Coco Crisp’s value to the A’s is shining through

The numbers certainly don’t jump out at you — a .252 batting average, seven homers and 35 RBIs — but Sunday’s performance reminded us that Coco Crisp’s value to the A’s goes beyond what his season stats would suggest. The switch hitter went 3 for 5 with five RBIs in Sunday’s 7-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians, but that’s just a snapshot of what Crisp has meant to the A’s during their revival this season. The A’s have gone an American League-best 43-25 since June 2, when they began their rise into postseason contention. Crisp took over as the regular leadoff hitter June 14. He has played in 49 of the A’s 68 games since then, hitting .306 with six homers, 24 RBIs, 32 runs scored and 17 stolen bases.

“He’s a guy you rely on, not only to set the table and create havoc at the top, but he gets big hits for us,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “With (Jemile Weeks) in the ‘9’ spot, it makes a lot of sense to get a guy on second base for (Crisp) because he comes up so big for us. He’s just a really good hitter and comes up big in big situations.”

I’ve written before about the huge difference in the A’s win-loss record when Yoenis Cespedes is in the lineup as opposed to when he is not. I continue to believe Cespedes is the single most important position player for the A’s down the stretch — whether he can stay healthy and whether he keeps producing in the cleanup spot. But Crisp’s health and continued production is also very key. The A’s have had a bit of a revolving door in the No. 2 spot in the order, but Crisp’s performance as the leadoff hitter has helped mask that. And though the A’s have been a much, much better power-hitting team this season, they still need that running-game element and the ability to manufacture runs, and Crisp contributes to that better than anyone on the team.

There’s been a lot of debate about whether Cespedes’ struggles in left field suggest he should be switched back to center. I’m a believer in keeping Crisp in center and Cespedes in left. Yes, I know Crisp’s throwing arm is a liability in center. And I realize that Cespedes is a better defender in center than he is in left. But I watch Crisp’s range — going left to right, and going straight back and charging in — and I see him make lots of plays in center that I don’t think Cespedes would make at this point. That’s based on some of the mistakes we saw Cespedes make in center before he even switched to left. Right now, I think Crisp’s range, experience and sure-handedness is a bigger asset in center than Cespedes would be. As for their throwing ability, runners would still be taking extra bases on Crisp in left. And Cespedes’ strong arm — utilized in left — can still deter runners from trying to advance. Cespedes has terrific defensive tools — speed and throwing arm, especially — but he’s got lots of developing to do. The A’s are better off right now having him do that developing in left.

I gather there are some strong opinions on this topic. Let’s hear ’em …

Joe Stiglich