player for the rest of the campaign. Big props to him for playing through what I imagine was a lot of pain, but it's debatable whether that grittiness actually helped the team in the long run.

Coco initially missed six games due to that neck injury, and it ended up costing him a total of 25 contests throughout the season. When he returned from that first trauma, he actually played pretty well for a couple months. However, it began to catch up with him around the All-Star break, and he missed some time in mid-July and then again at the end of that month. His renewed ailment, combined with Craig Gentry's ill-timed hand injury, led the A's to overpay for Sam Fuld (bless his heart) so that they could have a leadoff hitter and a legitimate defender in center. Coco re-aggravated the injury once again in late August on this play:

Here are his stats, split up into three categories: before the initial May 7 injury, before the first major re-aggravation on July 10, and the rest of the year:

Coco, thru May 7: .260/.354/.406 (.760), 114 PAs 3 HR, 7 SB, 1 CS
Coco, May 16 to July 9: .310/.406/.475 (.881), 187 PAs, 4 HR, 9 SB, 3 CS
Coco, after July 10: .191/.272/.258 (.531), 235 PAs, 2 HR, 3 SB, 1 CS

The A's took a big gamble by letting Coco continue playing after May 16, and I think a lot of us wondered if that was the right call at the time. At first it looked like a smart move, but then the lingering effects kicked in later on and his condition (and performance) worsened. Would the team have benefited more by tossing him on the DL for a couple months and letting him heal? Or would it have taken the rest of the season to get him back to 100 percent and avoid the recurrences that ended up plaguing him? There's no way for us to know, and we don't have even 1 percent of the medical info that the team has, so it's unfair to speculate. All we can do is lament that the injury happened at all, because it ultimately cost us one of the best players on the team for half the season.

The next question: to what degree did we figuratively "lose" Coco to poor performance? His plate discipline remained as strong as ever, but his power tanked and so did his base stealing. Furthermore, the lack of mobility was surely a factor in his putrid defensive ratings, which included a minus-17 in Defensive Runs Saved. Of the 150 MLB defenders (at all positions) who played enough innings to qualify, Coco's DRS grade was the sixth-worst (and third-worst in CF). By UZR, he was the fifth-worst (second-worst in CF)*. We're not talking about whether he was still an elite defender last year. We're talking about whether he might have been the worst in all of baseball. That's a tough change to digest all at once, but it's a bit easier if you assume that the injury played a large role in it and that his true talent is still closer to average -- after all, he still posted positive DRS marks in the previous five seasons and had a positive UZR overall during that span, so it's unlikely that he just completely lost it for no reason one day. Look for a bounce-back on defense in 2015, but not to anywhere near the heights of his youth.

* To bring that last point home, consider that one of the few players worse than Coco last year was 38-year-old Torii Hunter, the nine-time Gold Glover. Defense erodes like everything else, and Coco is 35 now. As an unrelated aside, the worst CF in baseball last year was Houston's Dexter Fowler, who has long been scorned by advanced metrics.

Put it all together, and this was not the season we expected from Coco. In the first half it looked like he was backing up his career performance from 2013, with an .835 OPS, seven homers and 16 steals. And then it all fell apart. That's going to be a running theme in this series, and hopefully by the end you will understand why I believe the team-wide collapse truly was a team-wide collapse and not just the result of a bad trade or two. Coco fell apart all on his own, not because of the quality of the players around him. Let's hope that all of Beane's horses and all of Beane's men can put him back together again in time for 2015.

2014 season grade, relative to expectations: D ... That's harsh, but know that his injury is mostly to blame. I still love him to death, and you probably do too. But this was not what we were expecting to see out of him. He could have earned an A if he'd repeated those first-half numbers, he could have earned a B if he'd simply maintained his pre-May 7 splits, and he could have earned a C with his real-life batting line if he'd at least played solid defense. But here we are.

2014 season grade, overall: C- ... We expect a lot from Coco because we love him and we've seen him at his best. But he was still a one-WAR center fielder, and he still played 126 games and had a huge half-season. The injuries and the slumps lower his grade, but he was a useful player overall. He also notched a pair of hits, an RBI, and a run scored in the Wild Card game, though he left the contest early due to a hamstring injury (surprise!) and his defensive replacement sorta blew it. That game really was a microcosm of the whole season.

Video highlights

We all love Coco, so there will be a lot of highlights here. He didn't waste any time getting going this year, as he hit this 12th-inning walk-off solo homer in just the fourth game of the season. (And I was there to see it!)

Obligatory Coco steal, off the Angels' Chris Ianetta no less.

See, his defense wasn't so bad earlier in the season.

This one might have been the highlight of the year for the whole team. Coco robbed Josh Hamilton of a homer, but the pyro guy at Angel Stadium assumed the ball went out and set off the stupid fireworks display that the Angels feel is necessary for every. single. homer. Coco responded with his best Dikembe Mutombo finger-wag. No-no, says Coco. (Note: This video is tainted with some Troutness as well, but just hold out and you'll be handsomely rewarded.)

As the injuries set in, Coco stopped robbing so many deep hits and most of his defensive highlights involved him ranging in to snare shallow liners and flares. Here's the best of the bunch:

In June, he picked up another walk-off hit. This time it came off of the Red Sox, his former team, whom he seems to relentlessly haunt at every opportunity.

Chalk this next one up to Coco magic.

The only player on the team who can hit Justin Verlander. Like Rickey Henderson before him, Coco loves to lead off the game with a homer. He especially loves to do so off of Verlander.

Coco singles on a perfect bunt against the Giants, who ... goddamnit, they still won the World Series. Oy vey.

That was basically the end of Coco as a good player this year. He was terrible for the rest of the season. That extended to his hair, as well.

Earlier on the list, Coco responded to Trout robbing a homer by doing so himself. In this next one, Trout homered in the first and Coco once again answered, this time by hitting one of his own.

Coco drives in a run in the Wild Card game to make it 7-3 in the sixth inning. I just got really sad all of a sudden.


It was a tough year for Coco, but on the bright side he did get the privilege of meeting me in downtown Walnut Creek. Note that I am sitting down in this picture and he is standing.

Coco Crisp and Alex Hall

Feel better next year, Coco. We need ya, bud.