The 2012 season is officially over. Whether your line of demarcation is the World Series or the awards season, the bow is now on another excellent season of baseball. With my beloved Detroit Tigers taking the crushing loss in the World Series, I was ready to put an eye toward 2013 immediately. So naturally I have already started three drafts, two mocks and one actual league.
The first came in Arizona when I attended the BaseballHQ.com First Pitch Forums (a must event for baseball nut, so much fun). I actually participated in simultaneous drafts out there, but one was a Scoresheet league (my first!) so I’ll focus on the trio of 15-team mixed leagues for the purposes of this piece. The other two are mock drafts I set up with podcast group members. I’ll discuss those in more detail later. For now, I want to discuss a staple across all of my teams: Allen Craig.
The Wrench landed on all three of my teams due in large part to my aggressive approach to acquiring him. The league in Phoenix was a standard 15-team NFBC-style draft. We do 23 rounds live and finish the rest online. I drew the 10th pick which wasn’t my ideal spot, but I have no real complaints with it, either. Once Matt Kemp and Carlos Gonzalez went sixth and seventh, I began to think I could get insanely lucky and end up with Joey Votto. Instead, he went eighth.
I passed on the likes of Albert Pujols, Buster Posey, or Prince Fielder and went with Giancarlo Stanton. He put up a full season of power in 501 plate appearances with a career-high 37 home runs. Frankly, I was kind of surprised he was there. It was round two where I made my move. Knowing I would have to wait another 18 picks for my third round pick and feeling plenty comfortable with him here, I took Craig with the 21st pick in the draft. Many believed it was a bit crazy.
The thing with drafts is that it only takes one of your other 14 competitors to sink your plan to roster someone. With nine of those competitors getting two picks apiece, it was a risk I was unwilling to take even though he may well have made it back to me. In the two mock drafts, I got the third and sixth picks respectively and ended up waiting a tick longer for Craig nabbing him with the 33rd and 36th overall picks in the third round of both leagues. The CouchManagers engine allows drafters to vote picks as “good” or “bad” giving users some instant feedback on how leaguemates view their selections. Across the two leagues, Craig received three good and nine bad votes.
I get it. It is unconventional and because many people seem to disagree with the pick both as outsiders looking in and even within the leagues where I selected him, I probably could’ve gotten him later. Probably doesn’t work for me, though. I took him where I valued him as I see him as a quality upside pick. He finished top ten among first basemen in home runs (ninth* with 22), runs scored (tied for seventh with 76), and runs batted in (seventh with 92) despite logging just 514 plate appearances. He was also second among qualified first basemen with a .307 batting average and fifth with a .354 on-base percentage.
The upside with Craig is simply playing time. Injuries have limited him to 733 plate appearances the last two seasons with four stints on the disabled list. It started with a strained left groin in April of 2011 that cost him 13 games. A bruised right knee from 2011 cost him essentially two months (54 games). While he did return and closed out the season with a bang (.290 average, .901 OPS and seven home runs in 97 plate appearances), the injury bled into 2012 as the resultant surgery cost him all of April. I would rather bet on a player who has displayed the skills and needs to stay healthy as opposed to someone with potential who are we are waiting on to see if they can “put it all together” and deliver on minor league promise. Mind you, health is a skill so while I say the upside is “simply” playing time, there are some who never bring that facet to their game and we are left with a bunch of “could’ve been” seasons.
In fact, look what Craig’s last two seasons could’ve been with a full allotment of plate appearances:
The only real difference between those two adjusted seasons is the stolen base total. That is about the furthest thing from the mind of someone drafting him so even if he does manage a full season of playing time and only steals a couple bags, it doesn’t dent his value.
Take the average of the other four numbers (97, 30, 118, .309) and over the past two seasons only two players have hit all four benchmarks: Kemp in 2011 and Miguel Cabrera this year. Of course, these are just theoretical thresholds for Craig as he hasn’t yet proven the health piece, but the production in four of the five standard categories is excellent and definitely worthy a high pick especially as first base thins out a bit at the top.
Known as a position of depth, there were far few elite level options in 2012 compared to 2011. Using ESPN’s Player Rater, it took 6.9 rating to make the top 50, which I think we could all agree is the upper echelon of offensive players. Of that 50, only nine were first basemen. Of those nine, four were no doubt not utilized primarily at first with Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion qualifying at third base while Posey and Joe Mauer are best deployed at catcher. Adrian Gonzalez is on the fence as a first base/outfield qualifier, but we can leave him at first.
In 2011, the top 50 threshold was at 6.7 on the Player Rater and 12 of those were first basemen. Of those 12, only Michael Young (third base) and Mike Napoli (catcher) were best deployed at another qualifying position. Lance Berkman and Michael Morse were like Gonzalez with their outfield qualification. I definitely didn’t tab Craig with an early selection with the thought of position scarcity front of mind, but it shouldn’t be ignored, either. Craig also carries the dual eligibility in the outfield adding flexibility to the pick, too.
Craig has been one of the best hitters in baseball the past two seasons ranking 17th in OPS+ among batters with 700 or more plate appearances. That is my primary reason for selecting him where I have been; he’s a great hitter. Additionally, in order to put up an elite season, he isn’t waiting on talent develop, rather he needs his body to cooperate. While that certainly isn’t a given, it is a much sounder investment than betting on someone’s talents to shine through or for them to “get it”.
*Craig logged the ninth-highest total at 22, but there were players tied at 30 and 23 leaving 11 players with more homeruns than him.