Good day to the BFIB...
Take 5 on the Cardinals...
1. Matt Holliday homered in Tuesday's 6-0 win over the Yankees, and at least for 24 hours it will put a hold on the chatter concerning his decline in power.
Holliday is doing well in most areas so far this season. He's batting .282, has a good .382 onbase percentage, and is hitting .375 with runners in scoring position. His strikeout rate and walk rates are holding steady; over the past two seasons Holliday has lowered his K rate and increased his walk rate.
Holliday's line-drive rate is down a bit, but nothing alarming. He's been disciplined in his approach, his "chase" rate of swinging at pitches out of the strike zone is at the level he's maintained for several seasons. Ditto his swing-miss rate. Holliday's ground-ball rate is up by five percent, which is undesirable. But then again Holliday has always hit a lot ground balls, so the people stewing about this as if it's something new simply haven't been paying attention for the last 10 years.
And we wouldn't be surprised to see Holliday's power go down (at least so far) in 2014. He's been trending that way for a while. His slugging percentage, .532 in 2010, has been dropping. It was .525 in 2011, .497 in 2012, and .490 last year. This year Holliday has a .395 SLG. I'm sure that will go up, and by quite a bit.
You can look at last season as an example. On May 26, 2013, Holliday had a slugging percentage of .408, and there was a lot of talk about his "decline phase." I contributed a piece to that discussion. But then Holliday got back to being Holliday the rest of the way, slugging .532 over his final 403 plate appearances. And Holliday hit 22 homers -- giving him at least 20 for an eighth consecutive season.
The forecasts of Holliday's decline weren't off base; they just lacked perspective and context. Holliday has 3 homers this season, and he has that low slugging percentage. Because he's 34 years old, any loss of power will be analyzed with some degree of alarm. It's understandable. Again, his slugging percentage has been falling since 2011, so it's not as if we're making this up. The numbers are there. We can see them. Particularly distressing is Holliday's ratio of fly balls that become homers; according to FanGraphs it's 5.9 percent this season. That percentage will rise, but it isn't good right now.
It's one thing to note the decline in Holliday's slugging percentage, which is factual and reasonable. But it's another thing, entirely, to cite the drop in slugging percentage as a sweeping dismissal of Holliday's overall value as a hitter, or to condemn the seven-year $120 million contract he signed before the 2010 season.
The point is, even if Holliday ends up slugging around .450 this season, he'll still do enough with the bat to qualify as a plus presence in the lineup. He'll have a robust onbase percentage. He'll hit for average. He'll drive in runs. By the end of the year, he'll be good for about 4 WAR (wins over replacement) or perhaps slightly less. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Moreover, there's nothing wrong with Holliday's contract. It's represented outstanding value to the team. Since signing the deal, Holliday ranks 13th among all MLB players with 20.8 fWAR; that puts him sixth among MLB outfielders. According to the value calculator at FanGraphs -- a model that is used by MLB front offices -- Holliday has never failed to provide anything lower than $20.8 million value in a season since inking that contract. His value has exceeded his $17 million salary in each of his seasons in St. Louis.
I've adjusted to the reality that Holliday's slugging percentage has been traveling downward over the past three-plus seasons. But it's hardly an example of a hitter cratering and suffering from a significant all-around erosion in his batting skills. Assuming that Holliday will end up slugging at least .450 this season, he'll remain respectable in the power department, and he'll continue to get on base at a rate that's well above average, and he'll continue to do a good job delivering on the RBI opportunities that are presented to him.
A drop in power doesn't mean that the bottom is falling out on a hitter's career. Even with the lower slugging percentage, Holliday is still plenty good enough to help the Cardinals win. And he's still among the most consistently effective hitters in the game.