A Season of Allen Craig

This week, the St. Louis Cardinals found out exactly what a full Major League season of Allen Craig looks like. He has now played in 156 games and collected over 500 plate appearances in the big leagues. The numbers are in…and they look pretty good.

In his time with the Cardinals during the regular season, Craig sports a .297 batting average with 25 home runs, 95 RBI, and a better than .880 OPS. He does have 100 strikeouts against only 42 walks, so perhaps his pitch selection could be a bit better. But those numbers are great. Craig is just one of those players who goes out and rakes.

The problem, of course, is that it has taken Craig parts of three seasons to get one season’s worth of stats on his résumé. Injuries have definitely taken a toll on the slugger’s playing time early in his career. The good news is, the biggest injury he sustained was a result of hustling his ass off and crashing into the wall knee first and not some muscle or tendon pull as a result of poor conditioning or other weakness. The time he missed certainly still counts, but a freak accident injury is something entirely different from being injury prone. It will take more time to see if Craig is predisposed to weird injuries or not.

Craig’s true breakout may have come in the 2011 World Series. Though he only hit .263, Craig had three home runs and an otherworldly 1.154 OPS. Pretty much every other performance in that series got overshadowed by David Freese’s heroics, and he certainly deserved the MVP award. But Craig at least had a case to be in the conversation. Many of his offensive numbers were very close to Freese, and he added some flash with the catch over the wall and go-ahead home run in Game 7. In fact, most of his RBI were of either the go-ahead or game-winning variety. Craig was clutch in that World Series. Remember the hits off Alexei Ogando in the first two games? Overall, Craig had just as big a part in the Cards winning that series as Freese, Chris Carpenter, and Albert Pujols.

Not too shabby for a player who one week will play several positions and the next week seem to be a man without a position. Under Tony LaRussa, Craig played everywhere on the field except pitcher, catcher, and shortstop. New manager Mike Matheny has thus far kept Craig in the outfield or at first base, an important position for him to excel in with Lance Berkman’s return uncertain.

But that is a great question: What happens if/when Berkman does come back? Where do the Cardinals play Craig if everyone else is healthy? He was capable playing elsewhere in the infield, but he was not great. With an outfield of Matt Holliday, Jon Jan and Carlos Beltran and everyone’s healthy and producing, who sits? It would be a nice problem to have…unless your name is Allen Craig.

Craig has proven he belongs in the big leagues; now he needs to prove he can stay off the disabled list. He is forcing management on and off the field to take notice by putting up rock-solid numbers. If they continue and his time on the field stabilizes, Craig has a fine career in front of him.

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