Coco Crisp's Return Has Spurred A's Entire Lineup
On May 15, the Oakland A's reached their low point of the still young baseball season. They dropped a second straight game to the Texas Rangers to fall to two games under .500. Losers of 10 of their first 14 games in May, the A's were stuck in a free fall.
Now, they're seven games over .500 thanks to a two week stretch that saw them go 6-0 against the lowly Astros and Royals and 5-2 against the not so lowly Rangers and Giants.
A few weeks ago, when Oakland was bogged down amid injuries and underperforming starting pitching, I posited that Coco Crisp's absence was hurting the offense more than anything. Two weeks after his return from the disabled list, there's a growing amount of evidence to support that theory. That starts with the A's 24-13 record and 5.4 runs per game with Crisp in the lineup and 7-11 record and 3.4 runs per game with him out. Part of that may be that his injury overlapped with some other injuries and a tough stretch in the schedule, and some may even just be an anomaly, so let's dig deeper.
The first problem that the A's encountered with Crisp out was at the leadoff spot. The team plugged a variety of other hitters into the too spot in the order with Crisp on the DL with varying degrees of success. At first blush, the myriad of backup leadoff guys did a fairly decent job in getting on base, the primary function of the leadoff hitter. True, their collective OBP of .371 in 89 plate appearances wasn't quite at the level that Crisp's .384 OBP is, but it is still pretty strong.
That said, there is one area that the alternative leadoff hitters fell woefully short in - power. Crisp is slugging .486 on the season. He was crushing the baseball when he got hurt and he's been crushing it since returning. The other leadoff hitters managed to slug only .338, a significant dip in power.
Of course, the fact that Crisp's leadoff power has been so critical to the A's run scoring could also be a concern down the road. Coco has never had a slugging percentage close to this. The last time he came close was in 2005 (.465) and he was a young 25 back then. It's logical to assume a regression to the mean. That's not a knock on Crisp who has been a good leadoff hitter while in Oakland. One simply has to question if he really can have his best season at this stage of his career.
Making a Difference in the Middle
How did Crisp's injury affect the rest of the lineup beyond his leadoff spot? This is a tricky question.
Bob Melvin is more than willing to tinker with his lineup on a daily basis (and I would argue that he does this as intelligently and successfully as any manager in the game). So even with Crisp in the lineup, there have really only been two constants - Crisp bats leadoff and Yoenis Cespedes hits third or fourth. That makes it tricky to compare production at various lineup spots from any point this season, since they are likely different players in the various batting orders.
Still, it is interesting to note that the biggest drop in production came for the 1-3 hitters, who averaged 1.2 fewer runs per game with Crisp on the DL. The 4-6 hitters fell off by 0.55 runs, and the bottom of the lineup stayed pretty constant with just 0.03 fewer runs per game.
That is curious because, as mentioned before, the other A's leadoff hitters were still getting on base at a very high percentage. The only big difference came in slugging percentage. Which further highlights that it is Crisp's surprising power surge that has generated a lot of Oakland's offense. That's great for the A's while it lasts, but how long will it? Again, although Crisp has often had pretty good slugging percentages for a leadoff hitter, he's never boasted power quite like this.
Oakland looks rejuvenated. Its starting pitching is rounding into form and the lineup has been boosted by the return of guys such as Crisp and Chris Young. And even if Crisp stops performing like a great leadoff hitter and plays simply like a good one, the progression of Yoenis Cespedes could more than make up for it. Cespedes is starting to hit very well after hurting and struggling to start the season. Throw the Joshes - Donaldson and Reddick - into the mix, and it will certainly be interesting to monitor who regresses and who progresses as the A's enter the summer months.
Matt Keith covers the Oakland A's weekly for numberFire. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @mattlkeith.