.215-8-46 in 461 at-bats.
It looks like the batting line of a defensive-minded shortstop. That’s certainly what it has been through the history of baseball. But that’s what noted first baseman-right fielder Allen Craig did for the Cardinals and Red Sox this year.
Craig received MVP votes for the Cardinals in 2012 and ’13, making his first All-Star team in the latter season. He opened 2014 as a 29-year-old with a career .306/.358/.492 line and a reputation as one of the game’s top clutch hitters. However, he was also coming off a foot injury that cost him most of September and limited him during the Cardinals’ postseason run in 2013. The Cards made the choice to move him back to right field anyway, making room for Matt Adams at first base.
Craig went on to start 2014 cold, but not disastrously so. He hit .220/.277/.367 with three homers in April and then improved to .291/.354/.427 with three homers in May, suggesting that he was returning to form. It didn’t materialize. Craig hit .255 in June, but without a single homer and just four walks in 112 plate appearances. After he hit .122 as a part-time player in July, the Cards shipped him to the Red Sox in the John Lackey trade. Things got even worse. Craig soon went back on the DL with more foot problems. Upon returning, he hit .128/.234/.191 in 94 at-bats for the Red Sox. He played in 29 games for the Red Sox and had exactly one hit for an RBI; it was a two-run homer off the Jays’ Sergio Santos, who was immediately designated for assignment after the game and was never heard from again.
The end result was that Craig hit .215/.279/.315 with eight homers and 46 RBI in 461 at-bats.
In so doing, Craig became the fifth player since 1990 to finish a season with at least 450 at-bats and a batting average under .220, fewer than 10 homers and fewer than 50 RBI:
Alfredo Griffin (1990 Dodgers): .210-1-35 in 461 AB
Cristian Guzman (2005 Nationals): .219-4-31 in 456 AB
Nick Punto (2007 Twins): .210-1-25 in 472 AB
Darwin Barney (2013 Cubs): .208-7-41 in 501 AB
Yes, middle infielders the lot of them. Going back through history, such seasons have mostly come from shortstops. Ozzie Smith had one. Mark Belanger had two, as did Hal Lanier and Leo Durocher. Zoilo Versailes did it in 1967, two years after winning AL MVP.
The last outfielder to do it was Gary Pettis in 1980. A speedster always in the lineup for his glove, he hit .210-3-36 as the Tigers’ center fielder in 1988. No first baseman or corner outfielder had turned in such a season since Joe Kuhel of the White Sox in 1943. He hit .213-5-46 as an everyday first baseman. The only other two first basemen or corner outfielders to have such seasons since 1901 were Charlie Carr and George Barclay, both in 1904.
That’s how bad Craig’s season was. And now the Red Sox, who are on the hook for $26.5 million to Craig over the next three years, have to hope for a bounce back. It might happen, but there’s no good reason to pencil him in as a starting outfielder right now.