Slow and Steady: An examination of Matt Holliday’s career


October baseball is here again.

Cities like Chicago, Boston and Washington are beset by an audible buzz. It is the sound of fans digging in, for what they hope will be long, postseason runs.

In cities like St. Louis, however, the parks are eerie quiet, save for the odd groundskeeper or club attendant, packing things away. Like the neighborhood pool, the doors at Busch Stadium have closed for the season.

Despite missing the playoffs, Cardinals fans did witness a nice moment, on Sunday. Outfielder Matt Holliday – in what will likely be his final appearance for the club – entered the game as a ninth inning, defensive replacement. Thus, fans were able to give him a proper send-off.

“They wanted to see him, one last time,” said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, afterwards.

2016 was the last, guaranteed year of Holliday’s 7 year, $120 million contract. Last week, the club announced it would decline his $17 million option for 2017. He will receive a $1 million buyout.

It is not a bitter split. The Cardinals have cheaper options, waiting in the minors. And, at 36, the veteran outfielder is no spring chicken. If he wants to continue playing, a move to the American League – where he could split his time between outfield and DH – would make sense.

Both sides will reflect fondly on their seven-year marriage, which yielded two World Series appearances and one title. It was a solid investment for St. Louis, in an era where long term contracts are fraught with risks. Too many players get paid and become jaded, wearing out their welcome long before their price tag has expired.

Holliday was an exception, taking on a leadership role after Albert Pujols’ departure and providing a steady presence in the lineup. From 2010-2014, his 22.8 wins above replacement ranked fifth amongst outfielders. He was money in the bank, averaging 24 home runs and 92 RBI per season. His lowest batting mark at the plate was .272.

Now, at 36, Holliday finds himself a free agent. Assuming his skills don’t fall off a cliff, he could enjoy another two or three productive seasons somewhere. At that point, would his numbers be good enough to merit Hall of Fame consideration?

We don’t know how the rest of his career will turn out but, for fun, let’s project them and examine his Cooperstown credentials.

Holliday has already accumulated some impressive numbers. His career batting line is .303/.382/.515. The resulting .897 OPS (on-base plus slugging) is better than Wade Boggs, Willie McCovey and Jackie Robinson. You might have heard of those guys.

He has 1,153 RBI, which is more than Rod Carew, Ralph Kiner and Ryne Sandberg had in their careers. He is a few knocks shy of 2,000 hits, and is also right outside the top 100 all-time in doubles.

Let’s say he averages .265, with 20 doubles, 15 home runs and 75 RBI. That would put him safely in the top 100 for RBI, and top 50 for doubles.

The category Holliday comes up short in is home runs. He is currently sitting at 295. Even if he muscled his way to 350, that would still be a paltry total for a corner outfielder

Another problem with his candidacy is that Holliday truly never excelled at one particular facet of the game. He was a seven-time all-star, and a four-time Silver Slugger recipient. Yet, the closest he came to sniffing an MVP was in 2007 – his best statistical year – when he finished second to Jimmy Rollins.

That season he paced the Senior Circuit in two legs of the Triple Crown: RBI (137) and batting average (.340). Other than that, he’s never finished atop any other category, ever.

That 2007 season also comes with the caveat of having played half his games at Coors Field (Holliday began his career with the Rockies). He did bat a respectable .301 in road games, but that average is buoyed by an absurd .376 clip at home.

Holliday is also hurt by his postseason stats. He captured a World Series ring in 2011 with St. Louis, but batted just .158 in six games against Texas, with a single extra base hit. Overall, his batting line in 72 postseason games was a pedestrian .247/.305/.427.

His current 44.4 career WAR puts him in the range of players like Chuck Knoblauch (44.6), Carlos Delgado (44.3) and Steve Finley (44.0) – solid but unspectacular.

Let’s say he plays three more years. A conservative estimate of 2.5 WAR per season puts him at 51.9. That’s Fred McGriff territory (52.4). McGriff, with 493 home runs to his credit, is still waiting for a call from Cooperstown.

Then there are Holliday’s outfield contemporaries, who finished with sparkling numbers: Vladamir Guerrero (59.3 WAR), Bobby Abreu (59.9), Carlos Beltran (70.4*) and Larry Walker (72.6).

*still active

So, barring an early 40s renaissance, Matt Holliday will ultimately fall short of the numbers that would be required for serious, Hall of Fame consideration. His career lands in that gray area: the hall of very good, which is no small accomplishment.

Wherever he ends up, hopefully it will be with a contender. Maybe he can at least shore up the postseason portion of his resume – a minor blemish on an otherwise successful career.

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