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Why Allen Craig?

Every year we develop fantasy crushes. We are all susceptible to them and no one can fault you for latching onto a player whom you think is going to have a breakout season. Usually it’s some highly-touted rookie ready to burst onto the scene who becomes everyone’s darling and sometimes it’s a third or fourth-year player whom you’ve watched as he learned the MLB ropes and things are, in your opinion, about to click. And then there’s Allen Craig.

I’m sorry to those who find themselves riding shotgun on the Craig bandwagon, but I just don’t get it. I know that we’re not throwing a whole lot of stock into ADP right now, but just as a starting point here, allow me to mention that his ADP on Mock Draft Central is currently 40.43 while according to NFBC data, it’s at 53.53. I’ve done a dozen or so mock drafts now, mostly industry ones to be used for draft kits, and I’ve seen him go as high as the late second/early third round and as low as the fifth. Have I seen him fall farther than that? Not yet.

So what is it about him? What is it about this soon-to-be 29-year old, career-minor leaguer whom they lovingly call The Wrench, that everyone is freaking out about? I’ve looked at the minor league numbers and while they all seem pretty solid, there’s nothing there that has me jumping out of my seat screaming, “you gotta have this guy no matter what!” He’s shown good power, moderate plate discipline, and excellent contact rates with strong on-base skills. Good stuff indeed, but great stuff? Meh.

He looked pretty good when he got some regular playing time late in the 2010 season, but since then he’s been on and off thanks to a slew of of injuries. Over the last two seasons, he’s made four trips to the DL — a strained groin in April of 2011 cost him 13 games, a bruised right knee late that season cost him another 54 over roughly a two month span, surgery on that same knee prior to the 2012 season started his year on the DL and then he went back on again in May with a hamstring problem. And that doesn’t even cover the minor dings and dents like the wrist or chest problems that caused him to miss a few games here and there.

Yes, when he’s in the lineup, he’s been great — He finished top ten among first basemen in home runs (ninth with 22), runs scored (tied for seventh with 76), and runs batted in (seventh with 92) despite logging just 514 plate appearances.  He was also second among qualified first basemen with a .307 batting average and fifth with a .354 on-base percentage. But the fact that you need to add in the cliched “when healthy” tag when discussing him is a bit of an issue.

Now believe me, I’m not here to dog Craig at all. What I am dogging is where he is being taken in drafts. The guy can obviously hit and yes, with a full season’s worth of at-bats, he could conceivably put up rock solid numbers. But does “could conceivably” warrant a third, fourth or fifth round pick? How do we really know that he can sustain his level of play during a full season? We’ve never seen it. There’s no track record. We can adjust all the numbers we want to equate what he’s done to a full season, but the bottom line is that he hasn’t.

Upside? Sure. He’s obviously got some upside. But at 29-years old with a beaten and tattered body, he’s also got some downside. Could he possibly heal better and faster than a 22-year old with the same injury? Possibly. Personally I would bet against it, but hey, that’s just my opinion. I’m not a doctor and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so my medical credentials are lacking. But you give me two guys eight to ten years apart in age with the exact same injury and  I’m guessing the youngster heals both better and faster.

And let’s not forget the position at which he plays/qualifies. Sure, he’s got dual-eligibility at first base and the outfield, but those are pretty deep positions, both loaded with plenty of power. There are a ton of names who hit at his power level who have either great upside or a clean-health track record. Is the hope/possibility of Craig playing a full season worth that much more than the potential of a Paul Goldschmidt or Anthony Rizzo? What about the track records of Nick Swisher or even a Hunter Pence? Or how about Mike Napoli who also has dual eligibility but at a much thinner position? Both injury risks, really, but Napoli goes an average of more than 50 picks later.

Again, I’m not trying to run down Craig as a player. If I thought I could get him in a draft between the seventh and tenth round, I would probably take the risk and do it. But to invest such a high pick on someone who is already past their prime and shown a limited ability to stay healthy, to me, is just bad business.