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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bernie Bytes: What's up with Holliday?

Bernie Bytes: What's up with Holliday?

Five Opinions:
1. What’s up with Matt Holliday? If they haven’t already done so, the Cardinals need to get a handle on his physical condition. We’ve alluded to this before, in the Post-Dispatch column and the Bytes on, and Joe Strauss mentioned it in his online chat Wednesday. Holliday was clearly impacted by back issues in 2012, and I’m not just talking about the back spasms that rendered him incapable of playing Game 6 of the NLCS.
Publicly, Holliday won’t acknowledge injuries because he has pride and doesn’t want to make excuses. So he downplayed any talk about being bothered by the creaky back during long stretches of the 2012 season.
The evidence can be found in his statistics. Holliday had a very good season, batting .295 with 27 homers and 102 RBIs. He ranked fifth in the NL with a .378 w/OBA and ended up being ranked in the league’s top 15 in most key categories, including OPS and WAR. But Holliday’s slugging percentage, .497, was a career-low. That isn’t a bad slugging percentage, not at all. It ranked 17th in the NL. But it was a career low.
More than that: Holliday had a robust .545 slugging percentage on Aug. 5. But over the final 52 games, he batted .237 with a .324 onbase percentage and .384 slugging percentage. The ability is still there; we all watched Holliday destroy NL pitching last season during a crazy-good hot streak that lasted more than two months. But something happened, and all signs point to his back.
The question: was this a one-time thing, an isolated injury, or will a stiff back continue to impact Holliday’s performance into 2013 and beyond? He’ll be 33 next year. I assume the Cardinals will be on top of this. Holliday played 157 games last season, and only six NL players had more plate appearances. Holliday loves to play, but if anything he should probably play less in 2013. It could help prevent wear and tear on the back.
2. It’s nothing personal against Rafael Furcal, but I don’t trust this situation. Do you? Furcal has a partial tear of the ligament in his right elbow, but didn’t have surgery to repair it. That’s not uncommon; Albert Pujols has played years with a partially torn elbow ligament. The injury can be managed.
That said, Furcal plays shortstop. It’s a demanding position that requires a strong arm. Making throws from shortstop puts stress on the arm, the shoulder, the elbow. If Furcal blows out the elbow in 2013, then what? Furcal is under contract for next season, and that’s it. The Cardinals don’t have a Plan B, unless they’re committed to giving the gig to Pete Kozma. But if Furcal experiences a setback early in the season, do the Cardinals really have confidence in Kozma for 120, 130 or more games?
The Cardinals are vulnerable at shortstop. They must address the position. I’d prefer to see GM John Mozeliak be aggressive and pursue a SS that can be a starter there for multiple seasons. If Furcal’s elbow pops, the Cardinals would have to rely on Kozma or a pedestrian utility man to fill a vital role on the ballclub. No thanks.
Cardinals GM John Mozeliak told us that he plans to have insurance at the position and will likely address it with a personnel move this offseason. If so, will the Cardinals pursue a stopgap player or be more ambitious and go after a more prominent shortstop?
3. Barring injury, rookie Oscar Taveras has to be on the big club when the Cardinals open the 2013 season. If nothing else, he’d fill an important role as a busy fourth outfielder. Taveras can play all three positions. He has power and above-average speed. He is the organization’s best hitting prospect since Albert Pujols. And if the Cardinals deploy him wisely, Taveras would receive plenty of at-bats. If Jon Jay continues to struggle as a hitter on the road, Taveras could start a lot of games in center.

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