Friday, August 8, 2014

Holliday Heating Up

After three tough months at the plate, Holliday finally looks locked in
You wouldn't know it by looking at the final numbers, but Matt Holliday got off to a painfully slow start last year. When play began on June 3rd he was hitting .244/.329/.415 with eight home runs through his first 51 games of the season. The early season slump, combined with his age (33) and coming on the heels of back-to-back seasons of declining OPS, led many to speculate that Holliday's best days were behind him.

Only the six-time All-Star wasn't done. Far from it, in fact. Holliday proceeded to snap out of his , of course, and was fine from that point forward. He hit .333/.423/.535 the rest of the way, ending up with a .300/.389/.490 batting line in addition to his 22 home runs and 94 RBI. Another typically excellent offensive campaign for the St. Louis Cardinal, who was one of just nine players last year to top 20 home runs, 90 RBI and a .300 batting average. Only three National Leaguers did it; Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman, and Holliday. Note that Goldy and Freeman play first base, a less challenging defensive position than left field per Bill James's defensive spectrum.

This season appears to be following a similar script; sluggish start, strong finish. Only this time around, the funk was a little deeper, lasting  about a month longer. Through July 7th Holliday was hitting a disappointing .260/.367/.373 with only five home runs, showing none of the power that helped him swat at least 19 every year for the past nine. Once again, it seemed as though Holliday had seen better days.

And once again, he's done everything he can to dispel that notion. In the four weeks before last night's 0-for-3 against Boston, he batted .307/.381/.653 with seven home runs, going yard more times in those 21 games than he did in the previous 87. The power surge has coincided with an increased strikeout rate for Holliday, who whiffed 21 times over that stretch (one per game) as opposed to 54 times prior to that (.62 per game). Holliday may be consciously trying to sacrifice contact for power, but if that's the case it hasn't negatively affected his average. Or it could merely be that July has traditionally been his best home run month.

Whatever the reason, Holliday's swinging the bat well and it's had a positive impact on St. Louis, which went 12-9 during his hot streak. Currently one game behind the first-place Brewers in the NL Central, the Cards could certainly use a big finishing kick from Holliday like the one he provided last year. Though he leads the team in doubles and RBI and ranks tied for second with Matt Adams in home runs, his .792 OPS could stand to jump another 50 or 60 points between now and the end of the season, if not more. 

At least Mike Matheny needn't worry about his number three hitter. Holliday, who's done nothing but hit for the past decade-plus, is hitting now, so there's really no reason to doubt him. He's dug himself out of a big hole before, and here in 2014 he appears to be doing it again.

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