ST. LOUIS -- Matt Holliday enters his age-35 season as the Cardinals’ best all-around hitter. While other players may challenge, none have proven as reliable as the 11-year veteran.
Holliday has hit at least 20 home runs in nine straight seasons, only failing to reach that mark in his first two seasons in the league.He’s ninth among active players in slugging percentage, eighth in batting average, 14th in runs batted in and 13th in offensive wins above replacement according to Baseball Reference.
Still, as time continues its inexorable assault on his body, Holliday’s numbers have begun to sag slightly. The 2014 season saw his worst batting average and slugging numbers and his worst on-base percentage since his rookie year.
So what to expect in in 2015?
If it goes well
The season’s numbers come in right around 2013’s marks. Holliday again surpasses 20 homers, and again drives in 90 or more. With a bit more power in the lineup and a solid stable of outfielders, the 35-year-old can draw enough rest to protect his knees and his back. This leads to a more consistent average throughout the year, rather than the Herculean late charges that shaped 2014 and 2013’s numbers.
Like Molina, Holliday is able to fight off the decline and is once again a 3-3.5 win player. His $17 million salary still feels perfectly fair.
If it doesn’t
Holliday spends considerable time on the DL. He plays in less than 120 games and is unable to establish a solid stretch of at bats due to poor health. Whether it’s a back injury, a knee injury or something else, the veteran slips into inconsistent production with power numbers falling to career lows. He occasionally pops a home run, but they are celebrated rarities rather than indicators of a hot stretch to come. The Cardinals are forced to shuffle the lineup in search of a big bat threat, and everyone starts pointing out the $17 million on the disabled list.
Holliday isn’t going to suddenly forget how to hit in his 12th year. The only thing that will slow Big Daddy is injury, and if there’s anything a veteran of his level understands, it’s how to keep himself healthy.
With Peter Bourjos healthy and Randal Grichuk a likely candidate for the fifth outfield spot, Holliday should be in line for as much rest as he needs to keep his monstrous frame in fighting shape. With the addition of Jason Heyward and the acclimation of Jhonny Peralta, Holliday won’t be alone in the engine room trying to power the ship.
Still, heading into the season, no bat is more important to the Cardinals. He’s one of the best hitters in the game and (currently) the only one in the St. Louis lineup that can carry the offense for a stretch of games.
Holliday’s presence allows Matheny to build around a known quantity in the center of the order and keeps pitchers honest with the top. This season will require more diligence to keep that threat alive, but all the pieces are in place to make that far easier than in 2014. Look for another strong campaign from the 17 million dollar man.