coco crisp

Ballplayer Aliases: What’s Your Real Name?

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I recently came across a list of MLB players on the Internet that listed players by their full names.  I thought some of these were interesting, so I’m listing some of these below:

Don’t Call Me David

David ‘Bud’ Norris
David ‘Homer’ Bailey
David Adam Laroche

Laroche’s brother Andrew also played in the majors.  I always thought that the Laroches were named alliteratively, and that if there were more younger Laroche siblings that also played baseball, their names would be something like Amos, Alan, Ajax and Azrael.  I am slightly disappointed that this is not the case.

Homer Bailey has the worst name for a pitcher ever.  He must really hate being called Dave.

Don’t Call Me Robert

Robert Allen ‘R.A.’ Dickey
Robert Alex Wood
Robert Andrew ‘Drew’ Stubbs
Robert Chase Anderson

No one named Robert goes by ‘Bob’ or ‘Bobby’ anymore.  I miss Bobby Higginson.  There aren’t any active Bobs in the majors, other than Bobby Abreu.  But his legal name is actually Bob, not Robert.  Abreu could instead go by his middle name, ‘Kelly’.  Johnny Cueto’s middle name is ‘Brent’.  I find it hard to believe that the birth certificates of Venezuelan Abreu and Dominican Cueto really say ‘Bob Kelly’ and ‘Johnny Brent’.

Don’t Call Me James

James Anthony ‘J.A.’ Happ
James Brian Dozier
James Gordon Beckham III
James Evan Gattis

Happ goes by ‘J.A.’, which is apparently pronounced like “Jay”.  In other words, the ‘A’ is silent.  So Happ should actually go in his own category: “Don’t Call Me James and Don’t Call Me J.A.”

Unless Gordon Beckham’s great-grandfather was a huge comic books fan, Beckham’s name probably has nothing to do with James Gordon of Batman fame.  But at the least, we probably should start referring to Beckham as “Commissioner Gordon”.  On second thought, Bud Selig would never stand for that.

Shorter Is Better

Maxwell Scherzer
Tomaso Milone
Colbert Hamels
Clifton Lee

I know someone who named their kid ‘Max’.  Just Max, not short for anything.  At first, I thought this was kind of odd, because isn’t Max usually short for something?  But what is Max short for?  Maximilian?  Maximus?  Maximum?  In Scherzer’s case, it’s Maxwell.  Regardless of the choice, there is absolutely no chance that your kid would ever be called anything but ‘Max’.   So might as well do away with all those bothersome extraneous letters at the end.

Clifton Lee sounds like someone who could have been a lesser-known general in the Confederate army, perhaps a distant cousin of Robert E. Lee.  And if Robert E. Lee played major league baseball today, since no one goes by just ‘Robert’ anymore, he’d be known as Marbles Lee, utility infielder extraordinaire for the Atlanta Braves.

The Ones You Probably Already Knew

Covelli ‘Coco’ Crisp
Carsten Charles ‘CC’ Sabathia
Gerald ‘Buster’ Posey
Melvin Emanuel ‘B.J.’ Upton

If you haven’t heard it mentioned before, Upton’s name stands for “Bossman Junior”, his father being Bossman.  Bossman Junior is a pretty sweet name.  But like how the usage of the nickname ‘Dick’ for persons named Richard has fallen into disfavor over the years, the use of the moniker ‘B.J.’ is doomed, for obvious reasons.  I find it hard to believe that anyone else nicknamed B.J. will be able to make it through the gauntlet of middle school, high school, college and a baseball clubhouse unscathed any time soon.  So enjoy having Upton around while you still can (and, given his play over the last couple of years, IF you still can).  It might be the last BJ you get for the foreseeable future.

Most Confusing Middle Name

Jason Alias Heyward

When Heyward first came up with the Braves, people for some reason thought his middle name was ‘Adenolith’.  According to Heyward, his real middle name is ‘Alias’ (a variation of the name Elias) and he has no idea where ‘Adenolith’ came from.  Adenolith is not a real word.  I guess it sounds impressive and massive because it sounds sort of like monolith; but for the most part, it is a bunch of random letters mashed together.  How people once thought that Jason A. Heyward’s middle name was ‘Adenolith’ is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of all time.

