More on Matt Holliday

As I mentioned on Twitter this morning, since writing about Matt Holliday’s start, he has hit .500 with 2 HR in 5 games. Maybe he’s starting to hit his stride and get warm, which would be a welcome sight for the Cardinals offense and their fans.

But discussion of that this morning, led me to wonder how Holliday’s extra base hit rate (xBH/PA) was stacking up compared to previous seasons with the Cardinals. So here are Holliday’s extra base hit rate for his time with the Cardinals:

Now looking at that, you can easily see why there are many people who feel that Holliday is in full on decline. At age 36, he is definitely declining and I wrote about that back in November. But with the rounded skillset that Holliday has always had, a rapid decline always felt unlikely to me. He should be a guy whose game generally ages well.

But believe it or not, the real difficulty for Holliday this season has been getting base hits. Here are his singles rate (1B/PA) during his time as with the Cardinals:

As you can see, his singles rate stays pretty steady around 15%, give or take, in previous seasons with the Cardinals, except this year where it has fallen just below 12%. You would think that that’s going to be the easiest thing to correct, far easier than a lack of power.

Seeing those numbers actually gives me more hope that Holliday can and will be a quality contributor to the lineup this year. If you give him a 2% bump in his singles rate (turns into 4 additional singles), he would still have his lowest singles rate during his time with the Cardinals. But he’d be hitting .280/.351/.514 which is still a little lower than usual, but not quite as panic inducing as we’ve seen early this year.

Matt Holliday’s slow start

Yesterday afternoon Matt Holliday hit his 7th home run of the season. Holliday has been a target of criticism for a slower than typical start, but Dan Buffa posted yesterday the dates that Holliday hit his 7th home run of the season, which I’ve expanded here a little bit for all his years with the Cardinals and with some more info.

2010: Hit on June 18th in game 67, hit 28 total
2011: Hit on June 16th in game 70*, hit 22 total
2012: Hit on May 15th in game 36, hit 27 total
2013: Hit on May 28th in game 51, hit 22 total
2014: Hit on July 18th in game 97, hit 20 total
2016: Hit on May 25th in game 47…

*- in his first game back after missing 14 games while on the disabled list

So we see that Holliday’s overall home run production is pretty equal to what he’s done in previous seasons where he hit 20 or more home runs.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s see where Holliday has stood after game 47 in each of his previous seasons.

2010: .279/.344/.442, 5 HR, 18 RBI
2011: .356/.447/.468, 6 HR, 30 RBI
2012: .261/.341/.473, 10 HR, 32 RBI
2013: .263/.347/.425, 6 HR, 28 RBI
2014: .267/.366/.369, 2 HR, 25 RBI
2015: .320/.433/.444, 3 HR, 24 RBI
2016: .233/.307/.453, 7 HR, 24 RBI

As we can see, Holliday’s power and slugging still seem to be present, but his batting average and OBP are well down from his normal start. We can also see that, pretty much outside of 2011, he is a slow starter as he has a .295 batting average during his time with the Cardinals. Holliday has pretty consistently been a player who really gets going in the summer time. For his career, June and July are his two best months at the plate.

But let’s take a look at how he finished each of those seasons out over the team’s final 115 games.

2010: .325/.407/.568, 23 HR, 85 RBI
2011: .267/.358/.503, 16 HR, 45 RBI
2012: .311/.396/.508, 17 HR, 70 RBI
2013: .317/.408/.521, 16 HR, 66 RBI
2014: .274/.374/.467, 18 HR, 67 RBI
2015: .197/.311/.342, 1 HR, 11 RBI

As a brief aside, it’s worth pointing out that the second half of 2011 is really what earned Holliday his “unclutch” reputation. After all, how did the #4 hitter on the league’s fifth best offense only rack up 45 RBI over 115 games? Lack of opportunity. For whatever reason, he didn’t get many chances. His 19% RBI rate in 2011 is one of the best of his career, but he got 10% fewer opportunities than he typically has as a Cardinal.

I also included 2015 even though it isn’t very indicative as he played just 30 games, and most of those while coming back from a long stint on the disabled list and likely struggling with his timing. But what we see from all the data is a guy who has typically hit near .300 and adding 16-18 home runs from Game 48 to the end of a season during his time with the Cardinals.

At his current pace, he should have 431 remaining plate appearances this season. Let’s say he hits .300 with 15 home runs the rest of the way. That would put him hitting an overall .273 with 22 home runs.

I think we all would be happy with that.

With Holliday out, what does the lineup look like?

So Matt Holliday is out with a quad strain. The good news for Cardinals fans is that it is only being advertised as a grade 2 strain, which is short of a complete tear as Matt Adams suffered. This means that the Cardinals can evaluate Holliday in a couple weeks and create a timetable to get him back on the field later this season. Optimistically, I believe that means in six to eight weeks the Cardinals could see him back in action.

Perhaps the most difficult thing for Mike Matheny between now and then will be to fill out the lineup card every night without Matt Holliday as the anchor point. Since Holliday’s early exit on Monday night, the offense has been flat, obviously missing the big bat. So how might Matheny fill out the lineup card?

The first thing that sticks out to me when I look at the options for the lineup is that there may never be a better time to utilize a speed and defense based lineup. The Cardinals have the personnel to do it, so why not? Why not take the opportunity to run wild and see what happens? It’s not like our current method of scoring runs is being very successful.

