Wednesday afternoon, Covelli Loyce “Coco” Crisp hit his 20th home run off Angels starter Jason Vargas. Crisp has been around the league for 12 years. He played in most robust offensive seasons in major league baseball history. Until the above, he had never hit 20 home runs in a season.
Sunday afternoon, Eric Sogard led a double-steal for the Oakland Athletics, already American League West champions by virtue of an earlier Rangers loss. Coco Crisp trailed Sogard, and in doing so recorded his 20th stolen base of the season. At 33, Crisp now has the first 20-20 season of his career. He’s just the 24th player to post his first 20/20 season after age 30, and only the fifth to do so at age 33 or older:
Crisp is hitting .257/.332/.443 on the season for a 118 OPS+ — the best of his career by nearly all measures. The only competition is his age-25 season back in Cleveland in 2005, when he hit .300/.345/.465 (117 OPS+ in the much more robust offensive times) over 145 games. That season set the stage for a trade to Boston where he was supposed to fill the void left by Johnny Damon. Crisp never hit in Boston, however — he posted just a .271/.330/.390 (84 OPS+) line before he was shipped out to Kansas City for reliever Ramon Ramirez. Crisp bolted for Oakland in free agency the next season.
By 2010, Crisp’s first year in Oakland, the Athletics were at something of a crossroads. The club had already missed the playoffs for three straight years for the first time in Billy Beane‘s tenure as general manager. Beane’s love and interest in getting into European club soccer had gone from intriguing story to full-blown meme. Crisp hit in 2010 — .279/.342/.438, 112 OPS+ — but floundered in 2011 with a .264/.314/.379 (91 OPS+) effort after the A’s picked up his club option. The Athletics missed the playoffs again in both seasons.
By 2012 it was five years since either a playoff appearance or a winning season in Oakland. Was Moneyball dead? Was it time for Billy Beane to give up and head for Manchester or Liverpool? Beane’s signings were getting tougher and tougher to justify. Among the lampooned was his decision to re-sign Crisp after his brutal 2011 campaign. Crisp earned $5.75 million on his club option in 2011. Not only did Beane re-sign the 32-year-old Crisp, he actually gave him a raise — two years and $14 million for player on the wrong side of 30 who had posted an OPS+ under 95 in six of the past seven seasons.
Crisp’s signing was supposed to be just another sign Billy Beane was behind the times, that everybody had caught up to his tricks. But Crisp had always been a fantastic defender, and the league was still starting to catch up to this whole “defense matters” thing. Any hitting would be a bonus.
And here Crisp is, en route to a second straight above-average season behind the plate. He has found more and more power each year — mostly thanks to hitting more and more fly balls (from 34% to 36% to 40% since 2011). His 22 home runs and 118 OPS+ are both career highs. Depending on how he does over the next weeks, he could post the highest WAR (Baseball-Reference) of his career as well — he sits at 4.1 against 4.4 (in 19 more games) in 2005.
Crisp, like so many of the players on this Athletics roster, is the perfect player for Oakland’s latest run. But there was no way anybody in Oakland could have seen this coming from Crisp — he’s been far more than the complimentary player he needed to be for this team to work. He’s been one of its best, an All-Star level performer — even if he hasn’t been recognized as such — and he’s a reason the Athletics aren’t just a good story this season, they’re one of the most dangerous teams in the major leagues.