The St. Louis Cardinals, Matt Holliday, And Early-Season Expectations

Apr 6, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday (7) greets players during opening day introductions before game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE

A look at Matt Holliday and Mitchell Boggs's performance over their fraught first 10 games of the 2012 season.

We're now a few weeks into the 2012 Major League Baseball season, and the St. Louis Cardinals are rapidly accumulating stats. Let's engage in two sets of good ol' fashioned hyperbole!

Matt Holliday can't handle the pressure of being the face of the franchise.

Yeah, disagree. But I do think the early-going has served as a much-needed a reality check for preseason expectations of Holliday. Matt Holliday is a great player, regularly one of the most underrated corner outfielders in the game. But many of the local talking heads saw the way Holliday responded to criticism that he couldn't be a leader—unsolicited phone calls to local radio stations, reactivation of a long-dormant Twitter account—and predicted he would put up MVP-type numbers in his first season without Pujols.

What's happened instead has been a mixed bag. The two home runs are just fine. The .200 batting average, paired with a .156 ISO, is subpar. The poor average is an abberation; if there's one thing Matt Holliday does, it's hit for average. Despite the low average his 19% line drive rate is near his career average of 19.4%, suggesting he's not making weaker contact; his .200 BABIP, 144 points lower than his career average, instead hints at a disproportionate amount of bad luck early. His ability to hit for average shouldn't be a concern going forward.

The problem is expecting 30-plus home runs. Holliday has only hit over 30 homers twice in his career, both times while in Colorado. Those were also the seasons he turned 26 and 27 years old, widely understood as a player's peak. With a full slate of at-bats and Pujols hitting in front of him in 2010, Holliday only managed 28 homers. There are a lot of reasons to think those 30-plus HR seasons were the exception, not the rule when it comes to Holliday.

There's no doubt that Holliday is strong like bull—even with Pujols, Holliday easily had the most raw power on the Cardinals over the past few years—but his swing plane doesn't lend itself to home runs. He instead routinely ranks among the league leaders in doubles, often trying to go through the wall rather than over it. The wall hasn't lost—yet.

It's not unreasonable to expect 22-25 homers for Holliday, and upwards of 27 wouldn't be unheard-of assuming he remains healthy. And the rest of his counting stats will be there; the high average, the 90 runs, and the 100 RBI all seem within reason.

But expecting Matt Holliday to take his game to another level is like expecting to see Mitchell Boggs pitching with the lead.

Surprise! That's not uncommon anymore. So that comparison doesn't really make sense.

It would have made sense in 2011, though. Of his 60.2 innings in 2011, 44.1 were deemed low leverage by Fangraphs. By the middle of May, Boggs had lost the confidence of management and was sent down to Memphis to stretch out as a starter. After returning to the big club on June 11, only 10 of Boggs' 33 appearances came in Cardinals wins.

Boggs himself began showing the effects of the season as it wore on. Talking in mid-August that year, Boggs seemed lost as to where his place was with the team. He emphasized that it was a year in which he'd learned a lot about himself. He said he was proud of the way he handled everything.

With a new year and a new start, it seems like Boggs is in a better place. His confidence looks to have returned, and the results have followed. He's relying less on his fastball, which he threw a career-high 77 percent of the time last year, and throwing his new change-up, all but abandoned in recent years, 10.1% of the time. It's a small sample size, but the results have given new manager Mike Matheny the confidence to use Boggs in new ways as well.

Through Wednesday Boggs has thrown in four games, all wins, and twice he's gone two innings in those wins, something that would have been near-inconceivable under the Tony La Russa regime. Matheny has shown he has no problem leaning on Boggs in the big spot, either—in his April 10 appearance, Boggs was allowed to pitch two innings with a two-run margin against the division-rival Cincinnati Reds. Where La Russa often cut a young player's legs out from under him, Matheny seems willing to reinforce his faith in the reliever.

Boggs is in a good place right now, and although he remains in that dreaded small sample size, it's not hard to imagine his early success continuing.

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