Allen Craig of the St. Louis Cardinals has done nothing but hit ever since he's had a chance to see Major League pitching on a regular basis. He did struggle in his first brief playing stint in 2010 for 44 games, but he also was asked to play five different positions and has played six different positions since he arrived in St. Louis. In his last 669 at bats, Craig has 207 hits, 33 homers, 50 doubles and has driven in 132 runs. And after a devastating injury cost him the first 43 games of last season, it appears that he has settled into being the Cardinals first baseman for the foreseeable future. Let's dig a bit deeper into Craig and see if we can find six things you might not have known about him.
1. Allen Craig has had a healthy home run to fly ball rate in his last two seasons. His rate of 18.3% of 2011 fell a bit to 17.1% in 2012, but that is still a very healthy power sustaining rate. However, his percentage of batted balls hit into the air have tumbled with each of his three seasons where it went from 39.3% in 2010 to 37% in 2011 to only 33.3% in 2012. It will remain to be seen if his more or less full season in 2012 shows more of who he really is as a hitter than his two previous partial seasons. Craig does hit line drives prodigiously but for the Cardinals to reap more of his power, he needs to get the ball in the air more.
2. Craig was more or less wasted for two seasons in the Cardinals organization at the Triple-A level. It is pretty obvious from looking at his 2009 and 2010 seasons at Memphis that he had nothing to gain by being there. He did get into 44 games at the big league level in 2010, but Craig finds himself heading into the 2013 season as a 28 year old looking for his first complete season thanks to his late start and injury history.
3. The longer Allen Craig sees major league pitching, the better his plate discipline gets. In his brief 2010 season, Craig swung at 33.5% of pitches out of the strike zone. That came down to 29.2% in 2011 and then down again to 28.6% in 2012. If he can learn just a little more patience, he will be an even more elite hitter in the national league as his low walk total holds him back a bit.
4. While Craig's plate discipline gets better as we have seen in #3 above, he is also swinging and missing at less pitches. Craig swung and missed at 10.2% of pitches in 2010. That came down to 8.1% in 2011 and was down again to only 6.9% in 2012. That was a lower swing and miss rate than Albert Pujols had in 2012 (7.0%). That's pretty impressive.
5. Even though Craig missed 43 games in 2012, he still came in 27th in the majors in WPA. He seems to be very good at being productive with runners in scoring position. That, folks, was an understatement. In 255 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Craig has an OPS of 1.055. Yes, that will do some damage. When there are two outs with runners in scoring position, his OPS was .992. However, Craig falls down a bit in late and close games in which he dries up a bit and that results in Fangraphs giving him a negative clutch score.
6. Allen Craig is not discriminatory on what he hits. He has positive scores against every pitch type except the change up. He has a healthy OPS against power pitchers and finesse pitchers, ground ball pitchers and fly ball pitchers and hits the ball well to all fields. Perhaps this is sneaking Numbers 7, 8 and 9 in here, but Craig really isn't a pull hitter, but when he does pull the ball, his OPS is a mashing 1.358 for his career.
It appears that Allen Craig is going to be one of the league's elite hitters the next couple of seasons if he stays healthy. He seems to have found his permanent home for the Cardinals at first base. But to offset the position value there, he will have to reverse his trend of less fly balls and hit for some more power. But Craig does have a career .515 slugging percentage so that is nothing to sneeze at. The two projections for Craig in 2013 seen so far are bullish for him and there is no reason why Craig can't continue to develop his plate discipline to add to what is already a pretty fantastic offensive arsenal.