Coco Crisp, impact

A’s need both Burns and Crisp in the lineup

How do the A’s keep both Crisp and Burns in the lineup?

The Oakland A’s are better with both Coco Crisp and Billy Burns in the lineup. The problem? They both play center field.

One would think it would be easy to keep them both in the lineup being an American League team, having the option of the designated hitter, but for the Athletics it is unfortunately not quite that simple. Although perhaps it could be.

Where has Billy Burns been in the lineup? You can’t say he hasn’t been producing. He’s hitting .278 in 18 at-bats with one stolen base.

Crisp has a much lower batting average at .222 in 18 at-bats with a home run and two stolen bases. However, Crisp has struck out four times, while Burns is always at least putting the ball in play.

A's, Billy Burns
Billy Burns. Getty Images.

Burns was kept on the bench in both Saturday and Sunday’s games against the Mariners in favor of Crisp.

To be fair, Coco hasn’t been healthy in a while. His 10th-inning home run Sunday against the Mariners was his first since the 2014 season and he stole two bases on Saturday, surpassing the 300-mark for steals in his major league career.

Thus far this season, both seem to be starting out strong. Crisp says it is the most “normal” he’s felt in the last couple of years. So why can’t one of them be the DH, while the other plays in center field?

It’s unfortunately because the A’s have too much depth. When starting catcher Stephen Vogt isn’t catching, he often gets the DH spot because he’s one of the A’s best hitters.

It was announced Sunday that regular designated hitter Billy Butler would be taking a reduced role with the club, platooning with other players at the position and only getting in the lineup against left-handers.

This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise after Butler had the worst season of his career in 2015 after being signed by Oakland to a three-year, $30 million deal. It shouldn’t matter how much you are paid, getting in the lineup should be about how much you can produce.

Billy Butler, burns
Billy Butler. Getty Images.

So why hasn’t Khris Davis, the A’s new left fielder, been kept out of the lineup at all in the season’s first seven games? Butler had two doubles in the team’s opening series against the Chicago White Sox, while Davis has struggled, striking out a league-leading 13 times in just 23 at-bats.

The A’s want Davis’ potential power bat, but it’s been absent thus far. Both Burns and Crisp can play left field along with their regular position in center. Why not allow one of them to take over the left field duties for a day?

Burns doesn’t have power, but Crisp always has; not as much as Davis was advertised as having, but enough. The A’s play better with Crisp in the lineup; it makes sense that he needs to be in the lineup.

Yet it also makes sense for Burns to be in the lineup. He was named baseball’s fastest player by and Statcast. He beats out infield hits to get on base, and he doesn’t strike out often, and hasn’t yet in 18 at bats in 2016.

The A’s should also be worried about Burns’ development as a player. He’s currently coming off of what, in most years, would have been a Rookie of the Year season, but the emergence of Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Miguel Sano made it a much tougher race than it normally would have been.

Burns needs consistent playing time in order to perform in the manner he did last season, when he took over both as the team’s leadoff man and starting center fielder while Crisp was on the 60-day disabled list with a chronic neck injury.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to give playing time to the future in 26-year-old Burns than a chronically injured 36-year-old Crisp? It would make sense on most teams but in this case what makes the most sense is keeping both Burns and Crisp in the lineup until either one or both are unable to play. That time is coming closer and closer for Crisp, no matter how much the A’s fans revere him.

Khris Davis, burns
Khris Davis. Getty Images.

The solution is fairly simple, although it will likely never happen or at least not happen soon enough. Bench Davis from time to time, give Burns and Crisp both a chance to play. The team will get better at-bats and score more runs.

If the team can sit Butler, who had a bad season, despite the fact that he is the highest-paid player on the team along with Crisp, then why can’t they bench Davis?

Sure, when they traded their top catching prospect Jacob Nottingham to the Milwaukee Brewers for Davis, GM David Forst named him the A’s everyday left fielder.

But that’s what they said about Billy Butler and the DH position just a year ago. If they can sit Butler, they can certainly sit Davis in favor of not only guys who are playing better than him but also in favor of the development of Burns as their center fielder of the future.

So what are the A’s doing? Holding out two of their best players on days when they could feasibly be in the lineup while letting Khris Davis rack up strikeout after strikeout? It just doesn’t make sense. If you can sit Butler, which the A’s have, then you can sit Davis, too.

The Athletics are better with both Burns and Crisp in the lineup. It’s really that simple.

This shouldn’t be about what was said or promised or about money. It needs to be about winning and Burns and Crisp both playing everyday – whether in center, left or at the DH position – makes the A’s a better team.

Column: Billy Burns needs more playing time, and Khris Davis needs less

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