I can’t remember which of my fellow RotoGraphers it was who recommended the movie The Girl Next Door while we were baking in the Arizona sun back in February, but it was on the other night and I decided to give it a shot. What I realized first, after the obviously increasing level of hotness of Elisha Cuthbert, was that Hollywood would be dangerous if they ever had an original idea. But as I sat and watched this blatant knock-off of the 1983 coming-of-age classic Risky Business, the line in the title of this post was spoken and I found it quite apropos for the fantasy baseball world. Often times, we tend to overpay for certain players based on personal preferences or just basic preseason hype and it’s always important to take a step back later on down the road and ask yourself if it was worth it. Today we’ll do that with Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig.
Back in late January, I was pretty vocal in questioning the early ADP of Craig. I had done a number of drafts, both real and mock, and found him going as high as the second round and never lower than the fifth. I found it strange that this 29-year old, injury prone guy who never had more than 500 plate appearances in any one season prior to 2012, was getting so much draft love. Yes, he had talent. Yes, his 2012 season was strong. But with a track record loaded with red flags, I just couldn’t justify taking him with such a high pick given the wealth of talent at the first base position. I listened to all the pro-Craig arguments and opted to take a wait-and-see approach. Well, here we are now two months down the road. The cries of “small sample size” have dwindled and now, after 229 plate appearances, it’s time to look at Craig’s numbers and see how they match up to where he was drafted. Was using such a high pick to obtain his services worth it?
Since Craig has obviously stayed healthy (knock wood) and has played in 55 of the Cardinals’ 59 games this season, we can tuck this red flag away for now. He hasn’t changed any aspect of his game to stay out of harm’s way and the Cardinals have left him at first base for the most part. He has powered through these first two months which seem to be potentially easy times to get hurt while making the transition from offseason to spring training to the regular season. So again, for now, the pick is not wasted based on health.
So let’s talk numbers then…
Here’s where Craig ranks amongst qualified first basemen for the season through games played on June 4th for the standard 5×5 roto categories. I’ve included OBP as well since many leagues have made the change away from using batting average.
For the most part, we’re not looking too bad here, are we? Everyone loves a guy hitting over .300 and he’s top-10 in on-base percentage and RBI which is right where you’d expect someone drafted so high to rank. Yes, obviously if you took him in the second round, you’d expect top-five, but let’s be realistic. Even the biggest of Craig’s supporters will tell you that a second round pick was too high. But top-10 and just on the cusp of for two of the other categories is right where you want to see him at this juncture. Especially given the fact that he got off to a fairly slow start and hit just .263 for the first month.
But the one stat that stands out like a turd in a punch bowl is the home run total. Four? He’s hit just four home runs? This was a guy who hit 22 in 119 games last season and was projected by many to hit 30 this year. Assuming roughly 600 plate appearances for an entire season and Craig is currently on-pace to hit a whopping 11 home runs. It doesn’t matter if you drafted him in the second, the fifth or even the 15th; eleven home runs from your first baseman is a joke. I’d say it’s Loney-esque, but that clown is nearly on-pace for his first-ever 20-home run season.
So what’s going on with Craig’s power? Well, first of all, we’re looking at at a 29.3-percent fly ball rate which doesn’t exactly scream power hitter. The good thing is that his ground ball rate is right in line with his career numbers and that the diminished fly ball rate is due to a 26.6-percent line drive rate. He’s driving the ball, not lifting it. Forty-six of his 68 hits have been singles, and while he does have 16 doubles this season, his expected power just isn’t showing. Even his home runs…all four of them…have an average distance of just 398 feet. With no discussion of a potential injury sapping his power, you would have to assume it’s mechanical. And if it is mechanical, well, he appears to be on the path towards fixing it.
Look a little deeper and you’ll see the in-season progress. Through the first month of the season while he was struggling, his line drive rate was under 20-percent while he was sporting a 46.8-percent ground ball rate and a 33.8-percent fly ball rate. He was also striking out at an 18.8-percent clip while posting just a 3.0-percent walk rate. None of those numbers jibed with his career totals. Adjustments were made and in May, those numbers flipped all over the place. His strikeout rate dropped to 12.8-percent, he more than doubled his walk rate and his line drive rate shot up to 32.2-percent, dramatically lowering both the number of ground and fly balls. Now, through the first four games in June, his ground ball rate is roughly the same but his line drive rate has diminished at the expense of more fly balls. The eventual result — more home runs. They might come at the expense of some batting average, but that’s probably a trade-off most Craig owners would take right now.
So just hang on a little longer. Be a little more patient and it looks as if that high draft choice used on Craig could be worth it after all. Should we not see a reasonably significant spike in home runs in June, then we may have some cause for concern, but based on the trajectory of his season so far, it looks as if everything is going to work out. He may not hit 30 homers this year, but he should still put up overall numbers comparable to other first baseman taken between rounds three and five.
For now, I may have been a bit hasty in my questioning his draft position. We’ll see what happens over the course of the next four months. But I guess this just goes to show — if you really want someone and you don’t think they’re coming back your way in the next round, you just have to say “What the f***,” and take him. If you can’t say it, you can’t do it.
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