How Good Was St. Louis Cardinals First Baseman Allen Craig in 2012? Really Good.

Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

Whether one goes by batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS, wOBA or wRC+, Allen Craig had a great season at the plate in 2012.

First base is a hit-first position manned by many a marquee slugger. The old-timers call them "run producers" while the new statspeak might dub them "weighted run creators." First basemen are paid--often handsomely--to hit. In 2012, as in every year since 2004, few first basemen hit better than the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman. That first baseman is Allen Craig.

After the Cardinals hoisted the World Series trophy in October 2011, Craig could best be described as Plan C at first base and may have even been Plan D. By June 2012, he was Plan A. After Albert Pujols left via free agency, Lance Berkman got hurt, and Matt Adams underwhelmed at the plate, Craig was called upon to man first for the Redbirds.

Craig's 2012 season got off to a slow start due to injuries. After fracturing his knee cap in Houston during the 2011 season and playing through pain during the Cardinals' magical World Series run, Craig needed surgery to help stabilize his injured knee. The surgery caused Craig to miss all of April. After returning to the active roster, a hamstring injury quickly landed him back on the disabled list for the second half of May. Injuries restricted Craig to just 116 games played.

Once Craig was able to put the disabled list behind him, he was one of the league's best-batting first basemen. To get an idea of just how good Craig was last year, I thought we'd take a look at his offensive production compared to those players who played the majority of their games at first base in 2012 and qualified for the batting title. For additional context, we'll compare Craig's stats to all major-league batters.

.307

2nd

15th

BATTING AVERAGE

FIRST BASE RANK

MLB OVERALL RANK

Craig hit for a .307 batting average over the 469 at-bats he totaled. His .307 BA ranked second only to Prince Fielder amongst players who played the majority of their games at first base and qualified for the batting title. Craig didn't just rank well amongst first baseman. In all of Major League Baseball, he placed 15th in in batting average.

Of course, batting average has its flaws. It is calculated based on at-bats, which means that it excludes those times a batter digs in but doesn't get a hit, reach on an error, or make an out. It also treats every hit the same. Whether a player hits a single or a double, batting average gives the hit the same value. Hits aren't people. They weren't created equal. So let's have a look at how the 144 hits and 37 walks Craig notched break down.

.354

4th

39th

ON-BASE PERCENTAGE

FIRST BASE RANK

MLB OVERALL RANK

For me, on-base percentage was the most important offensive stat for a long time. The reason for this is pretty simple. What is the goal of the pitcher? To get batters out. So, what type of batter does a team want? A batter who doesn't make outs. Well, all batters make outs. In fact, all batters make outs a majority of the time they dig into the batter's box. It's the nature of the sport. Thus, I've always thought teams should want batters who make outs at the lowest possible rate. Enter OBP, which is the flip side of the out-making coin. The higher a player's OBP, the lower his out-making rate.

Craig's OBP in 2012 was .354, which is above average for first basemen and MLB. in 2012, MLB first basemen posted a .336 OBP and MLB players overall got on-base at a .319 clip. This makes Craig's OBP very good but not elite. Three first basemen and 38 major leaguers posted a higher OBP than Craig. To put it another way, three first basemen and 38 major leaguers made outs at a lower rate than Craig.

.522

2nd

13th

SLUGGING PERCENTAGE

FIRST BASE RANK

MLB OVERALL RANK

Last year, Craig hit for a .522 slugging percentage. The only first baseman who qualified for the batting title with a higher SLG than Craig was Prince Fielder at .528. In 2012, first basemen slugged .442 and the MLB as a whole posted a .405 SLG. Craig's .522 SLG ranked 13th in MLB.

.876

2nd

18th

ON-BASE PLUS SLUGGING

FIRST BASE RANK

MLB OVERALL RANK

Given Craig's strong showings in OBP and SLG, it's no surprise that he also places well in terms of on-base plus slugging; or, OPS. Craig's .876 OPS ranks second amongst MLB first baseman, behind Fielder at .940 and ahead of Albert Pujols in third place at .859. Craig ranked 18th in MLB in OPS, one point behind Matt Holliday and two points ahead of Yadier Molina (the other two Cardinals in the Top 20).

.215

7th

31st

ISOLATED POWER

FIRST BASE RANK

MLB OVERALL RANK

Given his SLG, there's no question that Craig provided some pop to the Cardinals lineup, but just how much power? Isolated Power looks at a batter's extra-base hits only. The idea is to isolate extra-base hits away from singles by simply taking a player's SLG and subtracting his BA. This leaves only the SLG points for extra-base hits behind--hence the name Isolated Power (ISO). When looking at ISO, we see that Craig's high batting average helps to inflate his SLG a bit. Criag's ISO of .217 ranks seventh amongst MLB players who took played the majority of their games as a first basemen and qualified for the batting crown. Craig also ranks 31st in all of MLB in ISO. Both his first base and MLB ISO rankings are lower than his SLG rankings.


.374

2nd

21st

wOBA

FIRST BASE RANK

MLB OVERALL RANK

Weighted On-Base Average is a stat created by Tom Tango that attempts to measure a player's entire offensive contribution. Using linear weights, Tango gives each offensive outcome a run value: walks, singles, doubles, triples. homers, steals. and times caught stealing. Essentially, a double isn't twice as valuable as a single. wOBA gives the outcomes a more accurate value than SLG and therefore OPS. If you're interested in learning more about wOBA, the Fangraphs glossary page on the stat can be found here.

Since wOBA is scaled to OBP, one can gauge how good a player's wOBA by comparing it to what a good OBP is. Fangraphs does this in a reference box: a .400+ wOBA is "excellent"; .370 is "great"; .340 is "above average"; .320 is about average; .310 is "below average"; .300 is "poor"; and, .290 is "awful."

As you can see, Craig's wOBA of .374 is a touch above "great." It ranks second amongst MLB first basemen, behind only Fielder. Craig also ranks 21st in all of the majors in wOBA.

138

2nd

19th

wRC+

FIRST BASE RANK

MLB OVERALL RANK

For our last look at Craig's 2012 batting season, I want to use the stat I now view as most useful when evaluating a batter: Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+). Runs Created was a stat created by Bill James as a catch-all stat for measuring offensive production. Tango improved the stat and Fangraphs now has wRC+, which is Runs Created based on wOBA and adjusted for park effects. As with every other stat, Craig is excellent. Once again he comes in second amongst players who played the majority of their games at first base. He is also a top 20 big-league batter by wRC+.

After Pujols left via free agency, Berkman got hurt, and Adams fizzled, the Cardinals got some of the best production in the game at first base from Craig. It was a breakout season for Craig by any measure. If Torty's master is healthy enough to notch a full season's worth of PAs, 2013 could be even more impressive for the Cardinals' everyday first baseman.

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