Chris Carpenter’s potential retirement got me thinking, “What would his career have looked like with just half the injuries?” Would he have put together a Hall of Fame (HOF) career on the mound? Considering his ability to squeeze effectiveness out of every so-called healthy season, I have to believe it’s fairly likely.
And whenever I think of the Hall of Fame connected to a current Cardinal player, I inevitably turn to Yadier Molina. Depending on retirement dates, Veteran’s Committee inductees, and a few other factors, number four is likely to be among the next group of Cardinal players entering Cooperstown. Maybe he’ll ultimately get in using the Ozzie Smith track of defense first and sustained offensive ability second, but I believe he gets in one way or another.
That said, the conversation taking place inside my baseball-saturated brain then turns to the question of, “Who’s next?”
Adam Wainwright? Possibly…although sustaining his typical level of excellence long enough to put up HOF numbers on the mound is a highly difficult task, especially considering the number of arm injuries pitchers seem to encounter. Still, considering he’s already had Tommy John surgery and seems to be fully recovered, thrown in with a relatively fast start to his starting pitching career and less reliance on velocity than most Cy Young candidates, he could conceivably make it. But he’s going to have to avoid all the nagging arm and back issues that seem to plague pitchers later in life. Actually winning a Cy Young at some point couldn’t hurt either.
Allen Craig? Maybe…if he turns into the hitter his recent track record teases us with; but Craig’s clock is already working against him. At age 28, assuming he plays until he’s 40, Craig only has 12 years to put together Hall of Fame numbers. With just 783 at-bats (ABs) in his first three seasons, he might as well be starting from scratch. However, even if he hits his 162-game average of 25 homers each year, he doesn’t even come close to 400 home runs (337)…and that’s pretending he could somehow play all 162 games a year. Combine all that with his tendency to miss time due to injuries, and Craig could just flat-out run out of time.
So what about hometown icon and World Series hero, David Freese? Despite his penchant for the dramatic, the “young” third baseman is already 29. In his short time in the Major Leagues, he’s shown an ability to stick in an RBI spot in the lineup while flashing impact power. But it just won’t be enough. His fragile joints aside, Freese’s offensive numbers won’t approach 400 homers or anywhere near a career .300 average. Like Craig, even if he could stay on the field and maintain an All-Star level bat throughout the rest of his career, he’s just going to run out of time.
Of course, as the title of this post suggests, that leaves us with Matt Holliday.
The Cardinals big-budget outfielder is an interesting case. His mythical muscles and line-drive home runs automatically make most fans think of his power, but as Bill Ivie of I-70 Baseball is fond of pointing out, Holliday is not, primarily, a power hitter. He’s a .300 hitter. And that’s a tough road to travel for a Hall of Fame player.
Among Hall of Fame position players who started their careers in 1950 or later, only nine finished with a career batting average of .300 or greater. Of those nine, only four finished with an average below .317 (Brett, Aaron, Mays, and Roberto Alomar finished between .300 and .305). Only one of those final four players failed to reach the 3,000 hit mark (Alomar finished with 2,724).
Of course, amassing hits is a sure-fire way to gain entry into Cooperstown, and a healthy Holliday is certainly capable of piling up hits into his late thirties, but hitting 3,000 is wishful thinking. Short of 3,000, the picture gets…interesting.
Among Hall of Fame position players, the 2,300 hit mark seems to be somewhat of a watermark. Only eight HOF players who started their careers after 1950 compiled fewer than 2,300 hits. Of those eight, two were catchers (Gary Carter and Johnny Bench). The remaining six include four players who hit 475 home runs or more. The final two are special cases.
Bill Mazeroski finished with 2,016 hits, 138 homers, and a .260 average…but he also owns the famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” the dramatic walk off home run that beat the 1960 Yankees – Mickey Mantle’s Yankees – in Game 7 of the World Series.
And Ron Santo, the final inductee in the group with an impressive 2,254 hits, 342 home runs, and a lifetime .277 average, enjoyed a long post-playing career with the Cubs. It took him until last year to gain entry by way of the Veteran’s Committee…after his death.
It’s worth mentioning that Kirby Puckett nearly made the list with 2,304 hits, but he combined that with 10 All-Star appearances in a 12-year career, a lifetime .318 average, and the memorable “We will see you tomorrow night!” home run in the World Series. In other words, even had he fallen below the 2,300 mark, he was a special case.
Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s take a look at a little something I’ve put together. The table below shows a very optimistic attempt (by me) to predict the rest of Matt Holliday’s career. In interpreting the data, a couple key assumptions must be mentioned. I didn’t make these assumptions because I necessarily believe they will happen (or not happen) that way, but rather, because they simply make the discussion a less complicated one.
First, I’m assuming Holliday plays until he’s 40. That’s tough to do when you consider rapid decline in many players, potential injuries, etc. And that’s the second assumption – no significant injuries between now and then that could end or significantly hamper his career. Again, no small feat considering Holliday’s aggressive style of play and his already nagging back issues.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get on with it.
Predicting a HOF Career (2013 – 2020):
|At-Bats||Hits||Home Runs||Batting Average||Age|
Based on what we know from our HOF discussion above, if Holliday finishes with 2,745 hits, 401 home runs, and a lifetime .302 average, he’s a sure-fire Hall of Famer. But that’s not really what the prediction table above is about. It’s not intended to realistically predict what Holliday will do; instead, it’s intended to paint a picture of vicinity. What does Holliday have to do to get within the vicinity of a Hall of Fame career between now and retirement? To put it another way, it’s a table about cushion. How much cushion does he have in three different categories?
The first point that jumps out at me is longevity and endurance. If Matt Holliday is getting 450 at-bats with 20 home runs and a .289 average at age 39, he’s doing pretty damn good. For any hitter, playing into his late thirties is automatically a success. Doing it at nearly an All-Star level would make most players giddy.
The second is the dramatic reduction in at-bats between 2017 and 2019 – 100 at-bats difference. This is important for two reasons: One, he’s turning 37 in 2017. Age is going to, at some point, impact his ability to play every day. If it hasn’t before 37, it will at 38. Two, Holliday’s guaranteed contract is up with the Cardinals in 2016. The team holds a $17 million option for 2017 that automatically vests if Holliday finishes in the top 10 in MVP voting for 2016. That’s a lot of money for a 37-year old outfielder. To put that in comparison, Carlos Beltran – the switch-hitting All-Star capable of a 30-home run, .290 season even now – is only paid $13 million a year to play RF, LF, and even CF in a pinch. In other words, it’s more than a little likely that Holliday either dramatically reduces the number of games he plays, switches teams, and/or becomes a DH in the American League sometime around the 2017 season.
All that being said, it would appear Holliday has somewhat of a cushion to “play with.” With a hit total of 2,745, Matt would appear to have a cushion of approximately 200-250 hits – or about one and a half seasons worth of hits. His home run total may be able to survive with something similar – a 401 home run total may be able to withstand a loss of approximately 30 dingers – but how it all translates in the batting average column could be key.
With a .302 lifetime average, Holliday finds himself right on the edge. If he dips into that season or season and a half cushion by way of significant injury that saps his power or dramatically impacts his swing…that average is likely going to plummet. If he, instead, turns in a season or two of sub-par performance as he tries to play through his injury and then has surgery…then he’s compounded the problem. You’ll notice that the table above only allows for one season of sub-.280 hitting – his last at age 40 with .250. He can’t afford many more.
Ultimately, it comes down to this…
Matt Holliday isn’t going to make it into the Hall of Fame using the Ozzie Smith track of defense, defense, and more defense. He isn’t going to slug 500 home runs or follow players like George Brett to 3,000 hits. He won’t even hit a lifetime .318 like Kirby Puckett. But what he could do is take advantage of something I call the Stan Musial track…
Consistent, across-the-board excellence in all areas.
While Stan could hang comfortably in all HOF circles – average, power, and the 3,000 hit club – Holliday may only gain an honorary membership to two and a spectator seat at the third. But all three combined will result in a Hall of Fame induction and a nice new Cardinal-red jacket to wear on Opening Day.
But this post is about predictions, so let’s boil all of that stuff above down to one simple predictive tool.
Remember that option the Cardinals hold on Holliday for 2017? The one that’s automatically triggered if he finishes in the top 10 in MVP voting? If Matt Holliday, at the age of 36, ranks in the top 10…he’s going to finish with a Hall of Fame career. So, long story short, if that option automatically vests…”there’s yer’ sign.”
If Holliday’s back issues worsen, or if he can’t find a way to stabilize/reverse his decline, or if that perceived “problem with the high velocity fastball” comes back to bite him in old age…he could end up finishing as another Jim Edmonds.
A Cardinal slugger who retired just short of too many significant milestones and well-short of the Hall of Fame.