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Fearing the worst with Matt Holliday

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Matt Holliday left last night's game with a tear in his quad and we do not yet know the extent of his injury, but even with capable outfielders ready to take over, the potential loss is a blow to the team, especially the offense.

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As the title indicates, this post is speculative in nature. We do not yet know the severity of Matt Holliday's. Derrick Goold wrote last night that, "he had strained his right quadriceps. The severity of the tear in the muscle will be revealed through a series of exams Tuesday." Sometime later today, we will learn more about Holliday's injury, although it did not look good last night. While not all tears are the same, Matt Adams could miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery for his quad tear. If Holliday is out for an extended period, it will leave a sizeable void on offense impossible to replicate on the current roster. The Cardinals had been struggling to find playing time for all of its outfielders, but losing Holliday is one of the worst possible solutions for a supposed good problem to have.

Before getting to replacements, it would be irresponsible not to discuss what they are replacing. Matt Holliday, even at 35 years old is one of the best hitters in baseball. He has the lengthy history of great performance, the nine straight years with at least 20 home runs, averaging 4.5 wins per full season with the Cardinals. His 24 fWAR since the start of 2010 is fourth among all outfielders and 12th among all hitters. His 161 offensive runs above average is sixth in baseball since the beginning of the 2010 season. Those stat do not tell exactly where Holliday is now, but in the last calendar year, Holliday's wRC+ of 140 is 10th in the National League. Holliday has aged extremely well. This season, Matt Carpenter and Jhonny Peralta have fared slightly better at the plate, but Holliday's 134 wRC+ is good for third on the team and his on-base percentage is a team high .417 that also ranks fifth in all of baseball.

Before the season started, I took a look at the Cardinals' most indispensable player using preseason projections. Due to high projections for Peter Bourjos and low projections for players like Pete Kozma and Tony Cruz, Holliday did not rate too highly on the list, ahead of only Jon Jay among starters and the Cardinals losing roughly one win over the course of the season in his absence. The calculus has changed somewhat. Here are the FanGraphs Depth Charts projections for the Cardinals' current five outfielders, prorated to 350 plate appearances.

Name AVG OBP SLG wOBA WAR
Matt Holliday 0.279 0.371 0.448 0.358 1.7
Jason Heyward"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Jason Heyward 0.266 0.340 0.423 0.335 2.3
Jon Jay 0.275 0.343 0.364 0.313 1.3
Randal Grichuk"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Randal Grichuk 0.242 0.278 0.419 0.301 0.7
Peter Bourjos 0.245 0.306 0.379 0.300 1.0

The drop is bigger than it was at the beginning of the season. Jon Jay's health is still an issue meaning his projection could be a tad aggressive, although he did hit a home run last night. Jon Jay, Randal Grichuk, and Peter Bourjos are all fairly similar offensive players when it comes to value, they just go about providing that value in different ways. Jon Jay gets on base but provides no power. Randal Grichuk cannot get on base, but does provide some power. Peter Bourjos splits the difference in both power and the ability to get on base.

Dave Cameron wrote a really good post recently on the relative value of power and on-base percentage depending on the lineup as a whole. The piece discussed adding Mark Trumbo, a low OBP, big power player to a lineup of big power players. The relevant takeaway was this:

In other words, a team of low-OBP sluggers will actually draw a larger benefit than linear weights suggests from adding another low-OBP slugger to the mix than they would adding a high-OBP slap-hitter. If you already have a team that makes a bunch of outs, and you have to choose between two equally valuable hitters — one of whom is a low-OBP/high-SLG guy and the other a high-OBP/low-SLG guy — you're actually better off with the high SLG guy.

Removing Holliday from the lineup takes away both slugging and power because that is the type of hitter he is, but the Cardinals on the whole have a roster much more suited to getting on base than they do hitting the long ball. The team's non-pitcher OBP is .337, third in all of baseball, while their isolated slugging (SLG-BA) is .135, 24th among MLB teams. All else being equal without considerations for defense, of the three remaining non-Heyward outfielders, Jay's offense provides the best fit for the team if he can meet his projections. Given Grichuk's profile, he actually fits worse in the Cardinals' offense.

WIthout getting too deeply into the Grichuk debate (Read Ben's deep dive into Grichuk from over the weekend), he simply has to do better at getting on base. In 239 MLB plate appearances, including playoffs, his OBP is .265 while his walk rate and strikeout rate are both worse this season compared to last. We can cite small sample size, but when the numbers are consistent with both the projections and his minor league stats, he must show the difference on the field before we should become believers. He has fantastic ability, but he is clearly not all the way there yet.

Nick Lampe went through the outfield options with Holliday, and losing him does little too simplify the equation. Peter Bourjos has had injury trouble throughout his career and the Cardinals have never given him a chance to play everyday despite his incredible defense in center field. It could be the Caridnals have decided it is too risky to play him everyday because he might wear down. That is complete speculation, but other than managerial preference in spite of the numbers, that is the only reasonable conclusion I have come up with. Bourjos should get a lot more time and Jay and Grichuk should get time to prove that they are healthy and competent major league hitters at the present. An outfield of Grichuk, Bourjos, and Heyward is probably one of the best defensive outfields in all of baseball, while Jay might be the best hitter when healthy.

The Cardinals do have one other option if they wish to keep their current alignment, and that is to bring up outfielder Stephen Piscotty and make him the rightfielder a majority of the time. Piscotty was a consensus top-100 prospect in all of baseball heading into the season and has done little to change that during the early part of the season. His preseason ZiPS projections were not too far off of the other Cardinals' options. Piscotty had a solid season last year in Triple-A, hitting .288/.355/.406 with nine home runs, but the organization requested Piscotty attempt to improve his power stroke, and so far he has, belting seven home runs with a .196 ISO and a walk rate over 10% without sacrificing too much in terms of strikeouts. His bat, if translatable to the majors, very much fits the profile the Cardinals' need in their offense.

Calling up Piscotty would be a bold move displacing plate appearances from Matheny-favorites Jay and Grichuk. The Cardinals usually seem more inclined to let the current options sort things out before making a change, but if Jay's wrist cannot prove itself up to the task and Grichuk continues to struggle with contact, Piscotty is a viable option. We do not yet know the severity of Holliday's injury so this could turn out to be merely a thought exercise, but any long-term absence is a big blow for a team that has already seen multiple key contributors go down.

Note: I will be on vacation next week, but will be back the following week.