By Joe Schwarz
(KSDK Sports) -- The 2014 St. Louis Cardinals and beyond need Allen Craig at first base. Before I lose readers, let me make this clear: this post is not meant to be a knock on the ability of Matt Adams or Craig's defensive ability in the outfield. Will I take a look at their defensive numbers? Of course I will, but as you are reading, keep in mind that this is not the main point of the article.
With four years and $28.25 million (not counting a $13 million team option in 2018) left on his current contract, it is in the team's best interest to have the 29-year-old Craig on the field as much as possible. Sure, the team warded off the Pittsburgh Pirates for National League Central crown with Adams at first base, but if the World Series is any indication, Craig was sorely missed.
As we all know by now, the 2014 projected lineup consists of Craig taking over Carlos Beltran's spot in right-field and Adams stepping in at first-base on a full-time basis. Craig's UZR/150 in right-field last season? -24.3. To put this in perspective, Beltran's was -18.7, and we all had some very strong opinions on his declining defense over the past two seasons.
I understand that one season is a pretty small sample size so I dug a little deeper. In 627 right-field innings in his career, Craig's UZR/150 sits at -5.6–making him "below average" at the position. At first base, Craig had a 3.3 UZR/150 in 2013 and is at 0.3 in just under 1,600 innings played at the position in his career. As Corey Noles noted back in July, Adams vastly improved his defense in 2013, but even at his best, he is an inferior defender compared to Craig. For those wondering, Adams' career UZR/150 at first base (792.1 innings) is -1.9. To his credit, though, he was much improved in 2013 at -0.5 compared to -4.1 his rookie season.
As you can see, the Cardinals' defense is much better with Craig at first than in right-field. Obviously, as long as Oscar Taveras' health remains a huge question mark and until he proves he can perform at the big league level, they have no choice but use Craig in right. This was made apparent when Beltran left on a three year deal with the Yankees.
However, despite these numbers and like I said in the first paragraph, my reasoning behind the Cardinals needing Craig at first has very little to do with Craig's or Adams' defense ability.
Craig, a fan favorite for both his performance and his effort, plays the game 110%. Two of his major injuries are a perfect example of this. He fractured his knee cap crashing into the side wall at Minute Maid Park back in 2011. Last season, he injured his foot rounding first base trying to extend the play on an overthrow (to this day, I blame the umpire for being in his way). Were both injuries fluky? Yep, but if he is called upon to play 140+ games in the outfield in 2014, there is a pretty good chance he will get injured again.
Craig was an All-Star last season, had one RBI every five at-bats, and hit .454 with runners in scoring position. His foot injury left him out of live action for almost two months, yet he came back and did what he does best in the World Series–hit. In 16 at-bats, he had six hits. That's incredible. He is the "Amazing Whacker Guy" after all.
Adams is due for a breakout season. He will have more experience, he will get more at-bats, and he will be fully healthy. Corey Rudd of stlsportsminute.com wrote a detailed piece for the Yahoo! Contributor Network breaking down this belief. However, despite this, I don't think I will have many people disagreeing with my following statement.
A fully healthy Allen Craig is more important for the success of the Cardinals than a fully healthy Matt Adams.
Could Adams prove me wrong in this statement? He sure could, but at this point in both their careers, it is hard to argue with the Craig's resume.
Could Craig still get hurt at first base? Yep, but there's a much lower risk there than in the spacious outfield of Busch Stadium.
Could the addition of Peter Bourjos lead to less range needed to be covered by Craig in the outfield? Absolutely! Bourjos has some of the best range in baseball, but the outfield walls will still be there, and I am fairly certain Craig will run into one or two throughout the course of the season. Sure, he could ease up on 50-50 balls, but that's not the way Allen Thomas Craig plays baseball. The Cardinals gave him the five year extension because he not only plays the game at a high level, but he also plays it the right way–the Cardinal Way.
In conclusion, do I want Adams' bat in the lineup every day for a full season? You bet I do. However, I do not want it at the expense of Craig's health. With Beltran gone, the Cardinals will ask even more from Craig next season. They need 550+ plate appearances from him. Can he get that while playing right-field all season? Yes, he could, but I like his chances of reaching that number much more if he played most of his games at first.
Obviously, if set-backs occur with Taveras or he doesn't perform the way the organization would like early in the season, this post won't mean much. Yet, I still figured it was exploring because if he does perform the way many scouts believe he can, he will be an ideal fit in right-field for the long-term.
would love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Feel free to include them in the comments section below.
Until next time…