Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Mysterious Decline of Allen Craig

The Red Sox will pay Allen Craig $9 million to play in Pawtucket this season, which is astonishing. Craig was an All Star just three years ago, but his last two seasons have been a disaster.

Craig is only 31-years-old, yet his career fell off a cliff at the still youthful age of 29 -- a time when he should have been solidly in his prime.

For example, here are Craig’s batting averages in recent years:

2011 - .315
2012 - .307
2013 - .315
2014 - .215 (29 games in the majors)
2015 - .152 (36 games in the majors)

Craig slugged .555 in 2011 and .522 in 2012, the marks of a true star. Now he can’t even crack a big league roster.

This is one of the most stunning player downturns in memory. Craig was never associated with PEDs. His sudden, and rather stunning, loss of ability is seemingly without explanation.

Craig suffered through a foot injury in September 2013, but appeared healthy just a month later in the World Series. Playing against Boston, Craig batted 16 times and collected six hits for a .375 batting average.

Though he did not play in the field, Craig served as the designated hitter at Fenway Park and as a pinch hitter at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Clearly, his foot was not affecting his ability to hit.

But Craig started the 2014 season slowly with St. Louis before being traded to Boston at the deadline. His foot seemed to give him some problems after arriving in Boston, to which his poor performance was attributed.

However, he was fully healthy last season, yet continued to struggle anyway.

It's as if he suddenly forgot how to hit, or as if his foot injury somehow affected his vision.

The concern is not just Craig's rapid loss of ability at the big league level; it’s his tepid performance against minor league pitching as well.

After going 7-for-52 (.135) with one extra-base hit to start last season, Craig was demoted in early May and spent the majority of the 2015 season at Triple-A Pawtucket. There he managed to hit a respectable .274, but with with a meager .718 OPS and just four home runs in 93 games.

That’s not the sort of stuff that warrants a big league promotion.

The Red Sox owe Craig a total of $20 million over the next two years ($9 million this season, $11 million next), yet he is no longer on the 40-man roster. He is in camp this spring merely as a non-roster invitee.

Craig and the Red Sox can only hope that he gets off to a fast start this spring and creates some interest for another team. Even then, the Red Sox will end up picking up the majority of the remaining contract, paying Craig to play for someone else.

What an odd and unfortunate situation. This is surely not what the Red Sox -- or Craig for that matter -- were expecting when they acquired him in July, 2014 in exchange for John Lackey.

Back then, Craig seemed like a prized hitter, one who would solidify the heart of the Sox lineup and torment AL pitchers for years to come.

Less than two years later, he is merely an afterthought, and a mystery without explanation.

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