Allen Craig: Ignominious League Leader

Allen Craig‘s a really good player, mostly because he’s a really good hitter. He just ranked No. 40 in Dave’s Trade Value series. Allen Craig has a lot of good things going on, and here’s one of them: he’s been the league’s best hitter with runners in scoring position. According to Baseball-Reference, 334 active players have at least 250 career plate appearances with runners in scoring position. By batting average in the split, Joe Mauer is third, at .338. Joey Votto is second, at .347. Allen Craig is first, at .396. Not only is Craig in first; to drop into a tie with Votto, he’d have to go hitless in his next 43 such at-bats. I’m not claiming that Craig is unusually clutch, but so far, he’s hit at the right times, and his category lead is remarkable.

So we have to acknowledge that Craig is good. We have to do this, before discussing a way in which he’s been bad. A way in which he’s been worse than everyone else. Allen Craig is a league leader in multiple categories, and the one explored below isn’t something Craig is going to want to hear about.

The least-considered component of WAR, seems to me, is base-running. Which makes sense, because it’s also the least significant, in terms of variability around average. And to whatever extent people talk about base-running, a lot of the focus is put on stolen bases. Less consideration is given to guys who take extra bases, and guys who don’t. Only so much baseball can be discussed at a time, and base-running usually just isn’t impactful enough.

But it can be significant at the extremes. According to our metrics, Jacoby Ellsbury has already been worth +8.7 runs this year on the bases. That is, basically, a full win. A lot of that has to do with steals; a lot of that does not. Meanwhile, Allen Craig has already been worth -5.7 runs this year on the bases. That’s the lowest mark in baseball, lower than Paul Konerko, lower than Victor Martinez, lower than Prince Fielder plus Delmon Young. This isn’t about steals. Craig is 2-for-2 in stealing success. This is about other stuff, and Craig’s a league leader by a lot in another category.

By Baseball-Reference, this year there have been 294 base-running outs at home. That doesn’t count force plays. These are outs by runners trying to score from second on singles, or from first on doubles, or from third on fly balls, or what have you. There are 13 players who have made three such outs at home. There’s one player — Didi Gregorius — who’s made four. And then there’s Allen Craig, who’s already made seven. Seven times, Craig has run into an out at home, which is as many times as could be said for the Reds and Orioles. That’s more times than could be said for the Yankees, Blue Jays, Mets, and Royals. Last year’s league leader had eight. The year before, six. The year before that, seven. Craig, on his own, is responsible for 2.4% of these outs.

Outs on the bases hurt, and outs at home hurt a little more. Before this year, Craig had made only four total outs at home, and seven outs on the bases in all. This is what’s driving that -5.7, and for all the things that’ve gone right for Craig and the Cardinals, this has been a peculiar negative. In my way, I thought we’d go ahead and review all seven of Craig’s 2013 outs at home. I didn’t go to the video looking for anything in particular, but sometimes things stand out that I didn’t expect. So, now, footage of Allen Craig making somewhat costly outs, at the base that’s weirder than the other bases and isn’t referred to as a base.

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Let’s see that again, shall we?

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Why, Craig was safe! He was not deserving of this out! But Craig took it all in stride:

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So far, we’ve reviewed one Allen Craig out at home, and it wasn’t a legitimate out at home. It was just ruled that way, but we didn’t learn anything bad about Allen Craig. Bad break, is all.

  • May 3
  • Craig on first
  • Thrown out on Yadier Molina double

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This time, Craig was out, very barely. Open up an Internet stopwatch and click start and stop as fast as you can. You’ll end up with a time of a fraction of a second, maybe somewhere around 0.1 or 0.2. That’s about as fast as you could click. That’s by about how much Allen Craig was thrown out. In situations like this you don’t even necessarily need to be safe — you just need to be close enough to be called safe.

  • May 3
  • Craig on second
  • Thrown out on Pete Kozma single

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Out again, this time more easily, although the throw from the outfield was just about a direct strike. You’ll notice this happened in the same game. Within a few innings, Allen Craig made two outs at home on hits by teammates. The Cardinals won by five.

  • May 11
  • Craig on third
  • Thrown out on fielder’s choice

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Craig did help to prevent a would-be double play. But he didn’t stay in a rundown long enough to allow the runners to reach the corners. Technically, this is an out at home, even though Craig was tagged much closer to third.

