On March 8, 2013, the St. Louis Cardinals signed Allen Craig to a five-year, $31 million contract. The deal paid his 2013 salary and bought out Craig's three remaining arbitration years (2014-2016) and his first year of free agency (2017). On July 31, 2014, the Cardinals traded Craig to the Boston Red Sox. In the span of just over a year, Craig went from an important cog in the Cardinals' organization to someone they didn't value enough to retain for their playoff-bound team.
Craig endured a substantial drop-off in production in 2014, and that's putting in nicely. He posted baseball's third-lowest WAR (-1.7), and most of that was due to his inability to perform at the plate. He only racked up a hit 21% of the time, his on-base percentage dropped 94 points from the year before and was 35 ticks below league average in isolated power. Was this just a bad season or is this a sign of things to come? It's probably a little bit of both.
Craig is 30 and is on the brink of passing what people consider is a player's prime. In all likelihood, Craig will soon begin to decline at a consistent rate, but I do not think he'll ever be as bad as he was in 2014.
The thing that bothers me the most about Craig, however, is his missing isolated power. His ISO has decreased considerably in every season since 2011. Here's a visual view of his struggles beginning in 2012.
Each season, the red became more and more scarce until finally Craig was swimming in a sea of blue. He stopped crushing the fastball (-9.9 wFB) and, as a result, ceased hitting for extra bases.
Now, while that's troublesome, we must also take into account his batting average of balls in play.
In the four seasons leading up to 2014, Craig had owned a career BABIP of .332, but this past season he managed only a .266 BABIP. That's abnormally low not only for Craig, but for the league as well. League average BABIP was .299 last year. This was a main contributing factor to his .279 OBP, as his walk percentage was no different than his career rate. He struck out quite a bit more than normal, but he also fell on some hard luck. So, it's safe to assume Craig's BABIP will stabilize in 2015, and with that his batting average and OBP will rise.
But in order for that to happen, he needs to start pulling the ball again as he's almost completely shied away from left field. Take a look at his spray chart from 2013 and 2014.
With Boston's acquisition of Hanley Ramirez, Craig has become expendable again. Because of his past success and only a single blemish, teams should be interested in trading for Craig when he is inevitably put on the trade market. According to the team's official website, the Red Sox list Craig as the third left fielder, the fourth right fielder, the third designated hitter, and the backup to Mike Napoli at first base. Luckily for Craig, the Miami Marlins are already said to have interest in him. He would be a huge upgrade over first baseman Garrett Jones.
If Craig is traded and moves into a starter's role, I think he'll be worth about 1-2 WAR. That's a gigantic improvement from 2014, and I might be reaching, but I'm putting a lot of stake in his BABIP improving. His lack isolated power scared me, but it can't get any worse than .100, right?
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Justin Schultz is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @JSchu23.