That being said, his real middle name presents its own set of issues:

Customer service rep:  And, sir, what’s your middle name?
Jason Heyward:  Alias.
Rep:  No, not your alias, your middle name.
JH:  Alias.
Rep:  Your middle name is your alias?
JH:  Yes, my middle name is Alias.
Rep:  Okay, fine, I have a field for that too.  What’s your alias?
JH:  It’s my middle name.
Rep:  No, an alias is like a nickname.  Do you have any nicknames?
JH:  Adenolith.

The Rules of Booing

jim-johnson-mlb-cleveland-indians-oakland-athletics-game-two1

Jim Johnson has sucked hard this year.  Really hard.  I’m talking Phil Coke level sucking.  (I simply don’t have the words or the energy to rant anymore about the disaster that is the Tigers bullpen.  Coke, for example, may have some utility remaining as a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY) who faces lefties exclusively.  But he should not be facing ANY right handers at any point of any game, not even switch hitters who hit worse right handed and are being “turned around” against Coke.  I don’t understand.  This has been true for years, and this year it’s even worse: righties have an OPS over 1.000 against Coke in 2014.  And yet, somehow, he’s faced more righties than lefties.  Why does Tigers management insist on continually running him out there against right handed hitters?  Are they hoping he’s going to figure it out or something?  My deepest fear is that Coke starts to get lucky later on this season and somehow gain more trust from Brad Ausmus, increasing the chances that Coke is in the game in a big situation during the stretch run or in the playoffs.  I’m actively rooting for Coke to suck more right now, even if it means the Tigers lose, because the sooner that the Tigers get it through their thick skulls that this guy is a walking turd and release him, the better.)

Wait.  What was I saying?  Oh, right.  Jim Johnson.  So, Johnson has been terrible ever since the moment he arrived in Oakland, and A’s fans have been booing him mercilessly since April.  Johnson’s new teammates have scurried to his defense, making public statements beseeching the fans to stop booing him.  The tone of these statements have ranged from reasoned (“It doesn’t make him pitch better when you boo”) to clichéd (“We don’t come boo you at your place of work”) to condemning (“You are terrible people if you boo”).  A’s fans have continued to boo anyways, because Johnson has continued to suck.  This culminated in an incident last week where Johnson’s wife was booed at a team charity event.  I think booing Mrs. Johnson was, while slightly hilarious, over the line.  But where, exactly, is that line?

Look, I believe firmly that we as fans should generally be free to boo who we want to boo.  We the fans are the reason that players get paid millions of dollars, so players shouldn’t whine about being booed; better to be booed than to have no one watching at all.  So yeah, the general rule should be that you can boo anyone you want, whether he’s on the opposing team or on your team.  But as with most general rules, there needs to be a few exceptions to preserve the rightness of the universe:

The Human Decency Exception:  Don’t boo or cheer if a player is lying on the field injured.  Don’t be a bigoted booer.  Don’t heckle opposing players with a stream of non-stop expletives when you’re sitting next to a bunch of kids (maybe a few scattered f-bombs are okay).  These are all, like, duh.

The Derek Jeter Exemption:  A few years ago, Jeter started the season in a horrific slump, and he started to get booed a little bit at home.  This is after he’d already won four championships and pretty much established himself as the greatest shortstop in Yankee history.  This was messed up.  If you’re a Yankee fan, you do NOT boo Derek Jeter because he’s in a freaking slump.  To make this a more general rule, you don’t boo a guy on your own team solely based on performance if that guy still has a significant net credit with your franchise.  So let’s take the A’s, for example, who’ve made two consecutive postseason appearances.  Should any of the guys who were fundamental pieces on the 2012 and 2013 teams (e.g. Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson) be booed if they were having a rough start to 2014?  No way; there’s no way that a few horrendous months can offset what they’ve done previously.  Obviously, the length of the exemption depends on the magnitude of the positive contribution.  Maybe you can start to boo Coco next year, but franchise-changing guys like Derek Jeter have lifetime exemptions.   This is why it’s completely okay to boo Jim Johnson; he has zero track record with the A’s.  The exemption only applies if the booing is based solely on performance; if the booing is based on off-the-field stuff (like if Miguel Cabrera started drinking again), the exemption would no longer apply and booing would be permitted.