  • May 29
  • Craig on second
  • Thrown out on Yadier Molina single

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That’s three Yadier Molina RBI. Three RBI that Molina doesn’t have to his name because Allen Craig made outs at home plate. Molina delivered his hits in the right situations, but they still didn’t score enough runs, and maybe this’ll matter since Molina should end up in the running for the National League Most Valuable Player award. But, probably, it won’t matter, because voters love Molina and have moved somewhat beyond the RBI, at least as far as catchers are concerned. Molina’s never going to lead the league in that category. Craig has just lent that fact greater certainty.

  • June 21
  • Craig on third
  • Thrown out on fielder’s choice

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Craig was easily out, but only based on the result; the actual process wasn’t easy, as Adrian Beltre had to make a difficult throw just over Craig’s head, to A.J. Pierzynski. I don’t know how more of those throws don’t drill base-runners in brain stems. It’s probably because professional baseball players are uniformly amazing. And Beltre is one of the greatest defensive third basemen in the history of the whole entire world.

  • July 7
  • Craig on second
  • Thrown out on Tony Cruz single

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An out by Allen Craig is actually a hell of a play by Jeff Mathis, as Giancarlo Stanton‘s throw was up the line. Craig couldn’t avoid the tag, but Mathis didn’t give him much of a window, so this was just a calculated risk gone wrong. I can’t speak to the break that Craig got off second base, given that there were two outs. If the first time Craig was thrown out at home was funny, by this point he was getting rather sick of the trend:

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What we’ve learned from all this isn’t much. One of Craig’s outs at home was the wrong call, although it’s possible Craig has also benefited from a wrong call in the opposite direction. Maybe he was called safe once or twice when he was actually out. Some of his outs have been close, some of them haven’t been, and I wouldn’t say any of this is predictive. Craig’s the league leader right now, by a good margin, but I don’t think that reveals anything in the way of “true talent,” so to speak, so maybe it’s hardly worth an examination. Craig probably isn’t unusually prone to running into outs at home. It’s probably just looked that way for a few months of one year.

But, seven of ‘em. Before this year, Craig had a total base-running value of -0.8 runs. Already he’s at -5.7, which is the worst mark in baseball. If you were wondering why that is, here’s most of the explanation. Craig probably hasn’t become a way worse base-runner. He’s just been caught in some circumstances.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


50 Responses to “Allen Craig: Ignominious League Leader”

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  1. Andrew says:

    This was enjoyable.

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  2. KillahYeast says:

    Nice read. Poor Craig.

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  3. Jon says:

    Very interesting. I noticed that in some of the plays you can see third base coach Jose Oquendo waving Craig in. Maybe Oquendo overestimates Craig’s speed.

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    • Jake says:

      Good point, Jon. Has anyone ever analyzed how aggressive certain 3b coaches are in waving runners around? I know Oquendo has been very open about how aggressive he is out there.

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      • Bob M says:

        I can tell you the Brewers coach only has 1 sign – go – unless you are certain to be safe. Then he pulls out the stop sign.

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    • webtechads says:

      My friend and fantasy opponent has kept one of the greatest team name’s of all-time = Send ‘em Wendell.

      An ode to Wendell Kim, for this man knew no bounds to green-lighting runners home. I’ve seen the likes of Mo Vaughn and Jason Varitek tumbling to home plate, to their amazement, trying to beat one-hopping line drives scooped up and relayed easily for outs by a surprised defense.

      Where I think was Wendell Kim’s approach was in these moments; some of our runners were safe, only because of the sheer surprise an outfielder receives when he picks up laser-shot single only to cry “WTF??” as a loafing Scott Hatteburg or Mike McMarlane accelerate upon seeing the 3rd base coach’s waving hands, 10 feet from 3rd base.

      Acceleration is a horrible term to describe these events, but magical these events were. Wendell Kim, you inspire me to become a better person for myself, my family, and the world as a whole. Thank you.

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    • chuckb says:

      Oquendo is a very aggressive 3rd base coach and 3 or 4 of those outs were made with 2 outs, when 3rd base coaches tend to be very aggressive. While Craig isn’t fast, by any means, it seems like there’s been some bad luck here.

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  4. stan says:

    That was a fun read. Thanks. Do I understand correctly that a big part of Craig’s -5.7 baserunning rating is due to these outs? If so I think the fWAR calculation needs tinkering. Assuming that Craig really was supposed to run on contact on the two plays from third, he was just doing what his coaches told him to do. Why should he be downgraded? Its not like he runs slowly or made stupid slides.

