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Allen Craig: The Wrench Or Just a Fantasy Tool?

I’m not really sure what is driving the obsession here, but count me in here for a third time discussing Cardinals 1B/OF Allen Craig. The first time I wrote about The Wrench, back in late January, I questioned the almost unbearable hype he was getting that pushed his ADP to a level that almost ensured he wasn’t going to live up to everyone’s expectations. As I said back then, I wasn’t dogging him as a player as much as I was criticizing the hype machine and those who mindlessly followed it, ultimately driving his ADP to somewhere between the late third and early fifth rounds. I just didn’t see him as a player worthy of such a high draft choice, and certainly not at a position as deep as first base or the outfield.

Then, in early June, I went back and took a look at Craig’s performance over the first two months of the season as well as what we could expect from him moving forward. While the absence of power stood out, as I said, like a turd in a punch bowl, there were certainly some positives to be found in his numbers and there appeared to be some promise of better things to come. I reserved my final judgment for the end of the season, and now that the 2013 season is over and we’ve all had time to digest the information, we can finally put this baby to bed.

If you just take that .315/.373/.457 slash line with his 97 RBI and 71 runs scored, you could legitimately say that Craig was perhaps deserving of a fifth round draft choice. He was in the top-10 in RBI, average and OBP and just on the cusp in runs scored and slugging percentage. But because we’re talking about a guy who most people drafted as their starting first baseman or, at the least, a corner outfielder, the lack of power is just too much to overcome. He did, as I said he would, have a nice little surge in June where he hit five home runs immediately following my article. However, that power vanished as quickly as it came and he hit just three home runs after the All Star break, totaling him out at 13 for the year. Yes, that’s right — 13. I’d get into the reasons behind the power outage, but I think our man Mike Podhorzer did a fine job covering that late last month.

So Craig’s contribution to the fantasy universe was found in three of the five standard categories. Really three of four, because who drafts a first baseman for his stolen base total? It’s not terrible, but again, to me, not worthy of where he went in most drafts. And certainly not if you take into account other players you could have drafted at that spot if you passed on him and “settled” for Freddie Freeman, Eric Hosmer or even Brandon Belt.

Then, of course, there’s the injury history. We’ve talked about that at length in the two previous pieces and while Craig’s body remained intact through most of the season, he spent nearly all of September in a walking boot thanks to a sprained left foot. The injury risk was definitely one of the red flags that had me concerned when first discussing his ADP and lo and behold, it reared its ugly head and Craig lost some 20-odd games at the most crucial moment for fantasy owners. I’m sure everyone who had him on their roster could have used a month’s worth of that batting average and OBP. And while he didn’t have much in the way of power, I’m sure every one of his owners could have used the 15-20 runs scored and 20-ish RBI.

But the past is the past (or is it as we pore through players’ statistical data?) and it’s time to look ahead. How much sense does it make for you to draft Craig in 2014? It looks like he’s headed out to right field with Carlos Beltran headed out the door (Boston, I’m hearing) and Matt Adams playing first, so the opportunity for full-time at-bats is presumably still there. Of course, playing in the outfield every day opens the door and takes the screens off the windows so the injury bug has a much easier path towards biting him on the ass….or the foot, or the knee, or wherever. So the risk is obviously going to be higher. Then, of course there’s the question of whether or not the power returns. Podz mentioned the need to trade line drives for fly-balls to reach the 20-home run plateau, but didn’t seem to throw out any speculation as whether or not he [Craig], could actually make that happen. Personally, I do think he’s capable of doing it, but I can’t say that my confidence level is all that high.

Given the risks involved — both injury and a continued power outage — I would say that the only way I would draft Craig in 2014 is if he dropped significantly in price/ADP and I’m talking about the ninth or tenth round of a 12-team league. Some might think that to be far too low, but seriously, what would you pay for an outfielder who maybe hits .300 but gives you only 15 home runs and may or may not play the entire season? Sure, you could say that I’m talking about his floor here, but has he ever given you a legitimate reason to think that his ceiling is that much higher?