Coco Crisp has been one of the brightest surprises so far this season. Through 18 games, he's hitting .319/.424/.667 with five homers, 11 RBI, 20 runs and seven steals. He's unlikely to continue hitting homers at his current pace, but other than that, his numbers are completely supported by his advanced stats. His .295 BABIP is completely sustainable -- one could even argue a player with his speed should routinely post a higher BABIP.
The one area where Crisp has made real strides this year is with his patience at the plate. He has always been a relatively selective hitter, but he has taken it to new heights in 2013. Not only has it contributed to the best start of his career, but it also provides a foundation for him to keep up this level of production all season.
Crisp's walk rate is up to 15.3 percent this season and his strikeout rate is way down at 7.1 percent. Previously, his highest marks in those stats for a season with at least 400 plate appearances were 8.9 percent and 12.6 percent, respectively. First, I should note that he accumulated those rates last year, so this looks like a skill that he has nurtured and is building on this season. Second, the details are in his plate-discipline stats, which tell a great story.
The advanced stats Bible known as Fangraphs tracks the percentage of pitches every player swings at inside (Z-Swing) and outside (O-Swing) the strike zone. It also tells us that the average major league player offers his bat at 30 percent of pitches that would be balls. Crisp has always been better than that average, never swinging at more than 27.3 percent of balls in any season of his career -- more often than not, he has been in the low 20s.
However, this year he has cut that rate to 16.6 percent, which is where he was in his early days with the Indians. His overall swing percentage is down to 37.9 percent this year, which reflects not only his more discerning eye, but greater patience with pitches within the strike zone, as well. His Z-Swing percentage this year is 63.3 percent, more than a full percentage point less than his career average. Unsurprisingly, his swinging-strike rate is a career-low 5 percent and his contact rate is a career-high 89.3 percent.
Knowing those stats is all well and good, says you, the reader, but how can this knowledge help me? Well, if you are a Crisp owner, it should tell you that his breakout this season is for real, so you shouldn't try and sell him high. The plate discipline he's displaying this year is indicative of a player who can sustain high rates. Moreover, when he does make contact, he's doing so solidly -- though his 16.9 percent line-drive rate could stand to be higher. He also has yet to pop out this year, and his infield-hit percentage is just 4.2 percent, which would be the lowest of his career should that hold all season. Odds are a player with his speed will end up legging out more than his fair share of infield hits.
There is one area of concern, and it has to do with his ground ball/fly ball ratio and how that interacts with his home run/fly ball ratio. Crisp is currently hitting eight ground balls for every 10 fly balls, which is not the sort of ratio you want to see from a player with his skill set. If he posted that same ratio for all of 2012, he'd be comparable to Adam Dunn, Jay Bruce and Alfonso Soriano. Clearly, he should be hitting more ground balls than fly balls when he is at his best, but he has been able to get away with it this year because he has a 16.7 percent home run/fly ball ratio. Again, applying that rate to 2012, he would be rubbing elbows with Adam LaRoche, Adrian Beltre and Matt Holliday. We can't expect Crisp to all of a sudden match those guys in terms of power.
Still, Crisp's improved plate discipline wins out here. Given that this is a trend over the last few seasons, fantasy owners can be confident that Crisp is a more patient hitter now than he has been at any point in his career. Even when the power tapers off, he'll be a major asset in the rate categories while hitting on top of a lineup that currently leads the league in runs scored.