After an excellent partial season in 2011 and a strong follow-up in 2012, Allen Craig became a trendy sleeper who wasn’t, as his hype increased his cost in preseason drafts and made him a rather expensive target. Alas, he was a bit of a disappointment, as he suffered from a power outage and a foot injury cost him nearly all of September. All in all, he was just the 14th most valuable first baseman in fantasy leagues this season.
Craig’s strikeout and walk rates were essentially identical to his 2012 line, so we’ll begin with the significant decline in power. Craig ISO’d at least .200 at nearly every single level — both in the Minors and Majors — of his career, so it was quite a surprise to see him finish his 2013 campaign with just a .142 mark. That was just about the league average, which is not something you want from your first baseman.
There are several issues at play here. First, his batted ball distance in 2012 was just 288 feet. While that’s above the league average, it simply does not match with a high teen HR/FB rate, the type of marks he posted in both 2011 and 2012. So he seemed due for regression even had he sustained that distance. However, in 2013 his distance actually dropped to 280 feet, barely above the league average. And of course, his HR/FB rate came crashing down.
While some sort of rebound in distance should probably be expected, I would look toward his current career HR/FB rate of 14%-15% to peg what his 2014 output might look like. The other factor involved in his power decline is that Craig apparently graduated from the Joey Votto School of Hitting. Check out his batted ball distribution over the years.
He has traded fly balls for line drives, which is fine in a real baseball sense, but not necessarily so for fantasy leaguers. That’s also why he was able to manage a robust .368 BABIP, which was nearly fully supported by a .345 xBABIP. That makes him a strong candidate to post another .300 season, but then we have a Billy Butler clone if his power doesn’t rebound. Actually, Butler is an apt comparison as he has suffered from similar issues. Craig is going to need to reverse his fly ball trend to come anywhere close to 20 home runs again. If that happens, he’ll have a good shot of earning top 10 value at the position.
But also worth considering is that Carlos Beltran is a free agent heading into next season. Speculation is that Matt Adams could take over at first base, moving Craig to right field. Playing right field every day causes a bit more wear and tear on the body than first base does, so you have to wonder if that would affect his offense.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.