St. Louis Sports | Why Matt Holliday’s St. Louis success should ease concerns about Nolan Arenado’s offense

Credit: Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports

BY DAN BUFFA, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Earlier this month, Nolan Arenado stepped to the plate and collected a single. The new Cardinal had his first exhibition season hit, and it was off to the races for one of the biggest offseason acquisitions in St. Louis baseball history. But, wait a minute, can he hit the same way without 81 games-per-season at Coors Field, a hitter’s paradise?

Matt Holliday’s career with the Cardinals should ease your concerns. After a robust five seasons in Colorado, the retired outfielder spent a half-season in Oakland before being traded to St. Louis. Upon arrival, Holliday hit everything in sight. In 63 games with the Cardinals in 2009, Holliday’s OPS was 1.023. For people who aren’t familiar with that stat, it combines a hitter’s on-base percentage and slugging percentage. A .800 OPS is considered very solid for an everyday player, but 1.000 is where you enter Albert Pujols and Mike Trout neighborhoods.

Holliday’s OPS for his first four seasons in St. Louis: .922, .912, .877, .879.

His lifetime OPS in Colorado was .936; for the Cards, it was .874. For eight seasons, Holliday slashed .293/.380/.494 here. All of those numbers (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) are very above-average marks. He left the land of hitter enchantment, and still found a way to produce with St. Louis.

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Arenado is a better player than Holliday. It’s not a hopeless argument, because of the latter hitter’s success here — but superstar comes to mind with the newest Cardinal third baseman. When it comes to his defense, forget about it. He’s an ace, better than whoever is playing the position for the other team. But offensively, it wouldn’t be unwise to expect a Holliday-type performance from Arenado.

I am talking about a .285/.350/.580 slash from Arenado, and you can add that to the face of the franchise merchandise appeal he has already brought and the eight Gold Glove awards. It would not be a wise idea to expect gargantuan numbers from Arenado, because like it or not, the Coors factor is undeniable. Certain Cards fans will recall Andres Galarraga, a first baseman who came to St. Louis after an enigmatic Montreal career and offered paltry results in his lone season as a Cardinal. The next season, Galarraga suddenly entered Pujols land with a 1.005 OPS in 120 games. The Gold Glover was now a big hitter. So, Cardinal Nation is holding their breath, hoping Arenado is more Holliday than Galarraga.

First, Arenado has hit well in opposing ballparks for the past eight years. Second, he built his own legend in Colorado, both at the plate and in the field-just like Holliday, but for a longer period of time. Galarraga found his success at 32 as a Rockie. Arenado comes to the Cardinals as a 29-year-old established stud. Third, one can’t forget about the Paul Goldschmidt factor. The still-potent first baseman will follow or precede Arenado in the lineup, giving him viable protection. It’s not like he walked onto a team of nobodies. The Cardinals just needed another finisher the past few years. Runners were on base but couldn’t find a home. Arenado can be the finisher for St. Louis.

Just know that for 2,255 plate appearances stretched out over 536 games, Arenado slugged .471 away from Coors Field. If his abilities were limited to mountains and elevated fields, he wouldn’t have been able to hit baseballs that far and often without the home field advantage, right?  You can ease your mind about offensive struggles from Arenado. If you had questions about his 2020 season, I can tell you that a nagging shoulder muscle ruins a lot of things. Just ask Scott Rolen, who couldn’t pick it at third base as well as the new guy can  

Here’s the thing. The Cardinals got a legitimate game-changer, one that affects the game on both sides of the game. He can hit very well and offers the pitching staff and fellow infielders peace of mind. The kind of assurance that any ball hit east of the third box field box section and one inch to Paul DeJong’s right will be taken care of.

He makes them a much better team and long-term threat. Just like Matt Holliday 12 years ago.

This is what he told Fox 2 about Arenado: “He’s not a big fly ball hitter, he’s not a guy who skies the ball into the air hoping the altitude will take over.” I’ll take his word, and his performance, over the skeptics when it comes to Arenado. 

Get ready, Cardinals fans. The 2021 regular season is upon us.