Allen Craig is SO last year

That’s the general consensus, right?

Allen Craig: has-been.

Oscar Taveras: savior.

Only, it’s not as obvious as it seems. But then it is. And then it isn’t again. It’s … complicated. Craig is down, that much is certain. But while some numbers are shockingly low, others are reasonable enough to defend. For example, he’s swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone compared to last year. Trouble is, the ones he does swing at, he’s missing more often than not. He has 23 extra base hits, but his .304 OBP is nothing to write home about. Through the numerical first half, Craig leads the team with 40 RBI; he also leads the team with 61 strikeouts.

And none of that acknowledges his plus defense (a skill that has increased over the last few seasons, noticeably so in 2014). Pick a defensive metric, and it’s up this year, in some cases significantly.

Half a dozen times in the last three months, we’ve heard “It looks like he might finally be turning the corner.”

I’m not sure where this proverbial “corner” is, but it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere good. It seems Craig – and many of his teammates – have been stuck in that corner for a while now.

I was curious, though. Are Craig’s low numbers more noticeable simply because the team is struggling as a whole? Are the calls for his bus ticket to anywhere but here exaggerated by the desire to see Oscar Taveras take his rightful throne as the new Amazing Whacker Guy?

So, I wanted to compare. I’m a visual person, so I wanted to see the difference between 2013 and 2014 through the first three months.

Craig comparison

Looking at last season’s monthly totals, it’s clear last year was better. Looking at his overall numbers, the offensive decline is obvious.

Craig 13 and 14 advanced

His ground ball rate is up 9.2%, while his fly ball rate is down 3.2%. He’s not getting on base. He’s not driving in runs. Why? What changed? Did the league simply figure him out? That wouldn’t seem to make sense, considering things like the 2014 struggles against the fastball – a new problem for Craig.

It’s frustrating not only because his power is MIA, but because we have such high expectations based on last year’s superhuman results.But while the 2014 totals are down, they’re not as dramatically down as you’d think, based on the fan reaction.

To be fair, the entire team is down. (Insert “John Mabry is ruining the Cardinals” argument here.)

2013:

2013 Team

2014:

2014 Team

To a man, they’ve all taken swings reminiscent of a blind monkey hacking away and praying for contact. Similarly, the entire team is frustrating, because o four expectations for their success based on last season’s dominant results.

Craig’s not an automatic out. But, he’s also not an automatic RBI machine either. That’s what we expect. That’s what the Cardinals need.

Meanwhile, the general population has spoken and is ready to see Craig benched (at the very least) for Taveras who, in his 11 games at the Major League level, hit .189 with 1 home run, 2 RBI, 2 walks and 7 Ks. His .522 OPS is even worse than Craig’s. Yes, small sample size. But it’s all we have.

Sure, his AAA numbers are great.

OT 2014 AAA

But how confident are we (and more importantly, are John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny) that those numbers will translate to the Bigs, given more time?

Truthfully, it’s a debate of different potentials: the potential of Craig to find himself vs. the potential for Taveras to prove himself.

I’m an emotional baseball fan. I like my guys to succeed, and I hate to see them shipped off in the midst of a struggle. But I also understand the logic: the Cardinals need to score runs. Allen Craig circa 2013 did that effortlessly; Allen Craig 2014 hasn’t recaptured the magic.

I’m hesitant to write Craig off as a has-been. I’m cautious to hail Taveras as the cure-all. I want to see Taveras play, but I want to see Craig get right. The question is, do the Cardinals have time to wait and see?

I told you, it’s complicated. But, with Matt Adams more than earning his keep and Taveras waiting in the wings, Craig may end up the odd man out. I’m just not sure it’s the magic solution Cardinal Nation seems to hope it will be.

 

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