Allen Craig as long been a favorite in these parts. Erik interviewed him. Roarke profiled him. He’s looked and played the part of a post-Ryan Ludwick every year up until last year where bad luck and stiff MLB competition faltered his steps a bit. What can we expect in 2011 and will it be enough?
A glance at Craig’s minor league stats reveal a player that has consistently been an above average performer if never a truly elite performer. He posted his lowest wRC+ (*) in 2006 — his first year — with just a 120. Since then he’s posted a 147, 129, 141 and 138 as he worked his way from Palm Beach to Memphis.
Offensively, Craig is a line drive contact hitter who has regularly hit above .300 and draws a middling number of walks. He’s show good power hitting 20+ homeruns on three separate occasions with an isolated power around .200 for his career. These are all very good statistics and it’s consistently surprising that, given his offense, he’s been relegated to something of an afterthought within the organization.
The reasoning for that, however, is not entirely opaque. Craig has been perceived as a player without a position. Primarily a third baseman in the minors, the Cardinals acquired David Freese and drafted Brett Wallace (in a farcical third base experiment) before moving Craig to right field. While he’s athletic enough to play the outfield, Craig’s arm doesn’t profile as a significant advantage and average defense is the most likely outcome of the transition.
2010 was riddled with bad luck for Craig. Despite hitting 22.5% of his balls in play as line drives, his BABIP was a mere .282. That’s well below what we’d expect and it weighed heavily on his .246 batting average. He continued to display the requisite secondary skills to be a valuable player (hitting for power and drawing some walks) but the results were undeniably uncharacteristic for Craig.
Even with these shortcomings, the pros clearly outweigh the cons and, barring the unforeseen, Craig should be a prominent part of the 2011 Cardinals. With the acquisition of Lance Berkman, Craig will serve as a backup in the outfield and potentially at third base as well. ZiPS sees a nice future for Craig projecting his 2011 slash stats at .280/.333/.438. That would be slightly above league average offensively and would give Craig the “introduction” he needs to be considered for a potentially larger role in the future.
*wRC+ is essentially a measure of offense using linear weights to determine how many runs a player was worth. That total is turned into a rate stat and the rate is them compared to league average. Thus, a wRC+ of 100 is league average; above 100 is good and below 100 is bad.