Allen Craig's Swing
From 2011 to 2013 Allen
Craig put together three solid starter years, helping the
Cardinals win one World Series and get to another. However, in
2014 Allen Craig has struggled to even put up even replacement
What's going on?
In my opinion,
Allen Craig's struggles are due to the interaction of
unusual mechanics, injuries, and bad strategy.
Stance and Stride
When you look at
hitters' stances and strides, you tend to see one of two things.
- Wide-stance, no stride guys like
Albert Pujols and
- Narrow-stance, stride guys like
Buster Posey and
While there are some
Ian Kinsler, most hitters tend to fit into one of these two
What's unusual about
Allen Craig is that he combines the wide stance of a no-stride
guy with a leg kick and a stride; he sets up like he's going to
no-stride, and then he picks up his front foot and takes a
stride of roughly one foot. That leaves his feet EXTREMELY
widely spread out at heel plant.
While this didn't seem
to be an issue in the past, if you look at the position of
AllenCraig's front foot relative to the front edge of the plate,
his feet look even more spread out at heel plant in 2014 than he was in 2012.
That can be a problem
for a player who might not be as strong and as flexible in his
lower body as he used to be (due to age, injury, or both). That,
in turn, can lead to reduced hip rotation and a decrease in
Ted Williams said the
following about over-striding in his seminal book, The
Science of Hitting...
Be careful not to overstride, because then you spread your
hips and prevent a good pivot, diminishing power. The hip
movement is a spinning action, with the head as the axis,
and it must not be restricted.
I believe that
something else that Ted Williams said in The Science of
Hitting about the hips is relevant to Allen Craig's
One point must be re-emphasized, however: the hips set the
swing in motion and lead the way. If they are restricted, if
you don’t open them wide enough, the wrists will roll
prematurely. They won’t stay in that good strong position
long enough to make proper contact. If contact is made as
the wrists roll, chances are the bat will be on top of the
ball and a weak ground ball will result.
All of this is
consistent with what you see Allen Craig do in games and the comments
that you hear from the Cardinals' broadcast teams about how
Craig looks off-balance this season. Maybe it's due to his foot
injury and maybe it's just his age catching up to him but,
regardless, it seems that Allen Craig's stance and stride are
now pushing his body beyond its limits.
Back Elbow Fundamentalism
One of the reasons
that I have a warm place in my heart for Allen Craig is that his
swing helped me understand the concept of Whip. If you look at
his swing in slow motion, you can see Allen Craig using physics
to his advantage; to get the barrel to absolutely fly around his
However, the more I
watched Allen Craig over the years, the more I realized that he
might be taking some things a bit too far, especially on pitches up in the strike zone.
If you compare Allen
Craig's swing to the swings of other good major league hitters
-- and especially lately -- you will see that Allen Craig pretty
much always takes his back elbow to his back hip and then stops
it there. That WILL help to create whip, but it can also create
problems adjusting to pitches up in the strike zone and force
Craig to get up on his tippy toes to cover the top of the strike
In contrast, if you
compare Allen Craig's swing to the swings of good high-ball
hitters like Buster Posey,
Carlos Beltran, or
Evan Longoria, you will see that they aren't so rigidly
absolutist about taking their back elbows to their back hips.
Instead, their back elbows move more freely. That allows them to
cover the top of the strike zone better and gives them lower
whiff rates at the top of the strike zone.
Allen Craig has a hole
in his swing in the same spot -- middle up -- that hitters like
Albert Pujols, Carlos Beltran, and
Pablo Sandoval absolutely murder the ball.
It's hard for a hitter
to be successful if he's giving away the pitch that is the
easiest one to hit.
I think that part of
the problem with Allen Craig's swing is due to a problem of
strategy; I think he is trying to stay on top of the ball in an
effort to hit line drives. In my opinion, that helps to explain
why Allen Craig consistently drives his back elbow to his back
hip and then stops it there.
However, as I explain
in my pieces on
The Myth of Keeping the Front Elbow Down,
The Myth of Keeping the Barrel Above the Ball and the Hands
The Myth of the A to C Swing, there are numerous problems
with what is commonly taught in terms of the swing plane. In
general, the way to hit line drives is with the slight upswing
that Ted Williams advocated. By trying to cut the ball for
backspin or line drives, you will tend to either create pop-ups
or ground balls, not line drives.