StrategyMay 23, 2011

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NL Diamond In The Rough: Allen Craig

By Josh Shepardson

Those who play fantasy football are aware of the maddening nature of owning a running back on a Mike Shanahan coached football team. Fantasy baseball gamers could put together a strong argument that owning a Tony LaRussa managed player is even more frustrating (see: Rasmus, Colby circa 2010 or this year’s bullpen disaster). Like Shanahan coached running backs, there can be hidden value mined out of sorting through LaRussa’s mess, and Allen Craig has a chance to be the latest example.

Craig has proved a solid hitter in the upper minors the last few years, and was able to see his first action in the majors last year accumulating 124 plate appearances. His biggest problem has been finding a defensive home, as most of his time in the minors and majors prior to this year has been spent playing first base, left field and right field, positions occupied by guys named Pujols, Berkman and Holliday. I presume you’ve heard of them? Positional experience be dammed, LaRussa appears determined to get Craig’s bat in the Cardinals lineup. The crazed skipper has miscast him occasionally at third base in place of injured David Freese this year, and more recently begun playing him at second base. Saturday’s start at the keystone position marked his fourth, leaving him one start short of gaining second base eligibility in Yahoo! leagues.

In his first go-round last year, Craig failed to set the fantasy world on fire, but did show some glimpses of usefullness hitting four home runs in his limited time. This year his numbers look even better, though they are slightly luck aided by a .360 BABIP coming into Saturday in spite of just a 9.6 percent line drive rate. Expect to see his average drop some unless he’s able to turn some of is worm burners into line drives. Craig has shown an aptitude for working walks and has posted a tolerable strikeout rate both in the upper minors and in his major league time. Ultimately I expect to see Craig’s batting average settle in around the upper-.270’s-to-lower-.280’s with a legitimate shot to eclipse 20 home runs with regular playing time. Add it up, and those numbers would play fine in deep mixed leagues or NL-only leagues at his current eligible position of outfield, and would look glowing at second base or middle infield should he get one more start there. Owned in just two percent of Yahoo! leagues, expect to see that number rise once less astute owners see him pick up new eligibility. If you need help up the middle, beat them to the punch and snap him up now.

Josh is a recent college graduate from SUNY Cortland where he majored in Sport Management. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe Forums where he posts as B-Chad.
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