The Jacoby Ellsbury Corollary:  This is an offshoot of the Derek Jeter Exemption.  What happens when a guy who has given a ton to your franchise, including a couple of World Series titles, leaves as a free agent to go to your arch rival?  This was the sticky situation with Jacoby Ellsbury this year.  When he returned to Boston for the first time, the response was very mixed.  Some people cheered and some people booed.  Both were right.  This is a gray area.  Go with your heart.  You are free to boo or cheer as you please, regardless of what that player has done for your team in the past, because that player no longer plays for your team.  The only exception to this is that booing is not permitted when (1) a player had previously earned a lifetime Derek Jeter Exemption and (2) did not completely burn his bridges with his old team.  So Albert Pujols, who earned a lifetime exemption in St. Louis and left as a free agent largely because the Cardinals wouldn’t pay him his market value, should never be booed in St. Louis.  But LeBron James, who came close to earning a lifetime exemption in Cleveland, left so acrimoniously that he deservedly was booed every time he returned.

The Women and Children Caveat:  When I went to the Detroit Lions’ only playoff game victory in their history in 1991, there was a presentation at halftime to the national winners of the Pass, Punt & Kick competition.  These were kids between the ages of 7 and 14.   The Lions were well on their way to winning the game and going on to face Washington in the NFC Championship.  Washington had obliterated Detroit earlier that season, but it was a game that Barry Sanders didn’t play and Lions fans were itching for a chance at a rematch.  So when it was announced that one of the Pass, Punt & Kick winners was from Washington, the entire stadium booed the poor kid.  I mean, it wasn’t a malicious or threatening kind of booing; it was more like a collective reaction by 70,000 people to the announcement of the word “Washington.”  It was kind of awesome.  Anyways, the point is this: the rules of conduct in a stadium aren’t quite the same as in real life.  It’s perfectly acceptable to boo a player from the stands, but if you met him in person on the street and started booing him, you’d look like a crazy person.  A sporting event is entertainment and the spectators are the audience; it’s okay to respond to the presentation, even if it’s not directly related to the game.  So if they showed Mrs. Jim Johnson’s face on the Oakland Jumbotron, I think it would be okay to boo her (not saying that I would personally do that, but I’m not condemning it either).  But it wouldn’t be okay to harass a player’s family at a game since that’s not a part of the presentation, and booing Mrs. Johnson at a charity event is probably not okay as well.  But I wasn’t there, so I can’t say for sure.   It’s all about context.  I mean, if it was really funny, maybe it was okay.

The Douchebag Catch-all:  None of these exceptions apply to Alex Rodriguez.  Boo him on the street.  Boo his family.  Boo him while he’s sleeping.  Boo him forever.  BOOOOOO.

You Can’t Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t If You Don’t Know Where They Are

TB shift

“You never hold still when the enemy knows exactly where you are.” – Ender’s Game

More than ever before, baseball teams are employing the shift on defense.  I tried to look up stats to show how this is true, but it’s completely unnecessary.  Just watch any game.  Against righties, against lefties, with men on base, with no one on; teams are shifting like crazy.  I don’t think this is just a fad.  If anything, we may see even more extreme use of the shift in the near future.  But in the evolution of defensive positioning, is the shift the end of all things?

There’s an old baseball aphorism that says “hit ’em where they ain’t.”  But shifting, no matter how extremely you do it, still allows a hitter to assess the fielding landscape prior to each pitch (i.e. figure out “where they ain’t”) because the fielders, despite having shifted, become static prior to the time of the pitch.  So what about putting the fielders in motion prior to each pitch?  The Amazing Coco Crisp (yes, he is a superhero now) has said that he doesn’t like to attempt steals in certain situations because he doesn’t want to distract the hitter.  Can you imagine how distracting it would be to a hitter if every fielder just started sprinting in a random direction as the pitch was thrown?  Even if hitters eventually adjusted to this, wouldn’t this be highly entertaining to watch?  Wouldn’t you pay to watch Yasiel Puig running random spirals in right field?

