Cheap Seats

July 27, 2014

Allen Craig isn't the first player to have an off season

Cheap Seats

Looking at the Cards from a fan's perspective

I just don't understand all the Allen Craig hate that floats around the internet these days.

I can wrap my mind around disappointment and frustration caused by the fact that one of the St. Louis Cardinals' best hitters is having a down year. But I hope he doesn't read the social media sites because, if he did, the guy might want to jump off a bridge. The things being said about a guy who was an all-star just last season are sickening.

Fair weather Redbirds fans are calling for his metaphoric head, demanding that the Cardinals release him, "trade him for a box of balls" and/or demanding other unceremonious break-ups with a player the celebrated St. Louis front office thought so much of that it signed him to a long-term contract extension before the start of the 2013 season.

Craig rewarded the Cardinals for their faith last year by hitting .454 with runners in scoring position, the third-highest showing in that statistical category in the past four decades. The only players who did better were a couple of fellows who gained some acclaim for their hitting prowess: Tony Gwynn and George Brett.

But it wasn't enough for some people. Because, while Craig hit .315 with 97 RBIs -- despite playing in only 95 games due to injury -- his 13 home runs were unacceptable. 

I'm not sure if its the lingering ankle injury that put Craig out down the stretch and limited him in the postseason or if it's just one of those things that happens in baseball. But the pitchfork and torch crowd is completely freaked out by the fact that Craig this year is hitting .240 with seven homers and 44 RBIs.

He turned 30 years old only a couple of weeks ago. What makes people think that Craig is suddenly washed up? In 1,420 plate appearances prior to the 2014 season, Craig was a .306 hitter with a knack for driving in runs by the bushel basket.

Having a down year, shockingly, is not unprecedented in Major League Baseball. Willie McGee in 1985 won the National League Most Valuable Player Award by hitting .353 with 218 hits and 18 triples, all figures that lead the league. In 1986 he hit .256 with 127 hits. In 1990 he won his second NL batting title with a .335 mark. But in 1989 he hit only .236, managing to play in only 58 games.

I'm sure glad the Redbirds didn't release McGee in 1985. 

It's fairly obvious from watching Craig bat these days that the pressure and frustration have got into his head. He's grasping for straws instead of sticking to the things that have been successful for him in the past. Lately it seems like he's been trying too hard to pull the ball, perhaps to answer the critics who think he needs to hit more home runs to justify his existence.

Craig has never really been a pull hitter as much as an opportunistic batter who could hit the ball wherever it's pitched.

He's compounded his problems by becoming one dimensional. Pitchers are able to exploit the situation and he's ending up jumping at inside pitches and either hacking and missing or hitting weak ground balls.

Craig needs to stop worrying about his power numbers or even his batting average. He needs to concentrate on seeing the ball and hitting it right back up the middle. When he gets his foundation back, then he can start to expand his options and work on trying to hit for power.

The best thing, however, for Craig is likely going to be the off-season when he can clear the blackboard and start over from scratch. But I believe he's still a very good player and hope the Cardinals will give him the opportunity to prove it. After all, they've show they can bring in young talent, isn't it just as important that they don't let talent get away from them with shortsightedness?

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About Cheap Seats

Scott Wuerz has reported for the Belleville News-Democrat since 1998​. He writes about the St. Louis Cardinals from a fan's perspective in his Cheap Seats blog.

Contact him at swuerz@bnd.com.

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