Every once in a while I get irritated by the over-reliance on stats... especially when they are taken out of the context of the player's situation and circumstances.
And Matt Holliday, as he has all too often been, is at the front and center of this argument for the last year.
There are those who feel that because he is only hitting .269 with 8 homers since being traded to Oakland that he was a product of the thin air in Denver and that the dude can't get things done at sea level. But do people factor in the players who are hitting around Holliday and the stats that prove their point at least has a serious doubt factor when they dismiss a guy who won a batting title two years ago and who has finished in the MVP top 20 three times?
Holliday, maybe even worse than Albert Pujols in St. Louis, has absolutely no one hitting around him in the Oakland batting order. Jack Cust, hitting .227 with a .337 on base percentage is in front of Holliday in the Athletics lineup. Behind is Jason Giambi making his reunion tour on the back of a .205 batting average with a .384 slugging percentage. (Most comparable in the St. Louis organization is Brian Barden (.386 slugging) who was recently demoted to Class AAA Memphis.)
Sure, stats mean something. But when the winningest active manager in baseball -- and the third winningest all time -- thinks you are a player he might like to have, I think that carries a little bit of weight.
Maybe even more than Albert Pujols in St. Louis, Holliday must feel tremendous pressure to carry his team's offense. And he isn't going to get many chances when pitchers have a much better bet facing the guys around Holliday who are struggling to keep their batting averages in the .200 range. And let's not forget that Oakland has one of the toughest parks to hit in anywhere in the majors.
If we are going to point out that Holliday is a .357 career hitter at Coors field, shouldn't we also note that he is a career .248 batsman in Oakland's park? Or that he is a .385 career hitter at Busch Stadium III with an .872 slugging percentage. I know the St. Louis numbers are a small sample. But so are the 34 games he has played at home for Oakland. And he is a .288 hitter on the road this year despite facing unfamiliar American League pitching.)
But the bottom line is something La Russa has said repeatedly in the past: The Cardinals need a hitter in the cleanup spot with a reputation as a guy who gets the job done. Someone who will give Pujols opportunities because he strikes the fear of a big inning into the pitcher's heart.
The scenario i imagine is a runner on first or second... It doesn't matter how many outs there are. Right now, it's a no brainer for the pitcher to walk the big guy and pitch to the fourth place hitter who is someone hitting beneath .250 with a much lesser chance to hit the ball into the stands. Holliday is a guy who is capable of hitting for high average... as high as Pujols... Which does a lot to make the advantage of pitching around Pujols less pronounced.
If that runner is on first, the pitcher is moving him to scoring position by walking Albert. And Holliday is not only a good hitter for average, he hits a ton of doubles and plenty of homers, too. Back in the NL and in a better lineup, I would be stunned if Holliday doesn't hit .300.
The Cardinals have to do something. And I simply don't see any other player who has Holliday's potential as a cleanup man that is available. If the front office wants to win, he is the guy they have to have. But don't take my word for it. Listen to the experts... the ones wearing numbers 5 and 10 on the St. Louis bench.