Moreover, couldn’t being in motion be a wise strategic choice for outfielders in certain situations?  This is like putting a player in motion prior to the snap in football (I’m thinking Canadian football for a better example, where the receiver can actually start running forward pre-snap).  Standing still, an outfielder needs to accelerate from zero; but if the outfielder were running at the time of the pitch (and in the generally correct direction), the amount of distance he could cover would be drastically increased.  Obviously, this would also increase the amount of time it would take for him to stop and turn around if he’s running in the completely opposite direction of the ball.  But if all three outfielders are in motion, could there possibly be an arrangement of their starting vectors that provides superior field coverage?  I’m thinking something like the right and left fielders both start in the center fielder’s normal position and the center fielder starts at the center field wall.  While the pitcher is in his windup, the left and right fielders sprint towards the left and right field lines respectively, while the centerfielder runs straight in towards the infield.  This could create a lot of field coverage, while also creating the most chaos right in the hitter’s field of vision.

output_KkBE90

I’ve attempted to test my theory using this Web Gems game on ESPN by starting my fielder at the wall and then running towards the batter before the pitch is thrown.  I think this was an extremely scientific way to test this, but yet my results were somewhat inconclusive (though I did rack up almost 4000 points, which is a pretty good score, I think.  I get lots of girls).

This one time, I was playing centerfield during a softball game, and the other team had this guy who was just hitting lasers wherever he wanted.  He was hitting them where we weren’t; if I shaded over to left-center he would hit it to right-center and vice-versa.  Finally, I deliberately shaded far over to left, tantalizing him with a huge gaping hole in right-center field.  But as the pitch was in the air, I started to run over to right-center.  Sure enough, he laced a rocket to right-center, but I was perfectly positioned to easily catch it.  From center field, I could see the look of confusion on his face.  Wasn’t there a gap there?  Wasn’t that guy just in left-center?  Yeah.  I just destroyed you with my mind.  I am a softball ninja.  You can’t hit ’em where they ain’t if you don’t know where they are.  That’s the title of this article!

But seriously, I’m serious.  This idea isn’t as nuts as it sounds. Baseball already has fielders in motion in certain situations, specifically bunts (where the 1st/3rd basemen charge) and stolen base attempts (where the 2B/SS is running towards second base).  All I’m saying is that I think it’s highly likely that we can identify significantly more situations where putting fielders in motion is beneficial.  Now is that so crazy?

Opening Day 2014: Bold Predictions

1.  The St. Louis Cardinals will win more than 100 games.

Let me just say first of all that I kind of hate the Cards.  I hate Ozzie Smith, who is one of the most overrated players of all time.  He’s in the Hall of Fame (on the first ballot, to boot) and Alan Trammell isn’t?  Seriously?  Dude contributed virtually  nothing with the bat for his entire career, I don’t care how good he was with the glove (and come on, is there really that much of a difference between Ozzie and Omar Vizquel?  For that matter, is there even much of a difference between Ozzie Smith and Ozzie Guillen?)  I hate Tony LaRussa, who is going into the Hall of Fame despite being a complete dick of a person and managing players who were some of the most egregious steroid abusers.  I hate the 2006 version of the Cardinals, who didn’t deserve to win a World Series over my beloved Tigers and are the worst World Series champion of all time based on winning percentage.  God I hate them.

But it’s been awhile since the franchise has really given me anything to hate, so my feelings are returning towards ambivalence, and with that comes objectivity.  Entering the 2014 season, the Cardinals are the only team that are an absolute lock for the playoffs.  If we fast forwarded to October and you told me that any other team (say the Red Sox or the Dodgers) missed the playoffs, I wouldn’t be too surprised.  But there isn’t any way in hell that St. Louis doesn’t make the postseason this year.  This team not only has a stacked rotation, bullpen, offense and defense, they have a loaded farm system and depth all around the diamond.  No other team is as prepared to handle the inevitable injuries that can pile up during the course of the long regular season.  Combine all that with their relatively weak division, and I think it’s completely reasonable that this team just runs away from everyone else in the National League.  No team has won 100+ games since Philly in 2011 and overall there might be even more parity this year, but the Cards, as much as I hate to say it, will be the exception.  I take no joy in this prediction whatsoever.

