Allen Craig isn’t putting together the type of season that many Cardinals fans hoped for following last season.
Nearly automatic with runners in scoring position last season, Craig was also one of the most consistent hitters in general for the Cardinals.
We’ve seen nearly the polar opposite this season. Here’s a look at Craig’s 2013 numbers vs. his 2014 numbers heading into Friday’s game against the Chicago Cubs.
|162 Game Avg.||162||630||575||79||168||36||1||20||101||3||1||44||114||.292||.344||.462||.806||121|
You can see the differences. His power numbers aren’t there. On top of that, he’s striking out more (18.8 percent compared to 17.8 percent in 2013) and walking less (6.2 percent compared to 7.1 percent).
I asked former Major Leaguer and current Fox Sports MLB analyst Gabe Kapler what he thought of Allen Craig’s season and if he had any idea of what might be causing his dwindling numbers. Kapler played 12 seasons in the Major Leagues and now hosts a segment on Fox Sports 1 called “In the Cage,” a segment geared toward teaching and explaining hitting drills that young players can do in the batting cage.
“I don’t think Allen Craig is as good a hitter as he was last year, but I certainly don’t think he’s as bad a hitter as he’s been this year,” Kapler said. “I think he’s somewhere in the middle.”
Some have suggested that Craig never recovered from his Lisfranc injury, which sidelined him from Sept. 4 until he was finally able to return in the World Series. Others have said he’s simply not seeing the ball.
As for his swing, Kapler said he hasn’t seen anything that stands out that might signify an issue.
“Mechanically? No, not really,” Kapler said. “The one guy that I’m seeing some mechanical issues with is Oscar (Taveras). He’s the only guy and I see them as fairly inoculate. I think they’re tiny issues and I think he’s getting started too late or too early in the at-bats that I’ve watched. I think it’s causing him to either rush or stop and start his swing.
“With Craig, and it’s been a while since I really dove into his numbers, what I have seen is more ground balls.”
Craig’s ground ball percentage is indeed up to a career-high 56.9 percent compared to 45 percent last season. Conversely, his line drive percentage is down from a career-high 26.4 percent in 2013 to 19.4 percent, which is nearly a career-low.
Craig hit 186 ground balls last season and has already tallied 164 heading into Friday’s game.
So what causes a hitter to ground out so much?
“Hitting the ball on the ground is generally a result of getting prepared to hit late,” Kapler said. “What ends up happening is you start your rhythm a little bit late and by the time you’re ready to fire because and your base is set – and when I say fire I mean your back knee and elbow in unison driving toward the front side – when that happens late and you’re ready to fire late, you speed up to try to catch up.
“By speeding up, you oftentimes tend to jerk with your front side…which sort of pulls the bat in and out of the zone. You end up coming over the baseball as a result and you beat the ball into the ground.”
With the trade deadline approaching, the Cardinals may have a decision to make regarding Craig. Do they stick with a proven guy and hope this season is an anomaly, or do they go with the younger Oscar Taveras moving forward?
Matt Adams is also a potential trade candidate as General Manager John Mozeliak could opt to stick with Craig at first base and trade Adams for pitching. However, Kapler is of the mindset that Adams is on the verge of breaking out.
“I’d say Matt Adams has been a really good hitter…I think I’ve been on record saying that if he could walk just a little bit more and take just a few more pitches, he would be a monster,” Kapler said. “He’s so close to being a monster offensive player that it’s unfathomable what he could do if he would be able to be a little bit more selective at the plate.”
If the Cardinals keep Allen Craig and he continues to struggle while logging regular playing time, someone else will need to step up.
“I think the guy that they are really depending on to step up is probably Matt Holliday, and I feel strongly that he will step up based on his track record,” Kapler said. “Over the course of his career, every time he’s been healthy he’s put together a 600 plate appearance season and 20 home runs have been there. You’ve seen the life in his bat in recent days.”
As for Craig, it’s tough to tell whether he’ll break out of his funk. The law of average suggests he’ll eventually regress to the mean, which is likely somewhere between last season and this season.
“We try to collect as large a sample size as possible but they’re still not big enough,” Kapler said. “We can never quite get a big enough sample to really feel like we have something dependable. What ends up happening is when we finally get to where we have the right sample size, the player ends up aging or he’s changed. So it’s really tricky to try and predict what’s going to happen going forward.”
Editor’s note: This is Part Three of a four-part series of my conversation with former Major Leaguer and current MLB analyst Gabe Kapler.
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