(Baseball StL) – There is very little doubt as to who the best first baseman in the league has been this season.
Baltimore Oriole Chris Davis is having a year for the ages- hitting .337, with 26 homers and 66 RBIs. Beyond the standard metrics, he’s creating 10.9 runs per 27 outs, and hitting a home run every 10 at bats. That’s absolutely insane.
I could go on about his other frighteningly impressive numbers, but why look to the northeast when St. Louis is hosting a first baseman with his own remarkable statistics?
Allen Craig is not a superstar. By all measurable attributes he’s an above-average first baseman and not much else.
So why is he worth the five-year, $30 million contract the Cardinals are paying him? He brings in runs. He’s not doing anything as mind boggling as Davis’ nearly-11 runs per 27 outs, but who else is? Votto is widely considered the next best first baseman, but the Reds just signed him to a 10-year, $225 million contract.
Once again the Redbirds are getting competitve numbers from a player for a fraction of the cost.
To understand just how competitive, examine how the three perform when there are runners in scoring position.*
Now, there are always extenuating circumstances (i.e. quality of pitcher faced, speed of runners, etc) but this is a simple examination of how a batter performs in situations where the are runners on second, third, or both.
Chris Davis has had 71 at bats where runners have been in scoring position. In those at bats he is hitting .408, with 8 home runs, and 45 at bats.
Votto’s 68 at bats have yielded 23 hits, 3 bombs and 25 RBI with an average of .338.
Allen Craig has had 73 shots with runners in scoring position. In that situation, he is hitting .438, with 49 RBIs and 2 home runs. His 32 hits are best at his position and second only to Miguel Cabrera’s 37 (Cabrera has had 81 at bats with RISP) in league standings.
His RBIs with RISP lead everyone at his position, second once again to Cabrera across all slots.
Outside of this situation, Craig is still playing admirably. Within it, he is dominating at first base. Not only that, he is doing it on the cheap.
Davis is also netting incredible value for the O's as his numbers to this point have pretty much already warranted the $3.3 million contract he signed for 2013.
The same can not be said for Cincinnati.
In 2013, the Reds are paying Votto $19 million. To date, they are paying $760,000 for every RBI he produces when a runner is in scoring position. The Cardinals, in contrast, are paying just $35,714.
Now, Votto has an impressive 54 walks on the season; 21 of which are with runners in scoring position. That will hurt the totals a bit, and it makes for interesting discussion. Is his discipline a good thing or a bad thing? It’s certainly hard to tell a guy who’s getting on base that much to change his approach, but it also has to be tough to pay a three hitter $19 million to not swing when there are RBIs on the table.
Were he to swing at bad pitches it would hurt production, but I’d wager there were plenty of pitches he took that he could have put in play, and perhaps produced more runs.
One would assume it was his power and run production that earned him that nearly-quarter-of-a-billion-dollar contract, not his plate discipline, and I wonder how the Reds are adjusting.
Luckily, the Cardinals don’t have that problem. Craig is capitalizing on runners in scoring position on an elite level, and his modest salary dissuades any discontentment about how he’s doing it.
2013 isn’t an aberration, either, as his 2012 season yielded a league-leading .400 average in the same situation.
Allen Craig may not sell a ton of jerseys or lead the All Star voting, but if you are a pitcher and he’s at the plate, you better hope no one is on base- especially if there are two outs. He’s hitting .486 with 27 RBIs in that situation. Better just walk him. Hey, it's making Votto a small fortune.
*Paul Goldschmidt is probably the most valuable 1B when it comes to RISP, given his impressive numbers and miniscule salary. The reason I left him out of the discussion is that he's in the same boat as Craig- producing on a high level for an extremely modest contract, and his numbers outside that scenario are not as impressive as Davis'.