2.  The Oakland A’s will finish with the most wins in the American League (and get to the ALCS).

In 2012, no one picked the A’s to do much of anything, but they finished one game shy of the best record in the AL.  In 2013, very few people picked the A’s to repeat, but they again finished one game shy of the best record in the league.  I think most prognosticators have learned their lesson, so no one is picking the A’s for a complete collapse this year, but most are not picking the A’s to match their 96 wins from last year.  But I like their chances of not only winning their division, but having the best record in the league.

There’s still a lot of upside on this roster that wasn’t captured in 2013.  So while Josh Donaldson likely won’t match his MVP-caliber performance, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes are both primed to improve on poor 2013 season.  Coco Crisp won’t fall off as much as people think as long as he stays healthy (see previous post), and the A’s are getting close to perfecting the art of the platoon at both first base and at catcher (where I like both Derek Norris and John Jaso to have good seasons).  The real question with the A’s is with their rotation, after losing Jarrod Parker for the year and Bartolo Colon to free agency.  On top of that, A.J. Griffin is out for the first few weeks of the season.  But Sonny Gray looks like he could be a legitimate ace, something the A’s didn’t really have the last two seasons, and if they need another starter mid-season, I trust Billy Beane to go out and get one.  Moreover, I think any deficiencies in the rotation can be overcome by what looks like an even stronger bullpen than the 2012 and 2013 versions, which were both pretty damn good.

As for the postseason, the A’s deserved better than their two consecutive first-round exits at the hand of the Tigers.  So, I’ll say that they win the ALDS this year and exorcise some demons…but then lose in the ALCS in seven games to the Tigers, with Justin Verlander winning games 1, 4 and 7.  Sorry A’s fans, but hey, it’s one step further than last year.  I love Justin Verlander.

3.  The Toronto Blue Jays will contend for a playoff spot.

In the past two years, all four of the other teams in the AL East have made the playoffs.  It’s the Blue Jays’ turn!  Okay, well, baseball (and life) doesn’t exactly work like that, but I loved this team on paper last year and I like them even more this year.  The offense was fine last year and should be even better this season if Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes can stay somewhat healthy; I also like Melky Cabrera to come back and contribute, well, anything.  The bullpen, led by Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil, should be nails.  Like the A’s, the question marks are in the rotation. I’m a huge R.A. Dickey fan, so I think he has a good year, though maybe not quite Cy Young caliber.  Mark Buehrle is consistently mediocre, but at least he’s not going to kill you the way Josh Johnson did last year.  So really it comes down to Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison and Dustin McGowan in the back half of the rotation.  That’s an injury-prone strikeout artist with control issues, a high-upside rookie, and one of my favorite breakout fantasy candidates…from 2008 (and who has pitched less than 100 innings total at all levels since then).  That’s a ton of question marks, but I like the upside potential from this group.  If the Jays can get even league average performance from their starters, I like their offense and bullpen enough to keep them in the mix for a wild-card slot all year.  I’m not saying they’ll definitely make the playoffs, but they’ll get close.

4.  The Detroit Tigers will win less than 90 games.

Ahh…my Tigers.  I don’t even know what to do with these guys right now.  After an offseason and spring training where it appears ownership and upper management have gone collectively insane (Fielder-Kinsler trade, Fister trade, trading for two garbage shortstops to cover for Iglesias injury, failure to re-sign Scherzer, WTF Cabrera contract), this team just has a really bad juju to it.  I’m now prepared for the worst, but of course still hoping for the best.  But there is a ton of downside to this team.

– Offense:  With Prince Fielder departing, it looks like Miguel Cabrera could lead the league in homers…and the Tigers could finish last in the AL in home runs.  Where’s the power coming from in this lineup?  Even if you disregard power, however you set this lineup, spots six through nine in the batting order just look like black holes to me.  I expect Nick Castellanos to struggle to make contact his rookie year and I don’t have much hope for Alex Avila to be anything more than okay.  Granted, as long as the Tigers have Miggy they’ll at least be average, but will average be good enough?

