Matt Holliday needs to step up for the St. Louis Cardinals

As the Cards begin their “second half”, they have many unanswered questions: Who will make up the rotation? Can Adam Wainwright stay healthy and as effective as he was in the first half?  Will Shelby Miller ever improve? Can Allen Craig even step into the shadow of his 2013 performance? It’s a dizzying array of uncertainty that Cards brass has to mostly ignore and let work itself out.

If we had to write the synopsis of the 2013 Cardinals today, based on the first half, the story would be the maddeningly inconsistent offense. They have gotten better, but it feels like the bats are hanging by a thread. While everyone expected Allen Craig to regress toward the mean in 2014, many also expected a better performance from Matt Holliday in the first half.

It’s interesting that so many in sports media assume Holliday will improve in the second half. If I were Rush Limbaugh, I’d put together a media montage featuring all the bubble-headed bleach blondes who’ve been repeating this “fact”, clearly without researching it themselves. While it was true last year, it is definitely not always the case. Here’s his first half vs second half for 2013:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP SH
1st Half 83 82 353 310 64 83 15 1 13 47 3 1 37 51 .268 .351 .448 .800 139 22 0
2nd Half 58 58 249 210 39 73 16 0 9 47 3 0 32 35 .348 .442 .552 .994 116 9 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 7/17/2014.

A stark difference, to say the least. He was a different hitter after the break last year. At .348, he can pretty much carry the team. But let’s take a trip down our foggy memory lane. First stop, 2012:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF
1st Half 83 82 368 319 56 101 21 1 14 56 4 2 42 64 .317 .397 .520 .917 166 9 3 0 4
2nd Half 74 72 320 280 39 76 15 1 13 46 0 2 33 68 .271 .359 .471 .831 132 7 6 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 7/17/2014.

He actually got noticeably worse in the second half of 2012. In pretty much every offensive category, he was down. Interestingly, he was nearly identical on homeruns. On to 2011:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF
1st Half 67 64 280 241 45 78 19 0 14 49 0 1 33 41 .324 .418 .577 .995 139 10 6 0 0
2nd Half 57 55 236 205 38 54 17 0 8 26 2 0 27 52 .263 .352 .463 .815 95 11 2 0 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 7/17/2014.

Again, he dips significantly in the second half. Homerun production is cut nearly in half this time. The second half of 2011 was a truly unremarkable performance for Holliday. In 2010, his performance fit the popular narrative:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF
1st Half 86 84 367 327 52 98 25 1 16 51 6 1 36 53 .300 .373 .529 .902 173 6 3 0 1
2nd Half 72 72 308 269 43 88 20 0 12 52 3 4 33 40 .327 .409 .535 .944 144 7 5 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 7/17/2014.

Ah! There it is. He experiences a spike in his second half performance that moves him from great, to elite. On to 2009:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF
1st Half 85 84 365 315 42 87 19 1 8 43 10 3 43 56 .276 .373 .419 .792 132 5 6 0 1
2nd Half 71 70 305 266 52 95 20 2 16 66 4 4 29 45 .357 .420 .628 1.047 167 8 4 0 6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/18/2014.

Last stop, 2008:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF
1st Half 79 79 356 309 52 104 21 2 14 51 13 1 42 59 .337 .421 .553 .975 171 6 4 0 1
2nd Half 60 60 267 230 55 69 17 0 11 37 15 1 32 45 .300 .393 .517 .911 119 3 4 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/18/2014.

So, there is some merit to the thinking that Matt gets better in the second half, but he’s done it in only three of the last six years. It’s hardly a safe bet. There are some other reasons to believe he could significantly pick up the pace again this year, however. Look at his performance over the last few weeks of this season:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF
2014 Totals 93 93 400 339 50 90 24 0 6 45 2 1 49 58 .265 .373 .389 .762 132 15 10 0 2
Last 7 days 3 3 12 10 5 3 2 0 1 1 0 0 1 3 .300 .417 .800 1.217 8 1 1 0 0
Last 14 days 10 10 39 32 10 9 3 0 1 5 0 0 5 6 .281 .410 .469 .879 15 3 2 0 0
Last 28 days 22 22 89 78 15 22 7 0 1 10 0 0 9 12 .282 .371 .410 .781 32 8 2 0 0
Last 365days 151 151 649 549 89 163 40 0 15 92 5 1 81 93 .297 .399 .452 .851 248 24 15 0 4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 7/17/2014.

Here’s a guy who is at least .020 over his .265 season average over the past few weeks. That comprises well over 100 AB, so it’s not that small of a sample, either. He’s a career .309 hitter, and every year he proves people wrong. He starts slow, and about half the time he improves in the second half. The annual alarms going off about Matt’s age-related decline are as much a part of rooting for the Cardinals as declaring their season over sometime in May. He has the tools to put it together, and he has every year.

Having said all of that, it’s probably more important this year than others. For whatever reason, the Cards are just having trouble at the plate this year. Certainly that could not be said about the teams over any of the past few years. Matt could afford to slump when Pujols, or Beltran were around. This 2014 team just has not completely clicked yet, and a blockbuster season for Matt Holliday would cover a multitude of sins.

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