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    • Steven says:

      Because WAR is a performance based statistic. It is not trying to measure how talented you are but rather how well you have performed. It is unlucky that he was on third and the contact play was on, and maybe he should not get penalized for that, but in the other cases someone with better speed (or perhaps better instincts) would be safe. Thus he performed poorly in those situations. I imagine it would be difficult to isolate the times were a player is just screwed by the situation compared to the times he actually should have been better.

      Similarly, it is really difficult to isolate the times a player hits it on the nose right at someone but gets an out. Yet we accept using actual results to analyze how a player performed in that situation. I would put this into that same category. He might have a case that he is being wrongly penalized, but in order for the statistic to contain the many other instances when he should be penalized (or rewarded) for base running we have to do it that way.

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  5. tz says:

    Is it just me, or did Beltre take just enough off his throw to home to arc it over Craig’s head to avoid hitting it? (Yet still with enough zip to easily beat Craig’s slide into home)

    If I had to draft a MLB team to play “pickle”, Beltre would be my #1 pick.

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    • Dan says:

      I’d have to say I think Craig played that one badly as a baserunner. In going to the outside of the plate he opens up that throw just enough for Beltre.

      If he stays on the inside of the baseline rather than the outside the whole way there is a very good chance that the throw comes off his helmet resulting in a run and more bases for the other runner(s). You aren’t getting around a tag in that situation unless the throw is way off, so better off to get in the way of the throw.

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      • BVHeck says:

        There isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room in fair territory though. Stray too far, you’re ruled as interfering. Out.

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  6. ralph says:

    Since Jeff mentions Craig’s remarkable RISP performance in the first paragraph, I’ll mention that part of that RISP success has, looking backward, been at least in part the result of a somewhat drastic reduction in strikeout rate in those situations:

    2013 K%
    Bases empty: 19.1% in 204 PA (114 wRC+)
    RISP: 11.8% in 102 PA (229 wRC+)

    And it’s not like this totally new behavior, as he showed similar tendencies last year as well.

    2012 K%:
    Bases empty: 20.1% in 264 PA (124 wRC+)
    RISP: 11.4% in 149 PA (199 wRC+)

    Given that K% stabilizes pretty quickly, I have to wonder if he really is using a different approach with RISP, one that focuses on better contact and happens to yield a better wRC+. If so, he should really consider living every PA like it’s a RISP PA.

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    • Chicago Mark says:

      Nice stuff Ralph. Don’t knock me too hard for this. Because I just don’t know. But aren’t those 2012 and 2013 numbers seperate and therefore not part of any stabilization? Although they do look compelling. And I ask the question below. But what’s his babip in those situations? Is there regression coming either way?

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  7. Steve says:

    Thus, Jeff’s love affair with gifs continues. These were useful gifs, though. Enjoyed this one.

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  8. Nick O says:

    I think you could argue that Craig/Oquendo made the right decision to try to score on all of these.

    Breaking it down:
    4 instances where he was thrown out on base hits with two outs:
    In all four cases STL was winning at the time and thus not playing for a big inning. Odds of a run scoring from 3rd with two outs is approximately 28%, so I’d guess the break even success rate on these plays is probably something like 35-40%. I think Craig had a 35% chance at least to score on all of those throws.

    2 instances where he tried to score from 3rd on a grounder: In the first, he forces Beltre to make a difficult throw, and with one out already he is likely running on contact. The break even success rate on this play is likely pretty low, and it’s a difficult play to boot. On the other, he is almost certainly running on contact and prevents a DP (1st, 2nd 1 out = .96 expected runs; runner on 3rd, 2 out = .38 expected runs).

    1 instance where he tries to score from a 2nd on a single with one out: At first glance, this looks like a poor decision – a weak throw beats him and with one out, he could have stayed at 3rd and likely scored. However, the RF in this play is David Lough, who has one of the weakest and least accurate OF arms in the MLB, and who teams have been very aggressive running on (in one series, the A’s abused Lough twice on a sac fly to shallow left and a single to very shallow left). I have to imagine this is why Oquendo was waving him.

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  9. Max says:

    This just shows that the Cardinals feel very safe sending runners in risky situations. In many of these incidents, he’s been waved on to home by the coach, not necessarily making a bad base-running decision. This is a cool fact, and stats are awesome, I just don’t think this is relevant at all to how much Craig is worth as a player.

