Fantasy Buy Low Special: Cardinals 1B Allen Craig
I don't think there's anybody who truly hates Allen Craig. A .346 OBP, 22 percent line drive rate, and 5.3 at-bats per RBI are a little bit tough to find fault with. If you have him, you haven't spent April and May cursing the day you grabbed him for your fantasy team.
But through the first two months of the season, Craig has had the power of a second grader taking on the Packers. His three homeruns place him in a tie for 165th in the major leagues. His 1.5 percent homerun rate sits over a full percent under the league average (2.7%) and 130th among qualified batters. Only 4.0 percent of his fly balls have gone out of the ballpark.
Those power numbers have driven down his fantasy worth. Through May 27, we have Craig as the No. 49 most valuable fantasy player this season. That's not bad, only slightly worse than his average draft position of No. 45 before the season. (For the record, we had him at No. 47.)
That's in the past, though. Over the rest of the season, we expect him to pick up just a bit. How much? We expect him to be the 16th most valuable fantasy player the rest of the way, even with positional scarcity factored in.
The Key to Success
Craig's numbers are a bit odd for one reason: he's managed a .346 OBP despite the worst walk rate of his career. On the season, Craig has walked on 4.9 percent of plate appearances this season, way below his 6.9 percent previous low rate. He's also seeing a career-low percentage of 2-0 (8%), 3-0 (3%), and 3-1 (4%) counts as a function of total plate appearances.
So how has he maintained such a high level of play? Because he's really, really good at finding gaps in the defense. His .348 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) this season ranks 34th among qualified hitters, but it's not an unsustainable sum considering his career .333 BABIP average. If anything, his .302 batting average may even be a bit low because of the lack of homeruns.
Oh, those homeruns. They'll come back, won't they? We certainly believe they will. Regression to the mean indicates that a player is more likely to continue on his career rate rather than what he's done so far this season. Craig has hit homeruns on 3.8 percent of plate appearances for his career. That's about 2.5 times his current homerun rate.
There's no reason to believe Craig won't get there. He's making contact with more pitches he swings at (83 percent) than he ever has before. His 0.86 ground ball to fly ball ratio is right near his 0.80 career average. And his percentage of hits for doubles or triples - 28 percent - is even higher than his 24 percent from the previous two seasons.
Looking to the Future
Combine that high BABIP with a projected rise in homerun rate and walk rate, and you've got a monster season in the making for Craig. His rise in BABIP, contact percentage, and non-HR extra-base hits are sustainable given the natural growth of a ballplayer, and we expect them to continue as well.
That's why we put Craig as the No. 16 ballplayer the rest of the way. Even if you've got Prince Fielder or Joey Votto holding down the fort at first, Craig holds dual-position eligibility at outfield in both ESPN and Yahoo fantasy leagues. Plus, there's no way you could really turn down these stats:
Projected Rest of Season Stats
Our projections actually have him with a slight decrease in batting average, but he would more than make up for it with that stronger OPS. 16 homeruns the rest of the way gives him a 4.0 projected homerun rate, much more likely given his career averages.
Craig's value is that he does a bit of everything. That .297 projected average places him fourth among outfielders behind Melky Cabrera, Ryan Braun, and Torii Hunter and third among first basemen behind Fielder and Votto. His 16 projected homeruns places him in the top 20 of both outfielders and first basemen. His 61 projected RBIs is top 15 of both groups.
He's right in line with average draft position projections right now, but all signs are looking up for Craig. Even if it means trading a top (overachieving) player like Shin-Soo Choo, I'd want Craig on my side for his upside moving forward.