A very popular refrain in St. Louis Cardinal Nation is that had Allen Craig been fully healthy, the World Series might have turned out differently. This ignores the fact that had Seth Maness not thrown a beachball to the Boston Red Sox‘ Jonny Gomes, the World Series might have turned out differently. It also ignores the fact that had the club not fielded the baseball in Game 1 as if they were avoiding land mines, the World Series might have turned out differently — but I digress. The idea that Craig was at less than full speed did affect the Series, but it did not likely change the result.
That result may not have been changed, but if Craig continues to bat .097 you can safely bet the outcome of this season will. Now of course it is early, and nobody thinks Craig will bat under .250, much less .100. But a closer look at his advanced metrics might give Cardinal Nation some collective heartburn. First, his ground ball to fly ball ratio, typically around 1.4, is hovering at 11. Yikes. Second, his line drive percentage, perhaps the clearest indicator of a hitter’s contact consistency, has fallen from 26.9 to 7.7. His fly ball percentage has had a similar dip.
Looking at Craig’s spring, we see a Craig-like .313 BA but curiously next to no power, netting only three doubles in 48 at-bats. What would be the cause of this? Is it an effect of the lingering ankle injury suffered against the Cincinnati Reds last season? Possibly. If Craig has changed anything about the way he plants and rotates his hips on his swing, even subconsciously, it is entirely possible his weight distribution is off. But Craig was never a true power hitter and rather a hitter with power. He is the classic line drive RBI man — think a right-handed version of New York Yankees legend Paul O’Neill, for example. However, what we have seen so far are tentative swings and weak contact.
Hopefully for Allen Craig this is just a brief anomaly and a stretch of randomness that will be replaced by his customary excellence. Hopefully. But for a player who is often injured, any extended period of struggle is a concern, especially when it comes to leg drive and power. And his power must turn on soon, because as the Cardinals are finding out, other teams in the National League have just as much if not more high voltage, possibly posing a danger to the club’s designs on dominance.