Normally, I’d argue that Matt Carpenter is the guy to keep building the lineup around as I did in April when I talked about optimizing the Cardinals’ lineup, but Carpenter hasn’t been himself lately. Since he left the May 3rd game early due to dehydration, he has hit .231/.346/.380 with only 8 of his 25 hits going for extra bases. Entering play today, he has gone hitless in the last five games he’s started, the longest such slump of his career.

As long as he slumps, I think because the margin of error is so slim for this offense, that you need to consider dropping him in the lineup.

Right now Jhonny Peralta is far and away the Cardinals’ best hitter. Over the past 28 days his line is a robust .341/.417/.615 with 6 home runs and 19 RBI, all team highs. He is also the only Cardinals hitter hitting over .300, getting on base better than .400, and slugging better than .500. But his bat is far more suited for third in the lineup than second in the lineup.

Kolten Wong is the guy that I would identify to slide into the #2 spot in the lineup right now. He is the second best hitter on the team right now, hitting .293/.358/.455 over the last 28 days.

As I said earlier, I would make a shift towards a speed and defense lineup in an effort to maximize the results of my pitching staff. That means that Peter Bourjos gets to start regular in center field and would be leading off for me.

CF Bourjos
2B Wong
SS Peralta
LF Grichuk
3B Carpenter
1B Reynolds
C Molina
RF Heyward

I’m not the biggest fan of Grichuk in the cleanup spot, but I think he is our biggest power threat beyond Peralta.

After Grichuk I take a flip flop approach. A guy who can get on base and then a guy who can drive him in. Carpenter and Mark Reynolds make this first pairing while Yadier Molina and Jason Heyward make the second.

Ideally, Carpenter or Molina gets on and Reynolds or Heyward hits a home run.

It’s not perfect, but the Cardinals’ lineup has many holes right now with the absence of Holliday and Adams. Holes that are almost impossible to patch in any meaningful way. But the lineup still features six or seven hitters who should be above average hitters, which would still be among the league’s deepest lineups.

Now the Cardinals and their fans hope and pray that Holliday heals well over the next two weeks to give them some positive news.

Matt Holliday succumbs to injury bug

If your goal has been to stay healthy, playing for the St. Louis Cardinals has not helped your odds so far this season. When the day is done, Matt Holliday will probably become the eighth Cardinal player to hit the DL this season. Billy Beane once described baseball as a war of attrition. For the Cardinals, that has been accurate representation of their 2015 season.

Holliday left Monday night’s game after injuring himself chasing down a ball in the second inning against the Colorado Rockies. Initial reports were a quad injury, which is a punch in the gut for the team that just lost their first baseman for the season to a quad injury that required surgery. He will be further diagnosed today, but it will be difficult for the Cardinals to replace their team leader in OBP.

Immediately, if Holliday does require a trip to the disabled list, the Cardinals are expected to activate RHP Miguel Socolovich to take his place according to Derrick Goold.

But that’s just the first step.

If you want to look on the bright side, the injury to Holliday solves the playing time dilemma in the outfield by giving Randal Grichuk the opportunity play left field nearly everyday. The result will be one of the best defensive outfields in baseball as we return to the Jon Jay/Peter Bourjos time share in center field. The time is now for one of those two to step up. If Jay could hit like he has in the past and push his on base percentage up there, it would be a massive boost to this lineup right now.

For the Cardinals, there was really only one or two players that I felt the Cardinals couldn’t deal with losing. Unfortunately, Holliday was #1 on that list. The loss of Holliday is big. Really big. He is this team’s #3 hitter and is one of the best, most consistent hitters in baseball over the last several years. While they have plenty of pitching depth, there isn’t the same well regarded depth for position players and they certainly lack a player of Holliday’s caliber in the minors.

But there are still players who can be used to fill in the gaps behind. Mozeliak has specifically kept his depth over the last few years for situations like this.

There is Xavier Scruggs, the power hitting first baseman, who is in Memphis and already on the 40 man roster. He could play a Mark Reynolds type role off the bench for the Cardinals as he is hitting .230 with a .355 OBP and 8 home runs this season for Memphis. He got a brief look last season, but at 27 his clock is ticking.

Also on the 40 man roster, but further complicating the outfield situation, is Tommy Pham. Pham, coincidentally, just returned from his own quad injury that he sustained in spring training. He is also having a game this afternoon in Memphis as he went 2-for-5 with a walk, 3 runs scored, and 5 RBI in just his second game back in the lineup. He is also 27 with a ticking clock to make an impression on the organization.

There is also Stephen Piscotty, who is a top-100 prospect. Piscotty is probably the best positioned player to replace Holliday’s production as I feel they are similar types of players. Piscotty has hit .268 with 5 home runs since May 1st and has a slash line of .304/.364/.468 over his last 20 games. Piscotty would need a place on the 40 man roster, but if Holliday is out long term that won’t be difficult to find.

Just how exactly the Cardinals respond depends on how long Holliday will be out and the team should find that out today.

But I also feel that John Mozeliak will have to be looking at the current roster with a very critical eye over the next month as he decides what he wants to do at the trade deadline this year. We are almost to the point where I feel like this team is what it is and it won’t be worth the talent required to try to fill the holes on this team considering how many there are.

This is a team that is already missing it’s #1 starting pitcher, it’s eighth inning setup guy, it’s cleanup hitter, and now it’s #3 hitter. This team can’t take much more.