Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cards Need to Find Allen Craig an Every Day Home

The St. Louis Cardinals were robbed a bit of their glory. They won the World Series for crying out loud, but soon after Tony LaRussa retired and speculation about a new manager and the ever present story of what Albert Pujols will do have all taken over the spotlight. Baseball readers never really got to sit in the gravis of what we just witnessed. Certainly, the managerial situation and Pujols are huge stories. And now that Mike Methaney has been hired as manager, that story has been magnified. But again, wasn't the post season run of the Cardinals somehow forgotten in the wake?

History will remember the 2011 World Series for David Freese and rightly so. His heroics in Game Six of the World Series will be rightly featured for years to come. But it was just as much a post season for other heroes like Lance Berkman, Albert Pujols (for one game anyway), Chris Carpenter and Allen Craig. The two biggest surprise stars of Freese and Craig should only be one surprise. Freese is a very good player when healthy (which hasn't been often) but we know what he's about. There is a certain sample size to his career. So the way he came up big was a surprise. But the Allen Craig display shouldn't be a surprise at all. He's been playing like that for quite a long while.

A long while? Why yes. Though he just burst on the major league scene, Craig is going to be 27 in 2012. Only an eighth round draft choice in 2006, Craig put in 517 games over six seasons in the minor leagues. To this writer's mind, that was 150 games too many. Craig was a killer in the minors. After ripping up Double A, Craig played 219 games in Triple A and put together this slash line: .320/.379/.545.

Craig was given a limited chance in 2010. He did manage to get into 44 big league games good for 124 plate appearances. But it really wasn't much of a shot. And so he was given more time in Triple A to start the 2011 season. Once he got the call back to the majors in 2011, he showed what he can do. He got into 75 games in 2011 good for 219 plate appearances and put up the following slash line: .315/.362/.555. Look familiar? Look at the last paragraph. So it really was no surprise that he put up a 1.005 OPS during the entire post season.

But he's still a player without a position. One of this author's favorite writers, Daniel Shoptaw, over at C70 Baseball indicates that Daniel Descalso is going to be given the second base position. So where does that leave Craig? The Cardinals already have Clank and Clank (Berkman and Holliday) starting at the outfield corners. You swallow hard when the ball is hit to them, but they are such good offensive players and are making so much money that you have to play them there (assuming Pujols is resigned). Allen Craig has shown some versatility in his playing positions, but he's not a center fielder. Besides, John Jay has shown he can handle that position and can hold his own offensively. Freese is established at third. So what about Craig?

May this author suggest that one of two scenarios works quite well. Craig held his own in brief appearances at second base. Well, at least baseball-reference.com thought he did. Fangraphs disagrees. Craig's numbers in brief appearances in center are fine but he lacks range and with those two corner positions already manned by sloths, you have to have a center fielder with range in the middle of them. But if the Cardinals could live for years with Skip Schumaker at second, can't they with Craig?

So what's the second scenario? Um...dare the Fan say it? Sure, why not. Let Pujols walk, put Berkman at first and Craig in right field. There. There, the Fan said it. What was Albert Pujols' fWAR in 2011? 5.1. What was Craig's in less than half the playing time? 2.6. Wouldn't it be reasonable for Craig to project over five in WAR over a full season? His splits are fine, so that's not a problem. And he'd be just a bit cheaper. It certainly possible for Pujols to come back with another monster year. But it's just as possible for Craig to do so too. The most it could cost the Cardinals is two wins. Plus, without having to pay Pujols, you could get Jimmy Rollins to play short. Wouldn't that be cool?

All this writer knows is that Allen Craig needs to be in the Cardinal line up every day. Somehow. His time has come and he is a unique talent that needs to be showcased...every single day.


netherton said...

Brilliant article, William.

Those of us that have watched Allen Craig, Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay come up through the minor league system are not surprised at what they have accomplished, because, as you have indicated with Craig, they have done that throughout their entire minor league career.

One interesting subplot to your "let Albert walk" scenario surrounds Matt Adams. He just finished up a season at AA and should be promoted to AAA next year. If you take a look at his development, one name will jump out at you - Prince Fielder, this kid may be the next Prince Fielder.

Lefties are always hard to handicap, but this kid really looks like the real deal. There is a lot of reason to be excited about the Cardinals future.

Thanks for giving Allen Craig some attention.

William J. Tasker said...

Thank you, Bob, and you're welcome. Must now go look up this Matt Adams!