– Starting pitching:  Despite the horrendously bad Doug Fister trade, I still think this could be the best 1 through 5 rotation in baseball if everyone stays healthy, even accounting for declines from Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer, but the Tigers have been pretty fortunate the last couple of years health-wise.  If even one of these guys goes down, there isn’t a single guy in the organization who can step in as a serviceable starter.  Jose Alvarez could have been that guy, but we just traded him for SS A. Romine (can’t remember whether he is Austin or Andrew) in a panic move.  One injury will be tough to recover from; two and the season’s over.

– Bullpen:  The Tigers’ achilles heel the last two postseasons has been the bullpen, though maybe more due to Jim Leyland’s mismanagement.  But as mediocre as last year’s bullpen was, this year’s is stacking up to be much worse.  The best three guys from the Tigers’ 2013 bullpen (Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly, Jose Veras) are gone (or, in Smyly’s case, moved to the rotation) and have been replaced by Joe Nathan and a bunch of garbage.  Now, Joe Nathan is a pretty good closer, but there’s no way that one closer makes up for three solid bullpen arms.  Despite having the big names on their roster, the Tigers have underperformed during the regular season the last couple years, largely due to bullpen weaknesses.  This is only going to get worse this year.

The Tigers aren’t going to win 90 games.  Their only hope really is that 88 wins or so is enough to win the AL Central.  I think it just might be enough, but if the Royals or Indians get a little lucky this year, we could be looking at the end of the Tigers’ three-year postseason streak.

Postseason Predictions:

AL East: Boston
AL Central: Detroit
AL West: Oakland
Wildcards:  New York, Toronto

NL East:  Washington
NL Central:  St. Louis
NL West:  Los Angeles
Wildcards:  Honestly, I would not be surprised if it were any teams other than New York, Miami or Chicago.  Let’s just say Cincinnati and San Francisco.

ALCS: Detroit over Oakland
NLCS: St. Louis over Washington

World Series:  Detroit (88 wins) over St. Louis (101 wins).  Revenge for 2006!  Suck it St. Louis.

Coco Crisp, Home Run Stealer

In March of 2013, Coco Crisp spoke to Grantland about his base-stealing philosophy:

“A lot of guys like to see what kind of pitches a pitcher will throw, for hitting. Since I don’t care about that [laughs] … I just like to go up there, see the ball, hit the ball. I don’t like too much information for hitting. But for base stealing, I can never have too much information. So I like to go in there and see what their first movement is, check on their times [to home]. With base stealing, the biggest thing is knowing what time you can steal off of a pitcher, and being patient with that. I just try to collect as much information as possible so I have a higher-percentage chance to steal.”

Coco then went on to hit a career-high 22 home runs in 2013, but posted the lowest stolen bases number of his A’s career (21).  I don’t know why he ran so little in 2013; maybe his legs weren’t fully healthy all year, maybe age started to take its toll, or maybe he gave away too much strategy in the Grantland article.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that he was able to hit so many homers not by sheer luck or statistical anomaly, but by applying a basestealer’s mindset to home run hitting.  He’s not hitting homers, he’s stealing home runs.

Coco has been a remarkable base stealer over the course of his career, and his success rate has improved with age.  In his four seasons with the A’s, he has posted a 87% success rate (better than Carlos Beltran’s career rate).  Here’s another quote from the Grantland article:

Q:  That whole thing about not making the first or last out of an inning at third base … will you never, or rarely, run if you’re on second with nobody out, or two outs, because of fear of getting caught?
A:  Well I’m always trying to make sure I don’t get caught. But even more so, I guess, in those situations. So I want to make sure that it’s 100 percent that I’m going to make it.”

For Coco, it’s not about attempting a steal every time he gets on base to rack up his total steals count.  Rather, it’s a case-by-case risk analysis.  If there are enough factors leaning in his favor (slow delivery, high leg kick, pitch type, game situation) he’ll go.  It seems to me he’s approaching home runs in the same way.  Here’s how he does it:

1.  Directional Hitting

Have you ever noticed that when reporters interview a guy after he hits a big home run, he often says something like, “I wasn’t trying to hit a home run, I was just trying to hit the ball hard”?  Very rarely do I ever see someone say, “Yeah, I was trying to dent the freaking moon.”  I kind of feel like this is one of those canned interview answers, like “both teams deserved to win” or “it’s not about me, it’s about the team” or “I only took steroids to recover from an injury”, but I also feel like this response has some truth to it.  Sometimes, a ballplayer really is just trying to hit a line drive, but accidentally hits a home run instead.

