Saturday, March 8, 2008

2008 Preview: Jacoco Crispbury

Name: Covelli Loyce Crisp
Bats: Switch
Throws: Right
Age: 28
2008 Salary: $4.75M
Fun Fact: Along with Carl Crawford, Jimmy Rollins and Dontrelle Willis, Coco Crisp is an RBI alumnus. Crisp grew up in Los Angeles and attended Inglewood High School with Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics.

It couldn’t have begun much better for Coco Crisp in Boston. Even though the pink hats were devastated to see Johnny Damon go, they were charmed by Crisp’s smile and amused by his name. Meanwhile, the stat heads were intrigued by a man who had improved in each of his previous four seasons in Cleveland and was only just entering his prime. Hell, Crisp was so popular in the early going that even his father had a NESN commercial.

Crisp batted .400 in his first spring training with the Sox and it seemed all but certain he would slide right in and be a younger, cheaper version of Johnny Damon. Bill James did little to dispel this notion, projecting that in 2006 Crisp would have an OPS of .790 with 13 homers while Damon would have a .786 OPS with 12 homers. Obviously those projections presaged a decline in Damon’s game more than continued improvement from Crisp. As in turns out, Crisp’s numbers in Boston have come somewhat close to replicating Damon’s. Unfortunately they have been much closer to 2003 Damon (12 HR, 67 RBI .273./345/.405) than 2004 Damon (20 HR 94 RB .304/.380/.477). Somehow we had been led to believed we might be getting 2004 Damon. We were bound to be disappointed.

Ironically I seem to recall it being Crisp’s defense that had Boston fans most skeptical about his ability to replace Damon. Crisp had relocated from center to left in 2005 and that could only mean, the skeptics believed, that he lacked some essential quality of centerfielding. It was only later they all caught onto the fact that Grady Sizemore, the man who displaced Crisp, is pretty handy with the leather—so good, in fact, that he robbed Crisp of a Gold Glove last year. After an occasionally discomfiting year in the field in 2006, Crisp’s 2007 season in center was kind of absurd. He caught everything!

Crisp’s two seasons in Boston have been defined by disappointment at the plate and nagging injuries all over the body. In year one it was the broken index finger in April that hampered him for the remainder of the season. Last year there was an oblique injury, a shoulder injury, and a toe injury that he played through, matching his career high with 145 games. In the second half of the season it seemed as though Sox fans had come to grips with what Crisp could offer at the plate and were beginning to embrace him for his defensive exploits and speed on the base paths. But then along came the young Navajo gentleman and everything changed.

Coco Crisp
's 2008 ZiPS projection:
.271 AVG/.333 OBP/.410 SLG
82 Runs
143 Hits
33 Doubles
10 Home Runs
65 RBI
48 BB
79 K

Name: Jacoby McCabe Ellsbury
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Age: 24
2008 Salary: $406,000
Fun Fact: Jacoby Ellsbury is the first Native American of Navajo descent to reach the Major Leagues. Other professional baseball players of Native American descent include Louis Sockalexis, Jim Thorpe, Chief Yellow Horse, and Joba Chamberlain.

Jacoby Ellsbury has only played 44 games in the majors but boy were they impressive. Aside from the jaw dropping speed and the .438 average in 16 World Series at bats, the thing that was most impressive about Ellsbury’s 2007 season was the surprising extra base power he exhibited (59 total bases in 33 games, .509 SLG—yeah, he out-slugged Manny Ramirez ). The infield hits will take care for of themselves, but he’ll be a very special player if he can continue to slap the ball off the Monster and improve the gap power he hinted at last season.

Ellsbury is not as polished as Crisp in the field, but then Crisp wasn't as polished as Crisp a little over a year ago so we must be patient with the 24-year-old. Fortunately whatever he lacks in his ability to judge fly balls he more than makes up for with he's speed. And he's just enough faster than Crisp that he can do some truly profound shit on the base paths, as when he scored from second on a wild pitch. If there was one play that made Ellsbury the fan favorite for the starting job in center, that was it. The free taco only cemented things further.

What, then, are Ellsbury's warts? Well, he has below average arm strength, but certainly in comparison to Crisp there is not a whole lot of difference. He has very little home run power, but again, if we compare him to Crisp of the previous two seasons there is not a tremendous amount of difference between the two. Perhaps the biggest question mark surrounding Ellsbury is that we have yet to see how he fares once he is forced to make adjustments when pitchers learn how to pitch him. There just isn't a lengthy enough Major League resume to be sure of what we've got just yet. Certainly he is the most exciting Sox' position player since Nomar Garciaparra was on the come up but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Have I made the case for Ellsbury as the starter? Do I really need to? In a perfect world Ellsbury wins the starting job out camp, Coco is the fourth outfielder but gets to start a couple of times a week with one of three scenarios: Ellsbury gets a day off, Ellsbury goes to left to spell Manny, Ellsbury goes to right to spell Drew. Unfortunately, Crisp does not find that world perfect. However, it does not seem likely that Crisp would pull a Jay Payton and dealing him would be short sighted—say you deal Crisp and Ellsbury pulls a hamstring in May, then what, a month of Kielty in center. No thank you. Then again, if they can somehow swing Crisp plus some pieces to Oakland for Joe Blanton.....

Jacoby Ellsbury's 2008 ZiPS projection:
.297 AVG/.349 OBP/.392 SLG
87 Runs
163 Hits
34 Doubles
4 Home Runs
58 RBI
37 BB
72 K

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