Replacing Albert Pujols was never going to be easy for the St. Louis Cardinals, but having someone like Allen Craig around did make the team’s life that much easier in 2012.
Craig, the team’s super-utility man who came up to the big leagues in 2010, filled in admirably at first base over 86 starts last year after getting a late start to the season due to knee issues. Although he didn’t quite replace the output of the man that had been there the year before, Craig was certainly not a significant drop off at the plate either, posting a .307/.354/522 triple-slash through 2012, hitting 22 homers and driving in 92 runs in the process.
The 28-year old played both first base and outfield last year, and though he didn’t stay completely healthy – a hamstring injury landed him on the DL in May – he still saw a career-high 514 PA in the majors, and provided the Cardinals with a boost whenever he took the field.
Yes, hit offensive production tapered off a bit in the second half of the season, but he his .991 OPS in the first half was elite, and the 3.1 fWAR season he had firmly places Craig within the top ten among his peers at first base. In fact, his full season .876 OPS and 138 wRC+ ranks him third among first baseman in 2012, ahead of many notable names, including Pujols.
That Craig is able to play both in the infield and outfield only gives him added value to the team.
He’s not a name that will immediately come to mind when thinking about elite hitters in baseball, but for a good part of 2012, that’s exactly what Craig was. The team and Cardinals fans know that the talent is there – only his health will hold him back from a breakout, 30-homer season in 2013.
Can he stay healthy enough to make that next jump? It may be easier said than done, but considering he’s more than a year removed from knee surgery, and played from June on without significant health issues, there are reasons for hope.
If it weren’t for a litany of injuries that caused him to miss 70 games in 2011, we may be already talking about Craig as a star player in the league. If 2012 was any indication, he’ll reach that status soon enough.