In a move that could have cascading implications on playing time throughout the Oakland A's roster, the A's announced that Coco Crisp will be the team's left fielder in 2015. A's manager Bob Melvin told Oakland's beat writers about the move before the team's second Cactus League game on Wednesday. SF Chronicle's Susan Slusser was the first to report the change on Twitter.
Melvin told the A's press corps that the A's felt the move from center to left will help Crisp stay healthy over the course of the 162-game season. Crisp has been bothered by a bad neck over the past year. He has also dealt with various leg issues. The neck injury, in particular, was aggravated several times last season when Crisp crashed into the wall in center. Melvin told the A's media that the A's front office analyzed how the wall comes into play in the outfield and found that it was much more of a factor for centerfielders than left fielders.
Crisp appeared in 126 games with the A's last season, but he was noticeably hampered down-the-stretch even when he was playing. The A's offense performs significantly better when Crisp is hitting well at the top of the line-up, so it makes sense for the A's to try to find ways to keep Crisp healthy and rested. Crisp hit only .246/.336/.363 with nine homers and 19 stolen bases last year. In 2013, he hit .261/.335/.444 with 22 homers and 21 stolen bases.
The defensive metrics weren't kind to Crisp last season in center, as he went from being rated as an elite centerfielder to a below-average one from 2013 to 2014. Those metrics are far from fool-proof when it comes to analyzing defensive value, but there is no question that Crisp was fighting through injuries that limited his mobility at times last year.
The A's are able to make the move with Crisp because they have two other natural centerfielers on their projected Opening Day roster -- Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld. Before the Crisp move was announced, Gentry and Fuld were expected to be the A's left field platoon. Both Gentry and Fuld are excellent defensive centerfielders and both have strong throwing arms, which has always been an area of weakness for Crisp.
Moving Crisp to left does change how the A's are likely to set-up their day-to-day line-ups. Since Crisp is a switch-hitter, he will start against both righties and lefties. Crisp is still likely to get days off from time-to-time to stay fresh and could also see some time at DH, but Crisp's days off aren't likely to be determined by match-up as much as other player's on the A's roster. Gentry and Fuld will share time in centerfield, but it may not be as much of a strict platoon as it would have been when they were sharing leftfield. Although Fuld is a fine centerfielder, Gentry is the better glove between the two and he could get more starts versus right-handed pitchers when the A's have a flyball starter on the mound.
If Rule 5 pick Mark Canha makes the A's Opening Day roster, the right-handed hitter may get most of his outfield starts in right field instead of left field under this new defensive alignment. A's starting right fielder Josh Reddick is a much better hitter versus right-handed pitching than he is versus southpaws. Reddick is one of the best defensive right fielders in the game, so he will still get some starts versus lefties, but he is more likely to be subbed out for a right-handed bat like Canha than Crisp is in left.
Ben Zobrist is looking more and more like the A's everyday second baseman. He could still see some starts in left when Crisp is out or DHing and Zobrist could also serve as the A's right-handed hitting right fielder in place of Reddick, but chances are, with Crisp in left, Zobrist will get the bulk of his starts in the infield (barring injuries to any of the A's starting outfielders, of course). The A's are also not likely to trade for an offensive-minded second baseman or left fielder with Crisp now in left. Of course, they could always move Crisp back to center if they make another move, but a shift like this with a veteran as respected as Crisp seems like more than a passing whim.