When this season finishes, regardless of the team's success, Allen Craig's statistical line will be a disappointment. Craig is currently sporting a .244/.295/.355 line good for just a .290 wOBA and a wRC+ of 84. Adding no positive value on defense and Craig has been a replacement level player in 2014. A good run to finish off the final portion of the season would be beneficial for the Cardinals as well as Craig himself, but even a re-discovery of his past hitting self will not be enough to make his final line anywhere near expectations. The issue for Craig moving forward is not just whether he can recover in the second half, but will he recover at all and justify the five-year $31 million extension he signed prior to 2013.
There were concerns for Craig coming into this season after his power dropped in 2013. Ben (link), Joe (link), and I (link) all wrote about Craig's drop in power before the season. Ben and Joe preached a more cautious approach while I was ever the optimist. A month into the season, Craig was not hitting the ball in the air, but one month later, I declared he was doing well and there was nothing to worry about. My optimism was looking good for a little while. From April 15th through May 29th (arbitrary endpoints), Craig was hitting .289/.354/.472 for a wRC+ of 135 and a .182 isolated slugging, all right in line with his career averages. Unfortunately, as Joe noted a week later, Craig was doing nothing with inside pitches and Ben expanded a month later on Craig's inability to pull the ball with authority. Others have noticed the problems as well.
Before getting to Craig's future, here is a brief reminder about how good Craig was in 2012 and 2013. In those two years Craig hit .311/.364/.488 for a wRC+ of 136. While Craig's power did drop in 2013, his good average, solid on-base percentage and still decent power combined with an offensive drop league-wide meant his wRC+ went from 137 to 134, dropping just three points. His .311 batting average ranked 10th in the majors during that time. Craig's .488 slugging percentage came in at 25th and his wRC+ of 136 ranked 20th in all of baseball.
Given how successful Craig was in 2012 and 2013, his performance this season has been a surprise. To find comparable dropoffs, I went back twenty years, looking at players with a wRC+ between 125 and 145 during their Age-27 and -28 seasons from 1993 through 2012. Based on a search performed at Fangraphs, there were 44 players found. Of those 44, a vast majority had good seasons at age 29. The simple chart below shows how the players performed.
Only four of the players failed to have at least average seasons offensively at age 29 and just eleven players did not have a wRC+ of at least 110. Those players are below.
For the most part, those players responded in their age-30 seasons to have good years.
Only Weeks and Hundley remained below average offensive players. Gordon is currently in his Age-30 season. As a group, their wRC+ increased by more than twenty points. Even without Larry Walker's insance bounce-back season, the group still saw an average increase of 16 to their wRC+. For the most part, they did not reach the heights of their Age-27 and -28 seasons, but more than half continued to be very good offensive producers. The same held true for the players' Age-31 seasons as well.
Even looking only at the players who failed to reach a wRC+ of 100 in their Age-29 season like Craig thus far, there are still success stories. Martinez played very well, Crawford was solid, and Todd Hundley did have one great season left. Only Rickie Weeks failed to reach average again and he still has that opportunity before the season is over.
Players sometimes have bad seasons. Whether it is injury, approach, or simply bad luck, Allen Craig is in the middle of one of those seasons. Good players generally come back and produce at levels closer to their career levels. Craig's apparent loss of ability is concerning in what is likely to be a lost season for him at the plate. He is losing time to Oscar Taveras and has deserved that fate. Matt Adams appears to be a younger, cheaper version of the big bat Craig has been at first base.
Allen Craig still has a role on this Cardinals team and he could still prove valuable in the future. Over the next three seasons, he is owed just $5.5, $9, and $11 million with a $1 million buyout of a $13 million option. The contract is far from an albatross and has value to either the Cardinals (hopefully), or to another team if the Cardinals decide to shop him in the offseason.