Is Matt Holliday really primed for a 'ridiculous' year?
ST. LOUIS —
St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny recently told reporters he expects a "ridiculous year from Matt Holliday."
It seems safe to assume that Matheny was using that adjective in its modern, ironic connotation rather than its traditional definition, as in, "deserving or inviting derision or mockery." The type of "ridiculous" Matheny used is similar to when people describe a brilliant crossover dribble as "sick."
The manager believes Holliday will be really, really good in 2016, or at least, that's what he said he believes. Is he just trying to defend an aging superstar to media members and fans? Does he actually have sky-high hopes based on medical reports he's seeing from trainers? Is it just wishful - or wistful - thinking from a guy who watched his team struggle to drive the ball last season?
Why the wild optimism for a player who just turned 36 a couple of weeks ago? The mid-30s aren't what they used to be, not in a cleaner doping landscape. Last season, only nine MLB hitters who were 36 or older had an OPS of at least .700. Only three, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran - arguably a trio of future Hall of Famers - eclipsed .800.
Holliday, however, might have made it an Ageless Foursome if he had had the requisite plate appearances. He had an .804 OPS before repeated quadriceps injuries limited his season to 277 trips to the plate (after his seventh All-Star selection). People with less stake in Holliday's success generally seem to agree with Matheny, too. Steamer projections, courtesy of Fangraphs, estimate that Holliday will hit .274 with 16 home runs, an .807 OPS. They think he'll have a perfectly solid 1.9 WAR, impressive given his shortcomings as an outfielder and base runner.
One thing in Holliday's favor, of course, is his reputation for taking care of his body. He seemed to get a little testy last month when reporters asked him to respond to Jason Heyward's comment that the Cardinals' core - Holliday, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright -- is getting old fast.
"It wasn't because he was old that someone slid into Yadi's thumb at home plate and tore it. It wasn't because he was old that Adam tore his Achilles. It wasn't because I'm old that I came back too soon from a quad tear and did it again," Holliday said. "I don't care what people suggest or what their perception is. Every team is counting on health, right? If we can generally stay healthy for 162 games we have a great chance of doing what we set out to do."
The Cardinals aren't relying solely on Holliday's bat to add power to what was a surprisingly punchless lineup. They think Randal Grichuk has 30-plus home run potential. While he's more than 10 years younger than Holliday, he, too, has to prove he can stay healthy through the hot months. Matt Adams can hit the ball a long way when he's healthy and feeling comfortable at the plate. Brandon Moss and Jedd Gyorko could have sneaky-good years in the power departments, the Cardinals think.
But Holliday still is that guy, big and menacing in the on-deck circle, that other teams will gameplan around. Considering this could be his last season in St. Louis - he's a free agent if chooses to keep playing beyond October - it's a big one for the man who took over from Albert Pujols as the most feared slugger in the Gateway City.