The next entry in the ongoing series looking at the potential candidacy (or lack thereof) for the Baseball Hall of Fame turns to middle of the country and St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday. For the better part of his career, Holliday has been among the most consistent hitters in baseball. From the major boom he made early in his career with the Colorado Rockies, to the role as protector of Albert Pujols, and more recently, lineup axis in St. Louis, Holliday’s comprehensive approach has kept him among his era’s best at the plate.
Yet when assessing his value in the big picture of the game, he’s the classic example of hitter that doesn’t have any eye popping numbers mid-career, but then towards the end has complete body of work that begins to shift the opinion on him some. However, that is a pendulum that can swing both ways: sometimes they continue to build up, yet other times it runs into the ultimate gray area of the “nice, but not quite THAT nice” that so many fantastic hitters have landed at. But Holliday is also playing for consistent contenders and in a solid spotlight as well, which has been known to make the difference in a push over the hump as well.
Let’s have a look at the career of Holliday, where’s it has been and where it could be headed, and if the unique combinations of career levels he’s built already could make him an intriguing candidate somewhere down the line…or not.
The numbers (thru July 12): .310 average, 242 home runs, 919 RBI, 1608 hits, 910 runs, 359 doubles, .385 on-base percentage, .531 slugging percentage
The Case For: Holliday has been among the most balanced hitters of the past ten years. In his first decade in the game, he has hit over .300 six times, drove in 100 runs five times and hit over 25 home runs five times as well. Among active players, his .310 career average is the tenth best total, and sixth best among players with ten years served. He is not what would be classified as a power hitter, but he is easily among the best line drive producers of his time, as his seasonal average of 42 doubles indicates. In his 9 full seasons, he has hit over 35 doubles seven times, and led the league with 50 in 2007. Also during that ’07, which truly put him on the map, he led the NL in hits (216), RBI (137), total bases (386) and was the batting champ with a .340 mark. He finished second in the MVP race that season, and was the runner-up in the MVP race.
That season also was his first in the postseason, due to being the catalyst of the Rockies improbable 21 wins in 22 September games and scoring a thrilling (and debated) winning run in the season’s final game against the San Diego Padres to win the NL West on the season’s final day. He has continued his winning ways in St. Louis, where he made the postseason in three of his four seasons, and won a World Series in 2011. Also in St. Louis, he has successful shook off the “Coors Field stigma”, with an average season of .302 avg/25 home runs/95 RBI/165 hits as a Cardinal over roughly four years, compared to a only slightly better .319/25 HR/96 RBI/170 hits per year over five seasons.
The Case Against: For as many benefits as there has been to Holliday’s career, there are a few easy calls against it as well. Even at his very best, he’s been a bit of a complimentary player. He’s been at his best when in an ensemble role: a la not the primary focus. He’s never really carried a team on his own for long; although he’s definitely been a difference maker in all of his stops, save for the brief one in Oakland.
There’s also the Coors factor. His best statistical years were when he was a member of the Rockies, and while he has been an All-Star caliber player elsewhere, perception plays as reality, and the fact that the only time he led his league in anything was in Colorado could hurt him.
Another issue is his age. He’s 33 years old in his tenth year, and while he isn’t showing much downturn, time is not on his side to get in range of many magical numbers that stand out on a HOF resume. His best bet would be stay as close to being a .300 lifetime hitter as he can, because it’s his biggest calling card currently. A steady stream of .300/25/100 seasons would be a strong indicator, because he’ll never be seen as the guiding force in such a deep St. Louis team that sets him from the pack.
There is also the fact that he has struggled in the postseason in his career, hitting only .261 across 10 career postseason series, including a .158 mark in the 2011 World Series. He also had a crucial dropped pop fly that played a pivotal role in the Cardinals’ elimination at the hands of the Dodgers in the 2009 NL Division Series.
Similar Players (thru age 32)
Larry Walker: .312 avg, 262 HR, 855 RBI, 1431 hits, 886 runs, 314 doubles, .389 on-base percentage
Wally Berger: .303 avg, 227 HR, 849 RBI, 1452 hits, 770 runs, 282 doubles, .360 on-base percentage
Magglio Ordonez: .305 avg, 219 HR, 853 RBI, 1436 hits, 744 runs, 289 doubles, .362 on-base %
Where he Stands: His resume is a complicated one, because it screams above average for his era, but then it’s much grounded at the same time. Perhaps Holliday is the ultimate “really, really good” player. He’s been an All-Star for more than half of his career, and factored into a few MVP races as well. Yet, at the same time, he’s always been A factor, over being THE factor. He’s been best being able to be the complimentary hammer over the focus of a team’s success. And while there is nothing wrong with that, it is usually a bit tougher on those guys to pull themselves apart from the pack.
Yet what is on his side is winning. He’s consistently been a member of competitive teams due in part to his presence. The Cardinals and Rockies have averaged 86.5 wins per season with Holliday in the fold, who has sported an average of 5.2 Wins Above Replacement over that time. This impact has been particularly evident in the teams he has been a member of who have made the postseason, whom only won their divisions by a half game in 2007 (21 of 22 to finish season), 7 ½ in 2009(he joined at the trade deadline), 1 game in 2011 (won Wild Card on last day of the season) and 2 games (won Wild Card play in) in 2012. All things considered, he has made a steady impact for teams that have had to fight to just make the postseason.
But individually considered there’s more ground to cover. He should top 2,000 hits in about 2.5 years, which would keep him well short of the magic number range. He has another three guaranteed seasons on his deal, which would likely have him in the range of just above 2,100 hits, and if he plays through a few more seasons, about 2,300 hits. In regards to the HOF, that’s borderline and the fact he’ll be below 400 home runs or so for a player of his type is a tough sell as well.
So when the question is asked regarding Matt Holliday, and his likelihood of being IN, OUT or IN-BETWEEN Cooperstown, he’s OUT, but still an upper tier very, very good career…quietly.
For more on the now with both Holliday and his St. Louis Cardinals, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.