The A’s often refer to Coco Crisp as their sparkplug, but keeping him in the lineup has been a challenge because of injuries. So they’re trying a new tactic: moving Crisp, their center fielder most of the last five seasons, to left field for 2015.
Crisp has been working exclusively in left field this spring and will make his first Cactus League start there Thursday, manager Bob Melvin said. Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld will platoon in center field.
“We feel like we’ve got a better chance to keep (Crisp) healthy out there,” Melvin said.
Crisp had a neck injury for much of last season and was limited to 126 games. He has not played more than 136 games in a season for the A’s, and his all-out style has contributed to some of his injuries.
Melvin said the move could prevent some of the inherent wear and tear of playing center, where Crisp has to cover more ground and may be more likely to dive or run into a wall. The A’s briefly moved Crisp to left in 2012, after they acquired Yoenis Cespedes, but he played just 16 games there before switching back. Crisp has played 232 games in left field in the majors.
Melvin said Crisp had “some questions” when he was moved in 2012 “and he had some questions about this, too. He’s handling it like a pro. But there’s also a pride factor for a guy that’s one of the premiere center fielders, to switch positions.”
Crisp made it clear that he would prefer to stay in center field, but he said he understands the reasoning for the move and is “OK with it.”
“I feel like if I’m healthy and I’m out there, I’m still one of the best center fielders in the game defensively,” Crisp said. “I would rather play center; I still feel like I’m good. But then the way the numbers were last year, with me being hurt, the feeling about it is they want to keep me as healthy as possible.”
Crisp said he does “appreciate (the A’s) trying to keep me as healthy as possible.” But he said simply moving positions will not lead him to change his aggressive style. Crisp was injured last season running into the center-field wall and has acknowledged that being less aggressive could help him avoid injury, but he said it’s hard for him to play at less than full effort.
“For me, if I’m out there and I’m not trying to dive for a ball or go get it, then when I come into the dugout, if I felt like I could’ve caught it, I look down at the pitcher who’s pitching and I feel bad,” Crisp said. “And I don’t like that feeling.
“I tried to play a little more cautious last year, and that’s the feeling I got from it. I didn’t like it. Like I said, (the move is) not something I wanted. But what they want is to keep me healthy. So I understand that, and it’s OK. I’m OK with it.”
Crisp’s experience in left should help him adjust to the different angles and spin on fly balls from the corner position. Still, Melvin said left field is “probably the toughest outfield position as far as reading spin,” and figures “it’s going to take some time” for Crisp to get comfortable.
Melvin said having two capable center fielders in Fuld and Gentry helped free the A’s to make the switch. Having looked at the defensive analytic numbers for their outfielders, Melvin said, the A’s “feel like we’re in good hands there – very good hands.”
Fuld said he understands Crisp not being thrilled about the move, having gone through a similar situation in the minors, but he doesn’t think Crisp will have difficulties with the defensive transition. That he, Gentry and Crisp already have played in the same outfield, Fuld said, should help them get used to communicating in their new roles.
“He’s athletic, he works,” Fuld said. “He’ll be fine.”
Crisp said he disagrees with analytics that indicate he regressed last season defensively, saying the games he missed due to injury likely affected his projected numbers. He said the A’s approached him at the beginning of spring training with the option of moving between center and left field, but he preferred to stay at one position. So for now, he’s acclimating to the move.
“We’ll see how it goes for us,” Crisp said. “It’s something that they want to give a shot. I don’t want to say ‘we.’ They want to give it a shot and see if it works. I’m going to go out there and try to make it work. We’ll see how it goes for the team.
“But I want to make it clear that when they came to me, there was no hard feelings or foul discussions about it. It was just, ‘Huh, OK. This is different.’”