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Two First Names, One Big Bat: Allen Craig

I hit .307/.354/.522 with 22 home runs, 92 RBI, and 76 runs scored in just 469 at bats and yet ottoneu hates me.  I’m Allen Craig and I disapprove of this message.

But based on Zach Sanders and his magical ranking system, Allen Craig squeaks into the top ten rankings among first basemen in typical 5×5 leagues, ahead of the likes of Adrian Gonzalez and sometimes catcher Joe Mauer, which ain’t a terrible place to be for a guy that was going for a song when the 2012 season started.

The big knock on Craig was simply the odd-man-out syndrome. He looked to be the starting right fielder with the departure of Albert Pujols (sliding Lance Berkman to first base). But then the Cardinals went out and signed Carlos Beltran, turning Craig into some kind of super-utility kind that would start on just about any other team. And the role was a familiar one. From 2010-2011, they moved him from first to second to third to the outfield in an attempt to get him at bats. He really only regularly played when injury took another player down. That fact coupled with his own off season knee surgery, was a large part of why his value was so low coming into 2012

But between the various disabled list infirmary tours of Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran, Craig was pretty much an everyday player by June. He bounced around several spots in the lineup, but by about mid-August, Craig established himself as the Cardinals clean up hitter, and clean up he frequently did. Craig was third on the Cardinals in RBI and was the only person in the major leagues to drive in 92 or more runs in such few plate appearances (and the last since Carlos Lee in 2008).

There’s a lot to like about Craig going forward. He’s likely to be a permanent fixture in the lineup assuming good health for all of 2013. Over his three years of service, Craig has amassed roughly 850 plate appearances and he has averaged .300/.348/.515. If you can get him a full year of at bats, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him finish with a .300 batting average, 30 home runs, and 100 RBI, which would put him up towards the top five first basemen in typical roto leagues. And the more I look at the comparison, Craig looks more and more like Billy Butler‘s career year, except Craig likely possesses more power.

In his major league career, he has really shown few offensive weaknesses. He doesn’t chase much outside the strike zone, he has very good contact rates and his swinging strike rate has fallen in each of his three years (to just 6.9% in 2012). He has no glaring problem pitch save for perhaps a little trouble with the change-up. His pitch values for fastballs, sliders, and curves are all in positive territory, and he’s better than a run above average per 100 pitches on most offerings. He does hit left handers better as would be expected, but he can more than hold his own versus right handed pitchers. In his career, he’s hit .294/.348/.481 vs. RHP, good for a 126 wRC+.

Craig starts the 2013 season at just 28, which should smack dab in the middle of his most productive years. Should he stay healthy, Craig is likely to easily occupy the top 10 in rank, and has the potential to flirt with elite status.