(BaseballStL) -- Lost in the gradual resurgence of the St. Louis Cardinals is the little noticed emergence of Matt Holliday as a steady, reliable defensive player.
Holliday’s ability to hit a baseball has never been in question throughout his career. His lifetime average over 11 years is .310, this despite hitting “only” .280 last season. He is closing in on 1,000 RBIs for his career as he and Allen Craig battle for the Cards’ RBI leadership this year.
The knock on Holliday has always been his defense. Although he averages only a handful of errors a season, his inability to get to fly balls, handle ground balls efficiently, make quality throws and, well, move gracefully in left field has always been an issue.
Sabermetrics have not been kind to Holliday’s defense. In a section which lists the number of runs above or below average a player is worth based on the number of plays made, Holliday was listed as -21, meaning not only did he not save runs for his teams, his defense cost them 21 over his 11-year career.
Cardinal fans recall the dropped fly ball against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2009 play-offs that cost them the third and final game of that season.
But 2014 has seen a remarkably agile, fluid and confident Holliday, as evidenced by the stunning relay between him, Daniel Descalso and Yadier Molina to gun a runner at the plate in a recent extra-inning Cardinal win against the Diamondbacks.
Holliday said recently that it wasn’t an off-season program that improved his defense, but rather, his health.
“There’s nothing that I can put my finger on,” the six-time All-star said. “I really didn’t go anything special in the off-season. I think it’s more that my health is better than at the end of last year. My legs, mostly. At the end of the year, everybody is hurting in some way. But this year I feel better and so I’m more confident.”
That confidence has transformed Holliday from a defensive liability to a dependable fielder who does not have to be substituted for in the late innings of a close game, keeping his potent bat in the line-up.?