The Allen Craig Show: It's Better than the Albert Pujols Hour of Power

Jul 3, 2012 at 4:19 pm
Allen Craig is good at the baseball. 

We already knew that, of course; he's hitting home runs at a pace of roughly one every 13.5 plate appearances and owns an OPS of 1.046. For his career, that home run pace is one every 18.5 PAs; his wOBA last season was .399, and this year it's .431. Allen Craig likes to hit baseballs, and does so at a prodigious rate. 

But if we needed more evidence, evidence that comes not in numerical form but in highlight-reel, anecdotal form, then last night's game may have represented the best possible version of it. In the Cardinals' 9-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies to open up a four game set, Craig went 2-4. Both of his hits left the park, both to center field (as Dan McLaughlin put it in the play-by-play, he hit over 800 feet of home runs last night), accounting for three of the Cards' runs. He also drew a walk, which in its own way is just as big as the homers, pushing his on-base percentage to .394. 

Oh, and he ended the game with one of the better diving plays you're going to see. So, you know, pretty good night overall. 

When Albert Pujols left the Cardinals this past offseason, there were plenty who expected the Cardinals to struggle in filling the void he left in the lineup. Lance Berkman was supposed to pick up a fair amount of the slack, but even so, when you lose one of the top three to five hitters in all of baseball, you have to expect a certain amount of falloff. Even worse, the Big Puma has been injured for damned near the entire season. Given those circumstances, you would think the Cardinal offense would look significantly off last year's brilliant pace. 

Do you really miss Albert Pujols in this lineup? Be honest, now. 

Yeah, I don't either. 

The fact the Cards have managed to essentially continue on at pretty much the exact same rate as last season, despite losing both Pujols and Berkman, largely is thanks to the efforts of two players: Carlos Beltran, currently enjoying a career year in his mid-30s, and Allen Craig. 

Now, you might be saying to yourself, "Well, sure, Craig has been really good this season, but there's no way he can replace Albert." Right? Of course you're saying that. 

Here's the thing, though: Allen Craig this season has actually been better than Pujols has been the last couple seasons. Not just this year, when a brutal start led to much gnashing of teeth over the possibility of Albert falling off a cliff due to age and the like in Year One of his enormous contract, but also the last two years of his Cardinal career. Last season, Pujols' wOBA was .385; in 2010 it was .420. We have to go back to 2009 before we find a year Albert actually bettered Craig's current numbers, when he put up a .449 wOBA. So no, I wouldn't say Allen Craig has really replaced Albert, necessarily, but I would say he's putting up production so far this year that is a pretty good approximation. 

All of this leads to a very interesting dilemma for the Cardinals on the horizon. Lance Berkman is set to return to the club in the very near future; the hope is sometime in the first few days after the All-Star break. That's exciting news, even if we've seen this whole song and dance routine before. Lance Berkman is a great player, and having him back in the lineup will be a real boon for the club. 

On the other hand, Lance Berkman is a first baseman. And do you know who else has been playing a lot of first base here lately? That's right. Allen Craig. Which is the crux of the conundrum; how can you possibly justify taking playing time away from the guy currently doing a really passable Albert Pujols impression, even when Lance Berkman comes back? I'm just not sure you can, honestly. 

Of course, Craig can absolutely go back to that supersub role he has filled for the club both this season and in the past, but I'm not sure that's good enough. His bat needs to be in the lineup for the Cardinals, Every. Single. Day. And when you're essentially looking at trying to shoehorn him in to positions already filled by Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, David Freese, and Lance Berkman, I really don't know where those plate appearances are going to come from. 

I would be remiss if I didn't at least acknowledge the problem may very well work itself out. After all, the Cards have been facing a roster crunch all season at some of these positions, and it hasn't really been an issue. Guys keep getting hurt, and so far that's meant enough playing time for everyone. But, in a very odd way, the best case scenario here is also easily the most complicated and fraught: if everyone is healthy, someone is going to be sitting who should absolutely be in the lineup. 

Which, of course, leads me to think it just might be time for Mike Matheny to revive the Allen Craig at Second Base Experiment...