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.

We hoped you liked reading Allen Craig: Ignominious League Leader by Jeff Sullivan!

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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.

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KillahYeast
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KillahYeast

Nice read. Poor Craig.