Matt Holliday Searching for his Pull Power

Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday hasn’t gotten off to the start fantasy owners expected. His complete lack of power to start the year has been baffling. After never posted a slugging percentage under .488 over his career, Holliday has seen his slugging numbers drop to just .386 in 2014. With most players in this situation, it’s easy to preach patience. But Holliday is age-34, which leaves some creeping doubt about we’re starting to see the start of a decline.

The biggest issue with Holliday thus far has been his complete lack of pull power. Most players typically post their highest slugging numbers to their “pull” side. Holliday is no exception. Over his career, Holliday has hit .378/.376/.700 to his pull side. Those numbers have dropped to .261/.254/.391 in 2014. This isn’t a case of Holliday slowing getting worse, either. Just last season, Holliday hit .331/.329/.615 to his pull side. For whatever reason, those skills seem to have evaded him this year.

What’s the culprit behind his recent struggles? Luck has played a role. Holliday’s 7.7 percent home run rate to his pull side is much lower than his 38.6 percent career-average, which suggests maybe the power will return. At the same time, Holliday isn’t putting the ball in the air when he goes to his pull side. Strangely, though, that’s never been a strong suit of his. Holliday averages an 18.9 percent fly ball rate over his career when pulling the ball. That figure has dropped to 18.3 percent this year, which isn’t a reason for concern. He’s shown more power and hit more fly balls going to center and the opposite way.

Part of the issue can be explained by Holliday’s lowered average fly ball distance. Holliday’s average fly ball distance in 2014 is 283.04. Overall, that ranks him 108th. That’s not terrible, but it is a downgrade for Holliday, who ranked eighth in the category two seasons ago.

Given Holliday’s age and declining fly ball numbers, it’s reasonable to think maybe his bat his slowed. It’s not easy to find evidence of that in the numbers, especially this early in the season. He hasn’t been as good against fastball this season, but he still has a positive pitch value against the pitch. On top of that, it’s likely far too early to gleam anything from his per pitch numbers. If the issue extends into August or September, it could become a future concern, but it’s just something owners should have in the back of their minds for now.

Where does that leave Holliday? While his struggles could be early signs of age-related decline, it’s far too soon to make that type of statement at this time. It’s more than likely Holliday has seen some bad luck with his pull numbers this season. It might be as easy as that, as his .243 BABIP to the pull side is awful. The league-average BABIP to the pull side is .297 this season, suggesting improvement is in order here.

The declining fly ball distance is another slight reason for concern, but it’s not as if Holliday suddenly lost his pop. There are some age-related risks, but it’s more likely Holliday will start to see his luck turn over the next couple months. By the end of the year, there’s a good chance he’ll look like the same player he’s always been.

Chris is a blogger for He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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Great stuff, Chris. Ryan Braun is another interesting case, as he’s similarly not been able to pull the ball with authority this year. While Holliday’s slugging is down across the board, Braun is down to left and center, but way up to RF- from a career .649 to .933.

Braun has also seen a huge jump in BABIP hitting to the opposite field- from .314 career to .466 this year. Based on the BABIP numbers, it seems like we should actually see some regression from his season numbers to date, unless he can start to pull the ball for power- would you agree?