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Matt Holliday's decline phase (and the National League's decline phase)

It would be easier to figure out just how much Matt Holliday has lost at 33 years old if his decline weren't coinciding with decreased levels of offense.

This is the most normal-looking photo of Matt Holliday's swing I've ever seen.
This is the most normal-looking photo of Matt Holliday's swing I've ever seen.

Baseball Reference has trained me to look at OPS+ first so thoroughly that every time I inadvertently at Matt Holliday's actual line (.278/.357/.456 today) before moving to his OPS+ (125) I get a little psychological-experiment-level electric shock.

It just doesn't look like a Matt Holliday line; it's somewhat worse, even, than the half-season in Oakland that got him here. There aren't enough doubles, the batting average is low—all of it's just a little off. It looks like the kind of line you might reasonably expect him to have at 33 years old.

Except that he's having it in a season in which the National League's slugging percentage has fallen under .400 for the third time in four years. Matt Holliday's career has always been a little hard to eyeball; it begins as Coors Field's reputation as a pitching nightmare is in decline, and the transition to St. Louis is so smooth that it's easy to forget there's a park difference at all.

And the year he turned 30, offense across the league continued a decline that's seen it fall from a league line of .266/.334/.423 in his 137-RBI 2007 season to .250/.313/.391 this year. His last season in Colorado, he got an OPS+ of 138 out of a .321/.409/.538 line; last season in St. Louis, he hit 138 on .295/.379/.497.

Matt Holliday is kind of the opposite of Carlos Beltran, in that everything he does seems to take maximum effort. It's not just that, lining a double into the gap, he looks like he's hammer-throwing a small tree; for Holliday even running the bases and playing left field require total concentration, a full sprint, and desperate prayer. That he's somehow pretty good at everything on a baseball field, despite leaving the impression that he's learning most of it as he goes, is what makes Matt Holliday both delightful and kind of fragile-looking.

125 would be Holliday's lowest OPS+ since 2005, so this could well be his decline phase. A late-blooming 33-year-old, almost Pujolsian in the way he seems to always be playing through an injury—it would make sense. But three good weeks in June have turned a slow start into a season that only looks terminal in a baseball-card context; against the National League as a whole, Matt Holliday has pushed his way back into "off-year" territory.