In 2013, Allen Craig had a solid season, putting up .315/.373/.457 for a wOBA of .363 and a wRC+ of 135. Overall, his production was nearly equivalent to his 2012 season, when he hit .308/.354/.522 for a wOBA of .374 and wRC+ of 138. The major difference between the two seasons was Craig's slugging percentage, which dropped 65 points from .522 to .457. As a result his isolated slugging percentage also dropped, from .215 to .142. Digging deeper, his line drive percentage increased and his home run to fly ball ratio decreased. Taking a look at players with similar profiles may provide insight on expectations for his future.
Craig has always been a line drive hitter, but in 2013 he posted a 26.9% line drive percentage, over four points higher than any of his prior years. From 2004 through 2012, there were twenty-nine players who had line drive percentages over twenty-five, played full seasons the year before and the year after, and saw their line drive percentage increase from the previous year. Here's a chartof those players with their Line Drive rate, Isolated Slugging, Home Run to Fly Ball rate, and wOBA for the year where the player had a Line Drive rate as well as the year before and after.
Here is a graph of the averages lined up with Craig's numbers over the last two years.
As the graph illustrates, while Craig's line drive rate goes in the same direction as the rest of the players, in every other metric, he moves the opposite way. In looking at this information, it is apparent that players with very high line drive rates do not see the same drop in power or home run rate that Craig experienced last year. The one positive this graph shows is players with a a high line drive rate are very good players, producing an average wOBA of .352, .364, and .343 over the three year period. While narrowing down the field can produce less significant results, it can also be helpful to find players with similar profiles to see how they performed. Here are the players who had a wOBA within ten points of the previous year (Craig's drop was 11 points).
The accompanying graph compares the average to Craig's numbers.
While two of the statistics match up with Craig, isolated slugging and HR/FB still trend much worse than the rest of the group. The next chart and accompanying graph compares Craig to players who also had their HR/FB rate drop at 4%.
We see a lot more similarities in this graph. The year after the high line drive rate, the comparison players all saw their HR/FB and ISO rebound slightly with a slightly eroding of wOBA. For the final comparison set, we have players where the ISO dropped at least 25 points in the same year they saw their line drive rate increase.
In the next year, the HR/FB ratio stabilizes as does the ISO despite the drop in line drive rate. The wOBA does erode slightly, but there is some encouragement to be taken from the last two charts. There are several carryovers from the HR/FB list, and in general we have some of the betters hitters in all of baseball: Joey Votto, David Wright, and Bobby Abreu all had similar profiles to Allen Craig. In addition, looking at the two players who had the biggest drop in ISO, David Wright and Andre Ethier, shows the potential for a bounce-back in power while maintaining an excellent wOBA. Wright had his power sapped when he moved to Citi Field in 2009, but in 2010, his power numbers jumped right back up. The same was true for Ethier in 2012.
Allen Craig's power took a tumble in 2013, but he still managed to put together a productive season. Whether he changed his approach, had some good luck hitting line drives, or some bad luck hitting home runs, there is little reason to think he should not continue to be a successful hitter even if he cannot approach his old power numbers. He may not be as good as he has been the past two years, but even if his line drive rate goes down in 2014 he should still be a solid middle of the order hitter for the Cardinals.