Yesterday the Cardinals announced their Minor League player of the year with 3b/1b/lf Allen Craig taking home the honors. It wasn’t a shock to see Craig take home the award, as his bat has produced at every level he has played. Craig’s award has Cardinals fans everywhere asking what kind of player Craig really is, and it seems two sides have developed in stark contrast to each other. On one side, there is a pocket of believers in Craig who are wildly optimistic, believing that his bat will produce at the major league level enough that the Cardinals should give Craig the starting left-field job in 2010 and not mess with negotiating with Matt Holliday. On the other hand, there is also a large group of fans who see another John Gall when they look at Craig, meaning they think he is the classic “AAAA” player, which is a player that puts up strong numbers in AAA but just is not good enough to get over the hump and become a productive major leaguer. So which side is correct? What do the Cardinals have in Allen Craig?
In order to project what Craig can do in 2010, let’s review what got him knocking on the major league’s door. Allen Craig was drafted in the 8th round of the 2006 amateur draft out of Cal-Berkeley. A shortstop in college, he was moved to the hot corner upon being drafted where he stayed at as he moved up through the minor leagues. With David Freese and Brett Wallace being ahead in the Cardinals depth chart at third at different times, the organization saw a need for Craig to become more versatile if they were going to get his bat in the lineup as he neared the big leagues, so Craig has recently began to play left-field as well. Since David Freese is still with the organization and is the likely opening day starter, if Craig is going to make the team his role will be as a left-fielder and backup third-basemen. Craig’s defense ranges from poor to average, so almost all of Craig’s value lies in his bat. In any level Craig has managed to play over 100 games (A+, AA, AAA), he has managed to hit at least 20 home runs. Since his 2009 AAA stats are the most relevant as it pertains to projecting to his major league performance, let’s delve into them. Craig put up a .322/.374/.547 slash line good for a .921 on-base plus slugging, which for a comparison looks like a typical year from Matt Holliday (I am not suggesting Craig = Holliday, AAA stats do not equal major league stats, I am just showing how good of a season Craig had in AAA). Craig also hit 26 home runs, scored 78 runs, and drove in another 83. His other meaningful statistics included 95 strikeouts compared with only 37 walks. Craig does not appear to have very strong plate discipline, as his 7.3% walk rate and 20% strikeout rate combines for a .39 bb/k ratio, which is not very good. So overall, Craig has flashed a skillset that includes poor to average defense, good power, and a decent ability to get on base though it is tied very closely to his batting average. An on-base percentage that is mostly influenced by batting average tends not to translate very well as a player moves up through the majors, so what exactly do the Cardinals have in Craig?
Using his 2009 AAA stats, Craig’s numbers would translate into a .281/.327/.455 slash line good for a .782 ops, which was basically what Ryan Ludwick produced in 2009*. Craig is also projected to hit 20 homers, score over 60 runs, and drive in around 65. Those are solid numbers, but no one is going to confuse Craig with Matt Holliday. Overall, those offensive statistics combined with Craig’s defense would peg him at around 1 to 1.5 Wins Above Replacement, which would produce anywhere from 4.4 to 6.6 million dollars in value depending upon Craig’s defense being poor or average and playing time. Considering Craig would be getting the major league minimum, he would produce some nice value for St. Louis, but it would be a far cry from the 5-6 WAR that Matt Holliday will likely produce next year.
In conclusion, Allen Craig has accomplished everything he can at the minor league level. His skills are as ready for the Major Leagues as they likely ever will be, so he does deserve a shot on the roster next season. Allen Craig is a solid player, but he is probably better off in a reserve/spot starter role for next season, a situation where he could be quite valuable. It doesn’t appear that Craig falls in either of the two camps that Cardinals fans seem to think he is in, but instead fits in the middle. Overall Cardinal fans need to hope that Allen Craig makes the roster for 2010 as a reserve, not as a starter that gets 500 at-bats in left field.
*Note: Craig is projected to produce something similar to Ryan Ludwick’s 2009 .775 ops, and the gap between Ludwick’s 97 rbi’s next year and Craig’s projected 65 is insignificant and has to do with the fact that Ludwick was hitting behind Pujols and most of the year. Hitting behind Pujols or Holliday wasn’t taken into consideration when the projection for Craig was done.
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