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    • Mojowo11 says:

      That’s pretty much the point of this article. The last two lines literally say:

      “Craig probably hasn’t become a way worse base-runner. He’s just been caught in some circumstances.”

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  10. DNA+ says:

    It is not the baserunner’s decision whether to proceed home. The play is behind him. If the third base coach says go, he goes. If he’s running through stop signs, that’s one thing. However, every gif where the third base coach was visible had a windmill.

    Third base coaches should vary their decisions depending on lots of things (speed of the runner, arm of the fielder, game situation, etc.). It is the game situation that probably plays the biggest role. With two outs and in a close game you are more likely to take a chance. Up by a lot there is no reason to risk a collision at the plate, etc.

    It is probably the case that Craig is largely a victim of happenstance here. Craig is on base a lot. Molina gets a lot of hits. The third base coach is not particularly risk adverse…. You certainly can’t blame Craig for taking away RBI’s from Molina though! You present it like every other runner would have scored. It may be the case that very few other runners would have scored, and many might not have even been sent.

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  11. Curly says:

    I’m a victim of circumstance!

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  12. bpdelia says:

    man that’s pretty mind blowing. But you can’t just drop this on us dude. Now I must know the record for outs at home in a season. Career? To me 7 outs at home in a half season seems like a particularly crazy quirky outlier. I love those. Take your time but hook us up with some historical context baby.

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  13. grabo says:

    Most tentative runner in the league? Guy looks like he will gladly trade an out for minimal contact with the catcher.

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    • Jason Bourne says:

      As a Cardinals fine, I’m fine with that. With his knee injury history, it’s just not worth it. I just wish Oquendo would calm down on occasion at third base. Sometimes he gets pretty wildly aggressive in situations that he shouldn’t.

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    • Zach says:

      Why wouldn’t he trade an out for minimal contact? He’s an elite player playing for the best team in baseball.

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  14. Ctownboy says:

    With steroids not being used as much and run scoring down, if I were an owner, I would tell the third base coach he would be penalized every time he waved a guy home and the runner was thrown out.

    Every time a runner is gunned down, it hurts the team as far as a run not scoring (it could also hurt them because it could have stopped them from scoring MORE runs in that inning).

    It hurts the runner because he is not credited with a run.

    It hurts the batter (if the batter had something to do with the play) because they don’t get an rbi.

    The one person it doesn’t hurt is the third base coach.

    The third base coach doesn’t get credited with a win or loss if the team wins or loses (the manager does).

    The third base coach doesn’t get a better (or worse) contract in salary arbitration or free agency based on the runs they score or the rbi’s they have.

    Nope, the third base coach isn’t affected very much at all when a runner is thrown out. By fining them, they would think twice about being “aggressive” when sending the runner instead of smart.

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    • DNA+ says:

      Wouldn’t you also have to penalize him every time he failed to wave home a runner that could have scored? Certainly not scoring runs when you could have hurts the team too.

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      • Jason Bourne says:

        Yeah, I don’t like the idea of fining them. I have no doubt there are conversations that go on with the 3rd base coach in regards to aggressiveness.

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  15. tbjfan says:

    Is he slow or does he just have a bad read on these plays?

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    • tbjfan says:

      I actually meant: “is he slow, or does he have a bad start/jump?”

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      • Jason Bourne says:

        He’s not particularly fleet of foot, but I feel like there’s a lot of bad luck involved in this. Anybody that watches the Cardinals regularly knows that Oquendo is very aggressive. Craig has just been particularly unlucky this year. Keep in mind this is the same 3rd base coach waving Yadi around 3rd. Perhaps he is overestimating Craig’s speed but I still just feel like it has been bad luck that he’s been in this situation so much.

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  16. Chicago Mark says:

    Is it just me or do the Cardinals have an artificially high babip in all situations amongst their regulars? Is there some regression coming on all levels?

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    • the hottest stove says:

      You’re correct in identifying the high babips… but it’s their approach driving most of it rather than something pointing to a regression in my opinion. Almost all of them have very high career babips. The lineup is full of hard contact guys with high line drive and ground ball rates who consistently use all fields. Tough to defend, and lends itself to a high number of singles and doubles rather than home runs. I think could also be a large reason for the great numbers with RISP.

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      • maguro says:

        If the Cardinals are hitting .330 as a team with RISP because their approach, why wouldn’t they use that approach all the time? You would think that hitting .330 would be a good thing anytime, not just with RISP.

