Before the 2016 season started, all I heard was St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday was finished. He wasn't going to stay healthy or hit well enough to hang around in this lineup. A fair portion of the Cardinals loyal fan base was standing beside Jason Heyward and calling this man part of an aging core. After a somewhat slow start that was sprinkled with more extra base hits than normal, Holliday is breaking out. He shaved some of the beard off and broke a chunk of ice off his bat. He's also hitting for more power.
The truth is Holliday isn't injury prone like say, Troy Tulowitzki. 2015 was the first season he played in less than 121 games since his debut season back in 2004. He's more durable than people give him credit for, and has played in 140 or more games in four of his five seasons in St. Louis. After his power stats took a hit (swinging off one leg for half a season has its restrictions) last year, there was doubt in Holliday's ability to retain the slugging he had recaptured in 2013 and 2014 (.490 and .441). So far this season, Holliday is ripping line drives.
Let's look at his last 10 games. Holliday has raised his average from a putrid .236 to .263 and his slugging is up to .491 with his on-base percentage climbing up to .330. He has ripped nine home runs already (most at this point in a season since 2012) and has driven in 31. His 12 doubles and triple give him 22 extra base hits in just 51 games. He had just 21 extra base hits in 73 games last year. It's amazing what some health can do to the legs and swing of a 36-year-old hitter. Holliday's defense is the same as it ever was. He isn't going to thrill people but at -0.9 defensive WAR it's not as dreadful as some presume. He'll catch most of what is hit at him and doesn't have a bad arm. I swear the 2009 line drive fumble plays into a lot of people's perceptions of this man's left field work. He wasn't paid big bucks to provide stellar defense.
In a study taken this spring, Holliday's eight-year contract was found to be one of the richest in baseball. A lot richer than say the Angels handing Albert Pujols a 20-year $250 million parachute that will probably crash into a skyscraper before it reaches its conclusion.
What was dogging Holliday early in this season? Bad luck. His batting average on balls in play is only .271. Holliday was stinging line drives left and right, but not getting the right luck. The man is known for hitting lasers around the diamond and the past couple weeks, fielders aren't getting lucky. After an off day on May 22, Holliday is 12-31 with three home runs and ten runs driven in. He is tied for first on the team in home runs and second in RBI with Stephen Piscotty. His WAR only stands at 0.1 but should rise if he keeps up the hot hitting.
Should Holliday hit third? In a perfect world, no. With this current lineup of moving parts and lethal execution, he is doing just fine where he is. As much as I can promote the idea of dropping him, it doesn't help this lineup to move him. You can't do it until Jhonny Peralta returns. If he doesn't hit third, then who does? Matt Carpenter isn't coming out of the leadoff spot and Aledmys Diaz has settled into the #2 spot. Stephen Piscotty is a perfect cleanup guy. As Roo Court STL columnist Corey Rudd pointed out in a Monday discussion, you could flip flop Holliday and Piscotty but it wouldn't make much difference. It's easy to say Holliday needs to drop and not so easy to say who should go in his place. Can Yadier Molina produce more in the spot than Holliday? Can Adams be as consistent? For now, leave Holliday in the #3 spot. He's hot.
The 2016 season had a narrative that Holliday was getting too old to produce. I say the man needed to be healthy. He's shown that as the season reaches a third of the way home. He's driving in runners. He's hitting for power. He is smoking baseballs through the infield. After a 4-32 stretch earlier in May, he has rebounded and earned the right to collect more at bats in the top part of the order. You want your three best hitters up there, and in my opinion, Holliday is still one of them. Have some faith in the big fella. You don't want to see him angry.
Here's Holliday almost clearing Miller Park on Monday.