Matt Holliday‘s injury to his back led the New York Yankees to once again place him on the 10-day disabled list. This development might explain Holliday’s recent struggles, and also provides the Yanks with some much needed roster flexibility.
While his veteran presence has played a major role in the clubhouse throughout the season, he hasn’t played as big of a role on the field.
Matt Holliday’s Injury Came at the Right Time
Holliday, a widely respected veteran slugger, has been one of the league’s worst hitters since his return from the DL. His struggles can be traced all the way back to the Yankees disaster of a west coast swing in June.
He was initially scratched from the lineup due to what was believed to be an allergic reaction. The team was ambiguous about what the reaction was to and how it was impacting him.
Eventually, he was placed on the disabled list after testing positive for the Epstein-Barr virus. Epstein-Barr is commonly associated with Mono, which causes weakness and fatigue, among other side effects.
The diagnosis, while certainly a temporary hit for the squad, was supposed to be reassuring. Time off was supposed to help him gain his strength back and explain away any struggles he had been having physically.
Well, the struggles haven’t stopped. Since returning from that initial DL stint, Holliday is just 11-81. His batting average is .136 and his on-base percentage is not much better, at .167.
Big-Picture Impact of Matt Holliday’s Injury
Holliday’s power and patience behind Aaron Judge played a role in the rookie’s first half surge; without Holliday batting behind him his production has declined sharply. While this is not the main cause of Judge’s short-term regression, it has arguably had an impact.
Since June 25, when Holliday began to miss games, Judge has hit just .237 and his walk rate has increased. In fact, Judge drew 13 of his 30 June walks in the brief time Holliday wasn’t protecting him in the batting order.
Injuries are never a good thing, but with Holliday’s bat being rendered rather ineffective and outfielder Aaron Hicks on the mend, this one couldn’t have come at a better time.
Hicks’ rehab was, reportedly, going to take slightly longer than a typical one since the team wants him to see action from both sides of the plate. This seemed to be a move which was meant to buy time for rookie Clint Frazier, who has injected the Yanks offense with some much-needed energy.
But with Holliday’s struggles and the reduction of Jacoby Ellsbury to essentially a very pricey pinch-runner and defensive replacement, the team might decide to cut that rehab assignment short and have Hicks rejoin the major league club sooner rather than later.
Who will Replace Holliday?
In the clubhouse, no one on this team can replace Matt Holliday. He’s been there, done that, and gotten the t-shirt for his entire family.
In the lineup, he’ll likely have his role platooned. Manager Joe Girardi alluded to the fact that he might use the opening as an excuse to DH Gary Sanchez more often, to give him half-days off. However, this was prior to Girardi’s public critique of his rising star catcher after yet another poor performance behind the plate.
Hicks could return in a temporary DH role, but when healthy will undoubtedly force his way back onto the field. His excellent throwing arm and above-average mobility make it hard to relegate him to just a bat.
Brett Gardner has been having another great season defensively, so the odd-man out in the outfield will likely be the newest Baby Bomber. Clint Frazier has displayed sneaky quickness and a strong arm, but a lack of arm accuracy should make him the fourth outfielder.
The opening at DH will also allow Girardi to give his mammoth right fielder some of the rest that he needs. After all, Judge has appeared in 105 of the team’s 110 games and didn’t have time much off during the MLB All-Star festivities.
Holliday’s Future in Pinstripes
While the Yankees remain relatively committed to being a young ball club, they also clearly see the value in having a strong veteran presence in the clubhouse. It helps the Baby Bombers grow and develop, and serves to take at least some of the pressure off Girardi.
If Holliday can return during this playoff push and regain his early season levels of production, there might be a spot on this team for him next year. Though with prospect Miguel Andujar raking in the minor leagues and performing less than stellar in the field, he just might have to fight for his spot in the lineup.