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  17. squads says:

    He certainly takes a terrible turn around third base. He seems to be between strides every time.

    Anyway this guy is making a case that you can actually be a “clutch” hitter in baseball.

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  18. Ian R. says:

    It’s also worth noting that Craig has a robust .378 OBP, which has put him on base enough to have opportunities to make all these outs at home. I’m sure there are legitimately bad baserunners in the league who just haven’t had enough opportunities to rack up a bunch of negative value.

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  19. Cory says:

    Running ability questioned, but comes through when it matters? What better characteristics of a man whose personal spirit animal is a turtle!? https://twitter.com/TortyCraig

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  20. salvo says:

    It also seems to me that a number of those throws/relays were absolutely dead on—think of how many throws home you see that are way off line, or miss the cutoff man, or go over the catcher’s head, or bounce off the mound… sometimes I think part of the gamble is knowing that the run will score if it’s not a great relay… but if it is you could be out.

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  21. Ryan says:

    With all due respect, this article is nothing more than two observations (Craig has been thrown out at home a lot and has a very poor overall baserunning rating) coupled with a series of videos and pictures. There is no analysis, no broader story about why Craig is bad at baserunning or other argument. The videos come to nothing. There is nothing here that I wouldn’t have gotten, much more quickly, from just looking at Craig’s player page. Let’s keep fangraphs for actual analysis and leave the flashing lights to ESPN.

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    • Trotter76 says:

      When doing statistical analysis or data mining of any kind you’re bound to come across oddities that don’t “mean” much or advance a theory but and nonetheless interesting to you and like-minded people.

      I think there’s nothing wrong with sharing these oddities on FanGraphs. It’s not like this is what you find at ESPN, flashing lights (moving pictures?) notwithstanding.

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  22. KJOK says:

    Seeing a lot of Cardinal games, I’ll make a couple of comments:

    Craig is not slow – he’s probably above average speed-wise for a first baseman, which is why he sometimes gets to play LF or RF. However, he doesn’t seem to get good jumps off of 2nd base, and he does sometimes seem to take wide turns around 3rd.

    As several have mentioned, Craig has had a lot of opportunities to get thrown out. His HR totals have been down while he’s hit more doubles,so he’s been on the bases a lot, and then he’s had Molina batting behind him a lot, who has hit quite a few singles this year.

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  23. Andrew says:

    1. Two outs on 2B. Even if he were actually out, he’s executing exactly as he’s been instructed to play.
    2. Craig may’ve slowed very, very slightly as he rounded 3rd, but he’s otherwise executing exactly as he should. If anyone is at fault, it’s Oquendo. Given a theoretical run expectancy break-even point (theoretical in this case being that I don’t know it off-hand), it seems like a reasonable decision. Again, Craig is not at fault for being thrown out.
    3. Again, there are 2 outs and Craig is on 2nd. Barring an injury, a stumble, or being Jose Molina, you’re taught as a player to try to score in this situation. Craig’s execution is exactly as expected here.
    4. 1st and 3rd, no one out. In this situation, the runner on 3rd is expected to run, forcing the fielder into deciding between saving a run and attempting to turn 2.
    5. Craig is thrown out on the wrong decision by 3B coach Oquendo.
    6. 1 out. Craig on 3B. Craig is out on a tough play by Beltre. You can argue that Craig makes a poor decision, as he’s unquestionably out. I’d argue that he makes a sound decision, however, given the ball’s proximity to the line and Beltre’s release point on his throws (he’s a sidearm slinger where his release point is almost behind Craig and stands to tail back into the runner in this situation).
    7. 2 outs and Craig is on 2B. Again, in this situation, pretty much every baserunner is expected to try to score.

    In summary, Craig has been out on 7 plays at home. At best, you can argue that he made ONE poor decision that led to being thrown out. Otherwise, he made the exact decisions he’s taught to make or the decision was made by Oquendo. The only thing I learned from this article is that the baserunning metric is highly flawed and has significantly faulted Craig for outcomes that- aside from his slow-ish running speed- really shouldn’t be attributed to him.

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  24. Roger says:

    Interesting post in light of the events of last night’s game.

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    • highpockets says:

      ha! I had to dredge this article up, too. Looks like Craig ended up 3rd from the bottom in BsR in 2013 (Konerko & Vic Martinez were worse).

      Would be great to see how the “thrown out at home” standings ended up, though.

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