Bill Smith made a sizeble splash in the free agent market by singing Joe Crede late last night to a fair contract, that is loaded with incentives. I wrote about the potential risk that Crede might be. The Twins' fans are familiar with him. Is there anything more one can say as an introduction to Crede?
Well, there is: Joe Crede is one of those rare players who have spent 12 seasons with the same team. He was drafted out of high school in the 5th round of the 1996 draft and made the majors in 4 years as a 22-year old. His most impressive minor league seasons were in 1998 when as a 20 year old he hit .315/.382/.514, with 20 HR and 88 RBI for the Wiston-Salem Warthogs (Carolina League, high A) and in 2000 when in his second year as Birmingham Baron (Southern League, AA) he hit .306/.372/.490 with 21 HR and 94 RBI. That earned him a cup of coffee in the majors and annual trips the next 2 years. His breakthrough year was in 2002 with the Charlotte Knights (International League, AAA) where he hit .312/.358/.571 with 24 HR and 65 RBI in 359 AB (he had 200 AB with the White Sox that year where he hit .285/.311/.515 with 12 HR and 35 RBI) as a 24 year old. For the year, between AAA and majors, Crede hit 36 HR and drove in 89. His final career minor league line was .291/.346/.462.
Unfortunately, in the majors, he regressed from his 2002 appearance, never having another 113 OPS+ season (in 2006 when he hit .283/.323/.506 30 HR and 90 RBI, his OPS+ was 107.) Low OPS (esp. OBP) has been Crede's Achilles's heel after he left the minors for good in 2002. Let's try to look at the root causes of that and whether there is hope there:
Crede, in the majors, from 2002 to 2008 improved his BB% from a 3.8% in 2002 to a 8.2% in 2008 (which is positive) and his K% from a 20% in 2002 to a 13.4% in 2008. Thus, it is not that he strikes out and he is not taking walks what affects his OPS (Think Gomez in 2008.) He actually got better in these departments. The problem was what happened when the ball was in play after it left his bat. Here is a list of his BABIP from 2002 on:
Unlike pitchers, BABIP variations for batters do not signify "luck". Here is a good article that describes BABIP and hitters, in English. There are a lot of factors that might affect BABIP, but to make a long story short, the reason that Crede's BABIP decreased dramatically, is that his line drive percentage also decreased dramatically in the majors from 2002. Here are his yearly LD%:
Root cause found. Crede needs to get more line drives to increase his OBP and OPS. Line drives are not necessarily the hardest hit balls, but they do fall for a hit around 75% of the time. Huge factor for one's BABIP.
Is it fixable? Why would one stop hitting line drives? I looked at various places in 2003 to see whether something happened that might have affected Crede, and I found this tidbit. Apparently the White Sox coaching stuff in order for him to stop swinging at outside pitches, they turned him into a pull hitter vs. an all field hitter (and his 2002 season, see above, indicates that he indeed has power in all fields). I need some more sources to verify this, and expect and edit as soon as I find it.
Edit: Here is an additional reference to Crede's new swing and approach in 2003.
Edit 2: Here are Crede's spray charts for the US Cellular Field in 2002 and 2008.
I am including all hits and ground outs. This confirms that in 2002 when Crede had high OPS (driven by high BABIP, which in turn was driven by high LD%) he hit the ball into the opposite field and the change in his approach sometime in 2003 that turned him into an one dimensional hitter and reduced his OPS (again, BABIP and LD% driven) but decreased his Ks and increased his walks, reduced his all field hitting ability as indicated in his 2008 spray chart. Hypothesis confirmed.
I have been voicing my disapproval for the Twins' spread the ball to all fields hitting coach philosophy, but if there is a guy who can improve from that is Crede, and if there is place that he can improve from that is in Minnesota.
Here you have it!