When Albert Pujols left St. Louis for sunny California three years ago, he passed the mantle of “most feared hitter” in the Cardinals’ lineup to left fielder Matt Holliday. In the first two sans-Prince Albert seasons, Holliday filled his shoes phenomenally, posting a 4.5 and 4.6 oWAR in 2012 and 2013 respectively while Pujols was slumping in Anaheim. Sure, Holliday left much to be desired in the outfield for the Cardinals, but he also provided the club with a career .309 hitter with plenty of power to fill the cleanup spot to an otherwise anemic offense. Without Pujols, this club turned to Holliday to fill the power role and Yadier Molina to provide the average. All of which begs the question: where has the real Matt Holliday been in 2014?
As of today, Holliday is hitting .265/.371/.403 which is still a solid line for any Major League player, but also over 40 points lower than Holliday’s career batting average. Not only is his’s average way down, but his power has been noticeably absent all season. Careerwise, Holliday averages 27 home runs a season, but so far in 2014, he has only hit 8 dingers. Also, Holliday has only managed a measly 1.6 oWAR in 2014 which is his lowest total since his rookie season way back in 2004.
So what’s happened to Matt Holliday? While age is always a factor, Holliday is only 34 years old which should put him at the tail end of his peak. While some drop-off in production would be expected, Holliday’s lack of production this year is much more extreme than just natural regression.
And so the facts end and the speculation begins. Matt Holliday hit .300 last year and slugged .490. Currently, those stats sit at .265 and .403 respectively. No injury has been disclosed regarding Holliday, so there is nothing definite to point to as the cause of his decline. It could reasonably be just combination of old age, bad luck, and better pitching across the league, but this drop just seems too extreme for that to be the case.
One similar situation from around the league that can maybe help explain Holliday’s problems is Cincinnati Reds’ right fielder Jay Bruce. Over his first six years in the league, Bruce averaged 31 home runs a season, but has only hit 10 so far this season. Also like Holliday, Bruce’s batting average has dropped 40 points from last season and his slugging percentage has dropped 86 points. Basically, Holliday and Bruce are seeing the exact same decline in numbers, but Jay Bruce is 7 years younger than Matt Holliday.
One other key difference is Bruce had knee surgery earlier this season likely sapping most of his power. Could Matt Holliday be battling the same knee issues as the Reds’ Bruce? Or is it all just a coincidence and Matt Holliday is experiencing normal decline? Without the front office specifically saying Matt Holliday is injured, all of this is speculation, but the similarities between the two outfielders is disconcerting. Whatever the problem is, this Cardinals team needs Matt Holliday back to his normal self if they want to make a run into October.