After 2012, the St. Louis Cardinals looked like they had a true slugger in Allen Craig. He hit 22 home runs while slashing .307/.354/.522 in 469 at bats that season. He posted an ISO (Isolated Power – Slugging minus batting average) of .215 and a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .334; both numbers are exceptional.
Then his power started to disappear in 2013; his homers dropped to 13 but still slashed a line of .315/.373/.457. His ISO dropped to .142 and he saw an overall decrease in extra base hits. His BABIP did rise to .334. This didn’t appear to be a huge issue since he was still driving in runs and was the best hitter in the game with runners in scoring position.
2014 has been a disaster so far though. Craig is slashing .192/.254/.298 and has 2 homers in the first month of the season. His ISO is sitting at .106 and BABIP at .214; the BABIP is extremely low, but should increase as he warms up.
Looking at the downward trend along with his line drive percentage, it would appear that Craig has shifted from a power hitter to a slap hitter. According to Fangraphs, slap hitters sacrifice “power by using less torque and a line-drive swing to put the ball on the ground and spray line drives.”
In 2012, Craig had a line drive percentage of 22.7%, a ground ball percentage of 43.9%, and a fly ball percentage of 33.3%. He also had a home run to fly ball ratio of 17.1% and an infield hit percentage of 4.8%. His ground ball to fly ball ratio was 1.32.
When his power disappeared in 2013, he profiled more as a slap hitter. His line drive percentage went up to 26.9% and ground ball percentage to 45.0%, while his fly ball percentage dropped to 28.1%. Since his home run to fly ball percentage dropped to 11.2% since his homers and fly ball percentage both dropped. His infield hit percentage saw a small bump to 4.8%, while his ground ball to fly ball ratio went to 1.60.
The trend has continued this season to a degree. His line drive percentage has dropped drastically to 16.3%, which isn’t as common for a slap hitter. What is common is the ground ball percentage, which is sitting at 62.8%. His fly ball percentage has dropped to 20.9%; the results show in his ground ball to fly ball ratio, which is 3.00. His home run to fly ball percentage is nearly identical to last season at 11.1%.
The difference between Allen Craig and your typical slap hitter is speed; the slap hitters profiled by Fangraphs include Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, and Billy Hamilton. Craig doesn’t have that speed.
Craig said this spring that he had been working on become a more consistent hitter since the beginning of 2013, sacrificing power to drive in runs. When men are on base, he looks to hit a line drive to the right side of the field. It worked, as he drove in 97 runners last season. Judging by this year’s average and BABIP, teams look to have adjusted to this
On top of the slap hitting issue, it appears that Craig could have adjusted his swing due to last season’s foot injury; Craig missed the final month of the regular season and the first 2 post-season series last year after breaking his left foot. This year, Craig has shown up in videos using more upper body than in the past and lifting his left foot, which alters his balance. These could be the reason for the lower line drive percentage.