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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 level numbers.

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 Jim Edmonds.
  • Narrow-stance, stride guys like Buster Posey and Jose Bautista.

While there are some exceptions, like Ian Kinsler, most hitters tend to fit into one of these two patterns.

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.

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Allen Craig
2014

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.

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Allen Craig
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 power.

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 struggles...

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 hands.

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.

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Allen Craig

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 zone.

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Evan Longoria

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.

Strategy

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 and 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.

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