Both Coco Crisp and Johnny Damon came at a very steep price. The Red Sox mortgaged part of their future, while the Yankees simply coughed up $52MM for four years. Tossing salaries and cost of acquisition aside, which team actually has the better player for 2006?
Let’s start by looking at Baseball Prospectus’s WARP statistic. Wins Above Replacement Player is a measure of value that combines both offense and defense into a single number.
Damon was worth 5.5 wins in 2005, while Crisp tallied 5.6. So the players had very near equal value. Baseball Prospectus projects Crisp at 4.6 wins in 2006, whereas Damon projects at 5.7. It will be interesting to see if those projections are changed before the ’06 season begins.
As leadoff hitters, who gets on base more often? Damon has a career OBP of .353, but his last two seasons had rates of .380 and .366. Crisp has a more pedestrian .332 career OBP, with marks of .344 and .345 in recent years. It’s not a huge difference, but Damon has a clear advantage here.
Damon’s overall offense is superior, probably worth about one win more than Crisp.
How about defense? Damon posted 14 FRAR (Fielding Runs Above Replacement) in 2005 and 22 the season before. Crisp managed 15 FRAR in left field last season, and 11 as mostly a CF in 2004. His playing time was limited, but it still looks like Damon may have a slight edge here. Damon had a 2.93 range factor in 2005 to Crisp’s 2.23. Crisp posted a 2.32 mark in 2004. Fielding stats are imperfect, but it doesn’t hurt to consider what’s available.
One other factor to consider is that Damon is entering his age 32 season while Crisp is entering his age 26. That’s an important six year difference. Crisp’s most comparable player, Jim Piersall, posted a .293/.350/.449 line at age 26. Damon’s closest comp is Kenny Lofton, who hit .301/.405/.432 at age 32 but managed just 465 ABs. Obviously these are just comparisons, but Lofton basically became a part-time player due to injuries and declining skills at age 35. After hitting .322 at age 31, Piersall didn’t contribute much in any season.
It’s close, but I’d rather have Damon if I was trying to win it all in 2006. Certainly Boston’s decision is defensible considering Damon’s contract and age.