Craig plays big for AquaSox

  • By Nick Patterson / Herald Writer
  • Monday, July 12, 2004 9:00pm
  • Sports

EVERETT – Take one look at Casey Craig and you don’t see your typical professional baseball player. Short, squat, baby-faced, he looks less like a major-league prospect than he does someone who should be emerging from the mascot’s costume.

But in this day of statistical analysis in baseball, the new generation of talent evaluators sees in Craig a blue chipper who represents the future of baseball.

The Everett AquaSox outfielder could be described as a “Moneyball” player, the type of player who, according to Michael Lewis’ best-selling book, has an offensive effectiveness that is far greater than a quick glance at his physical tools may indicate.

“There’s a few guys who look like him in the big leagues,” Everett manager Pedro Grifol said. “Casey’s a hard-nosed player. He comes out every day and plays hard and he’s hit everywhere he’s gone. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s headed in the right direction.”

Craig, a 19-year-old from San Diego, was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 21st round of the 2003 draft. He’s generously listed at 6-foot-1 – “It’s as accurate as it gets, we don’t have anything to measure ourselves with,” Craig said with a laugh – and 185 pounds.

He can hit. Last season playing for Peoria of the Arizona Rookie League, Craig batted .331 with 11 doubles in 35 games. This season with Everett, Craig is hitting .276 in 18 games with three doubles, two triples and 14 runs scored.

But what makes the statisticians salivate are Craig’s walks.

In “Moneyball,” where Lewis chronicles the personnel decisions made by Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, the talent evaluation process is driven by statistics rather than scouts with their stopwatches, measuring tapes and radar guns.

And Craig is just the type of player who looks more impressive on paper than he does in a uniform.

Through Sunday Craig was tied for third in the Northwest League in walks with 19, one behind the leaders despite six fewer starts. As a result, Craig was leading the league in on-base percentage at .455.

And according to statistical theorists, on-base percentage is the most important offensive category in baseball.

“I like the way he takes pitches, I like the way he gets on base,” Grifol said. “He’s got his eyes on on-base percentage and understands that’s a big part of his game.”

Because of his high on-base percentage, the left-handed hitting Craig has moved into the leadoff spot against right-handed pitchers. He’s also second on the team with seven stolen bases, despite lacking blazing speed, making him an ideal leadoff man, even if he doesn’t necessarily think so himself.

“I’m not that much of a leadoff guy because I’m not really that fast,” Craig said. “There’s other guys who are good for it, but right now I’m walking a lot. I’ve got a selective eye right now, so it’s a good spot to be in.”

The irony is that Craig detests walks.

“I hate walking,” he said. “I could tell you how many walks I have because I hate walking and I count my walks. It’s frustrating right now for me. In high school you get intentionally walked every once in a while, but out here, I’m definitely not used to getting walked.”

Craig’s walks were a surprise to Grifol, too.

“At first I thought he was more of a hacker,” Grifol said. “But he’s proven to me he has some discipline and that’s why he’s in there in the leadoff spot.”

But just because Craig isn’t consciously trying to be a statistical-based player doesn’t diminish his effectiveness as one. And Craig does realize his walks have played a role in Everett’s explosive offensive start to the season.

“I’m more selective than I usually am because our team, we’ve got a lot of good hitters,” Craig explained. “So if I can find a way to get on base, it helps out.

“I’ll take what they give me.”

If that happens to be four wide ones, so be it. And just maybe that will be the skill that carries Craig to the major leagues.

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