Last week, St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he didn’t think a potential move to first base was right for Matt Holliday.
On Tuesday, the veteran slugger practiced there.
Caps off to Holliday, a veteran of 1,636 games, for his willingness to try his hand at a new position. It’s obvious that a move isn’t his first choice. But doing what’s best for the team over his personal preference is the sort of guy Holliday is.
Holliday has never played the infield in the majors and, anyone who has played baseball can tell you, the difference between standing 95 feet from home plate and 295 feet from it is substantial.
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It would be nice, given the Redbirds’ glut of flychasers, if one of them could find playing time at first base to create playing time for the others. Since the Matt Adams injury last week, there is a need for a power right-handed bat at the position. So it would be perfect if one of the outfielders could play first base.
In a lot of ways, Holliday makes the most sense. He’s the oldest of the outfielders and, presumably, the slowest. Playing first would cause him to run less, so that’s good, right?
Well, not necessarily. Former St. Louis veteran slugger Lance Berkman initially came to the Cardinals as an outfielder. When he was switched to first base he said he preferred right field because the lateral movement of trying to field grounders was rough on his knees.
The benefit for Berkman is that he played both first and the outfield throughout his career. When the Redbirds asked him to play there, it wasn’t a big change.
Despite the criticism Holiday gets for his defense, he’s really not a bad outfielder.
I’m not saying he’s a great defender. But, for a very large man, he’s not bad.
I sit over the guy’s shoulder at Busch Stadium and have watched him play a ton of games. My conclusion is that his most obvious flaw is a problem coming in on the ball. He moves back relatively well and covers a decent amount of range side to side.
It’s his tendency to pull up on balls in front of him that appear catchable that drives fans nuts. The lack of confidence in his ability to keep the ball in front of him makes me worry about Holliday’s aptitude to field sharply-hit ground balls.
In short, while no one will accuse him of being a latter day Willie Mays, Holliday doesn’t hurt the team in the outfield. He drives in many more runs than he allows. But what happens when you move him to a place where he’ll have to handle throws from other infielders, field grounders, hold on base runners and defend bunt plays?
That’s a lot more defensive responsibility and a lot more opportunity to make a flub.
Holliday isn’t paid for his glove. He’s paid to hit. I’d hate to see him become one of the players on the long list of guys who carried his defensive troubles to the plate as he tried to learn a new position.
I remember when the New York Mets tried to move aging catcher Mike Piazza to first base in 2004.
As a catcher that season, Piazza hit .331 with 11 homers and a .419 on base percentage in 210 plate appearances In 275 plate appearances as a first baseman, Piazza hit .229 with eight homers and had a .324 on base percentage.
It was obvious Piazza was carrying the burden of playing an uncomfortable position to the plate and it was hurting his focus on hitting.
Piazza said publicly that he’d rather retire than play first base anymore and, in fact, never fielded that position again in the final three years of his career.
So, kudos for trying, Mr. Holliday. But let’s not do anything rash.
Wouldn’t it make more sense for young slugger Randal Grichuk to learn a new position as a young, speedy and flexible player?
Grichuk was profiled before he was drafted in 2009 as a future first baseman.
Grichuk may be the best all-around outfielder on the club. But just because he plays some games in 2015 at first base doesn’t mean he can’t become the starting centerfielder in 2016 and beyond.
If Holliday feels comfortable playing first base and he’s good at it, awesome. But I don’t get warm fuzzies when I think about him diving to field a grounder.
Until I hear otherwise, I’m not convinced that his appearance in practice at first base was more than an experiment.