The Yankees continued their comeback last night, topping the Indians by a score of 7 – 3. The club now heads to Game Five in Cleveland with a chance to move on to the ALCS. They’ll need all the help they can get to pull off the victory, though. A key contributor, a potential secret weapon if you will, is sitting right there on the bench. Matt Holliday, the team’s $13 million designated hitter, sat for the entirety of the ALDS. Now, however, is the time to start him.
The story of Holliday’s second half collapse is well documented. He tore the cover off the ball from Opening Day through June 24th; the veteran slugger hit .262/.366/.511 with 15 home runs across that period. His 132 wRC+ actually ranked among the best in the American League for designated hitters. For a while it looked like the Yankees invested their money wisely.
At least, until he contracted the Epstein-Barr Virus. The illness cost Holliday nearly a month. He struggled to stay on the field after returning, too. A lower back injury sidelined him for much of August. All told, he hit .179/.225/.300 with just four home runs. His wRC+ dropped to an anemic 34. Frankly, Holliday was a non-factor since late June.
Why then, should he start Game Five of the ALDS? In short, it’s because the alternatives haven’t done anything to justify their place in the lineup. Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury have alternated between the position and neither inspired any confidence. Their postseason batting lines are, at best, bleak.
Ellsbury: .000/.111/.000 across nine plate appearances
Headley: .000/.091/.000 across 11 plate appearances
The Yankees have received no production whatsoever from the designated hitter spot during the playoffs. That’s a problem. With the most important game of the season looming, the club has to do something. They need all the offense they can muster when going up against Corey Kluber.
At the very least, Holliday offers firepower. His .201 ISO on the regular season far exceeded the marks posted by Headley (.133) and Ellsbury (.138). That’s even with his extended trips to the disabled list. That’s Holliday’s modus operandi. He may not always connect, but when he does, he hits the ball ridiculously hard.
There are downsides, of course. First, he hasn’t played much lately. He saw just 28 plate appearances during the final two weeks of the season. Rust and timing, two things he struggled with all throughout the second half, would surely play a role. The other drawback is his handedness. Kluber owned right-handed batters during the regular season, holding them to a .185/.218/.321 slash line.
Holliday had a platoon split working against him on the season. He hit just .220/.301/.418 against right-handers on the year. He did swat 14 home runs against them though, and that’s the key. Holliday represents a major power upgrade over the current DH options. Headley and Ellsbury have the platoon advantage, but they lack pop. At least Holliday gives the Yankees the chance of running into one.
For his part, Holliday is ready to play. "Sure, sure, I'd like to be out there," he explained to the New York Daily News yesterday. "But, just be ready in case there's a situation where they think it's right."
A lot has been discussed over Joe Girardi’s inability to take risks. He’s the kind of manager who would rather hold the dice than roll them, and that’s been to the team’s detriment this season. For Game Five, he should give the club the best chance to win. That means trying to inject life into the designated hitter spot by playing Holliday. The current options haven’t worked. It’s time to make an adjustment.