As an All-Star outfielder with the St. Louis Cardinals, Matt Holliday was a key component to the club's offense for over seven years. Holliday enters a new phase in his career in 2017; as part of a new team and in a new role. Holliday will shed his glove on most days, but his offensive prowess will be integral to the Yankees success this season.
How Holliday fared in 2016
Holliday was well on his way to a fine bounce back campaign last season after missing 89 games in 2015. Holliday's injury was not an age related malady as he suffered a broken thumb after being hit by a pitch. Holliday ended up missing 44 games, but until that point he had failed to make a start in just eight of the team's 107 games.
In 426 plate appearances in 2016, Holliday hit .246 with a .322 slugging percentage, a .461 slugging percentage, 20 doubles, 20 home runs and 62 RBIs. Holliday's on-base percentage in 2016 was more than 60 points lower than his career OBP sat heading into the season. Holliday's batting average was also much lower than in recent seasons, but his slugging percentage was his best since 2013.
Holliday spent a majority of his time in left field where defensive metrics painted a picture of a below average fielder (-8 defensive runs saved). In minimal time at first base (61 2/3 innings), Holliday did not commit an error and saved one defensive run.
How will Holliday fare in 2017?
Holliday's importance to the Yankees is not one dimensional.
Foremost, the middle of the lineup hitters had a tough time driving in runs for the Yankees last season and it hurt the club straight out of the gate. Holliday is a proven run producer, so if he stays healthy he can help the team improve in that aspect.
Holliday is also significant to the development and performance of Gary Sanchez. In all likelihood, Holliday will hit cleanup in the Yankees lineup in an effort to offer Sanchez the protection he needs. Many teams are going to view Sanchez as the player they do not want beating them, so if Holliday is not producing, pitchers will be able to work around Sanchez.
One question about Holliday will be how he handles transitioning to a full-time DH role. Holliday has limited experience as a DH - 144 plate appearances, .260 AVG, .340 OBP and .535 SLG, 9 HR and 26 RBI. It could certainly take Holliday a short period of time to adjust, but I do not believe it will impact his abilities at the plate.
In speculating Holliday's statistics for 2017, I feel the Yankees have to do their best to keep him off the field. This sentiment has as much to do with keeping him healthy as it does the fact that his defensive abilities have waned. In a major pinch - for an inning or two - I can see putting Holliday in the field. However, the Yankees are deep enough in the outfield and at first base that there is no reason for Holliday to make a single start in the field. Personally, I would want Holliday to fully immerse himself in the DH role and not muddle any learning curve by having him in the field.
If the Yankees institute and stick to such a plan I can see a healthy Holliday generating 600-plus plate appearances; figuring he will still get some off days to provide rest to others with a half-day at DH. Holliday is fully capable to hit in the .260-270 range and it is simply imperative that he raise his OBP from last season's .322 mark back into the .360 area (he owns a career .382 mark). As for slugging percentage, Holliday has fluctuated from .441, .410 and .461 marks over the last three seasons respectively. Should Holliday generate a slugging percentage in the .450 area, he could have an OPS above .800. In the number of plate appearances mentioned, 50-plus extra base hits is a reasonable expectation as is the chance to drive in 90 runs.
One final expectation from Holliday revolves around his ability to mentor some of the younger players on the roster. By all accounts, Holliday is a respected clubhouse guy and with the loss of many veterans his experience will go a long way toward assisting the growth of the club's youth.
The reliance on Holliday has its risks considering he will play this season at 37, but considering he will not see the field all that often, his health should be less of an issue. Holliday's offensive performance is essential to the production required from Sanchez and the success of the club. Most importantly, if Holliday can attain the metrics described in the middle of the order, he will surely boost a Yankees offense that struggled at times in 2016.