by Dave De Wit
Every year there’s a hitter that comes out of nowhere and dominates. A hitter who has you wondering mid-season, “Where did he come from and why was he drafted so late?” In 2013, that player will be Allen Craig.
Baseball Prospectus fantasy writer Paul Sporer started spreading the love for Allen Craig (who he affectionately calls “The Wrench”) across the fantasy landscape already last year. Thankfully that love has remained isolated to only the most serious fantasy owners. Average fantasy owners wouldn’t even think about drafting Allen Craig in the fourth round, but while he’s way down on their lists, you should be snatching up the St. Louis slugger.
Here are his 2012 stats:
469 At Bats
.307 Batting Average (144 hits)
22 Home Runs
2 Stolen Bases
.354 On Base Percentage
.522 Slugging Percentage
.334 Batting Average on Balls in Play
These are very impressive numbers, but considering Craig has only played 238 career major league games, we have to make sure they are believable.
His .334 BABIP and subsequent .307 average look to be the most outlandish. However, when we look at his career line drive rate of 21.8% (22.7% in 2012), his average has legitimacy. He hits the ball hard, proven by the fact that nearly 40% of his hits last year went for extra bases. Throw in his good contact skill (a career 18% strike out rate), and you can count on another .300+ average out of Craig.
How about that RBI total, can it stick around? Last year Craig split time between batting second and fourth in the Cardinals’ line-up and expects to do the same in 2013. Obviously he could produce more runs if he would hit clean up all the time, but a time share isn’t bad either. Given the potency of the Cardinals’ offense, Craig should see plenty of chances to drive in runs, and with his high average he can take advantage of those opportunities.
As for Craig’s power, he has a career fly ball rate of 35% (33.3% in 2012). That’s not amazing, but when you combine it with his above average career HR/FB ratio of 16.5% (17.1% in 2012), there’s plenty of power to go around. Remember, his 22 home runs came in just 119 games. If he can play a full season, he will reach 25-30 homers comfortably.
Asking for a healthy season is asking quite a lot from Craig. The 28-year old has been slapped with the “injury prone” tag by many over his career. A lot of his injuries have come in the field, more specifically the outfield. Craig is a terrible outfielder who is anything but graceful, but with Lance Berkman completely out of the picture and Matt Carpenter shifting over to 2B, he is in line to play the vast majority of his games at first base. That will go a long way in keeping him off the outfield grass and healthy enough to increase his counting stats. Plus, even if he does stay at 1B all year, he has enough games played in the outfield in 2012 to roll keep his OF eligibility for another season.
Overall, the Allen Wrench is closer to being an elite fantasy player than people think. If you remove position scarcity from the equation, the only difference between him and Robinson Cano is the extra 183 plate appearances Cano saw in 2012. Just look at the numbers.
Both Craig and Cano are basically locks for hitting .300+ given their high line drive rates and good contact skills. Both have middling FB% with above average HR/FB rates and project for between 25-30 home runs next year over a full season. Both are on powerful offenses and will see plenty of run scoring and run producing opportunities. And yet, Allen Craig will be drafted after the third round while Robinson Cano gets selected shortly after the third overall pick.