Coco Crisp is not one of these players, because he’s not strong enough.  (I’m speaking in relative terms.  Obviously Coco Crisp could beat the crap out of me; I’m just saying he doesn’t have the brute strength of a Miguel Cabrera, who probably often tries to park a double in the gap but instead hits a semi in the parking lot.)  Being the self-aware guy he is, he compensates for his lack of pure power by aiming down the lines.  This is where each of Coco’s homers landed in 2013:

Crisp_Coco_2013_scatter

You can see from the chart that Coco is an extreme pull hitter when it comes to home runs; if you chart his non-homers, he exhibits only slight pull tendencies and sprays the ball to all fields.  Out of his 22 homers, 21 were pulled strongly, many of them down the line, none were hit to center or the alleys, and one was hit to the opposite field.

What I see from this chart is intent.  When Coco decides to try for a home run “steal”, he maximizes his chances for success by taking advantage of (1) the shorter distance to the wall from the plate at the corners, and (2) the faster bat speed generated by pulling the ball.

2.  Situational Hitting

Using his pull-only approach, Coco will look for a particular pitch (seems to me like he guesses fastball or breaking ball about 50/50 on successful home runs) and if he gets that pitch on the inside half of the plate, he’ll let it fly.  But are there particular game situations where he is more likely to attempt a HR steal?

Let’s take a closer look at the differences in Coco’s approach when there are runners on base and when they are empty:

Bases empty:  8.1% BB, 13.2% K, 3.0% HR, 3.83 pitches/PA
Men on base:  9.9% BB, 8.8% K, 1.5% HR, 3.53 pitches/PA

These splits are over the last three seasons combined, but the differences in the ratios generally hold true for any of those three individual seasons.  In 2013, for example, he posted an ISO of .200 with the bases empty and .149 with men on.  16 of his 22 homers were solo homers (and 15 of the first 16).

Coco strikes out 50% more often and hits homers 100% more often with the bases empty.  This Jekyll-and-Hyde result appears to be due to a deliberate willingness to sacrifice contact for power with the bases empty.  With men on base, he appears to be much more of the self-proclaimed “see the ball, hit the ball” player.  I don’t think Coco is the only player to show a consistent situational split like this, but his does seem to be rather pronounced.

Why is this?  I’m not sure.  I think much of this has to do with the base-stealer’s mentality.  The element of surprise is a huge part of stealing bases, one that greatly increases the odds of success.  By that logic, it may seem to Coco that a game-changing home run is much more on a pitcher’s mind when there are runners on base than when the bases are empty.  Alternatively or in addition, it may be about risk for Coco.  While there is a greater reward for hitting a homer with men on base, there is also a greater penalty for striking out and failing to advance the runners or extend a rally.  I think that additional negative effect is hard to stomach for a base stealer that wants to be 100% sure he’s going to be successful on a stolen base attempt.

Of the players that hit 18 or more homers in 2013, Coco ranks dead last in average home run distance, and it’s not even close.   There was an article on FanGraphs last fall that questioned Coco’s ability to repeat his 2013 homer binge and suggested that “Crisp will have a difficult time replicating this season’s power numbers because in comparison to other home run hitters, he simply hasn’t hit his fly balls very far.”

I disagree, because Coco simply isn’t like other home run hitters.  He’s not a home run hitter at all, he’s a home run stealer.  I’d rather look at this the way we look at stolen bases: how many times did Coco attempt to hit a home run in 2013 and how many times was he successful?  Only Coco knows the answer to the first part of that question, but I think that Coco’s increase in homers in 2013 was driven more by an increase in home run attempts (i.e. more situations where Coco identified optimal go-for-it conditions) than an increase in success rate.  I would expect his rate of success would remain relatively constant or even rise as he becomes wiser with age (just as his SB success rate and BB/K rates have increased).  The real question then is how many times will Coco attempt to hit a homer in 2014?  If the answer to that unknowable question is something similar to 2013, I would give Coco a great shot to hit, nay, steal 20+ homers again in 2014.