Let me state from the outset that I am an Allen Craig fan. I love the way the guy plays ball. He plays hard, does what is asked if him, and seems to a hitting machine. His contributions to the 2011 World Series championship have been buried beneath tales of monster swings by David Freese and Superman performances by Chris Carpenter, but Allen Craig’s role in bringing home the franchise’s eleventh World Series was just as vital as either of those players. Even if you do not remember how important he was, rest assured that Alexi Ogando and Nelson Cruz both do.
In two full-time seasons Craig has maintained an average over .300, knocked in 92 and 97 runs, and his On Base Percentages were .354 and .373 so clearly he has been a solid player over the last two years since he was installed as a starter at first base. With it stated that I am unabashedly a fan of Craig I be honest that I am a little concerned about him going into the 2014 season. My concerns are not related to his injury history. Concerns about Craig’s health are certainly legitimate, but I think his injuries the last couple of years have had as much to do with bad luck as anything. The concerns that I have are related to two differences in Craig’s game between 2012 and 2013.
My first concern is Craig’s drop in power. In 2012 Craig hit 22 home runs and had a slugging percentage of .522. In 2013 he hit 13 home runs and had a slugging percentage of .457. In 2013 Craig slightly improved most batting categories, but the drops in home runs, slugging, and even in doubles (6 fewer) make it rather obvious that Craig’s power was not the same in 2013. The percentage of his batted balls that were fly balls dropped from 33% to 28%, and the number of his fly balls that left the yard dropped from 17% to 11%. What makes this power drop such a conundrum is that we have such a small sample size (two-and-a-half years), and there is nothing obvious, like an injury, to blame for this drop in power. For the last three years Craig has gotten more and more plate appearances, and his Isolated Power number (Slugging Percentage minus Batting Average) has gone down every year. The chart below shows exactly what I mean.
My second concern is related to Craig’s batting against left-handed pitchers. In 2012 he was absolutely deadly against southpaws. In 127 at bats he hit .354, but in 2013 in 126 at bats he hit only .278. A drop of .76 points is not a minor consideration. A large number of the Cardinals struggled with lefties in 2013, but Craig’s struggles were some of the most pronounced. It is one thing to struggle against left-handed pitching if that is who you are as a batter, but it is very curious to see the dramatic difference from one year to the next. We are left to wonder exactly who Craig is as a result. We would expect Craig, a quality right-handed hitter, to be much closer to the 2012 numbers going forward, but his 2013 struggles should make us ponder exactly what to expect from him when there is a left-hander on the mound.
To be honest I do not know what quite to expect from Allen Craig in 2014. I feel confident expecting a .300 average, 90 RBI, and a lot of hustle. I am much less confident with expectations for 25 home runs and sustained excellence against left-handers.