Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
While working on our fantasy baseball player projections for the 2014 season, no one was easier to predict than St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday.
At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Holliday is built like the Terminator, and he just might be a machine programmed to churn out the same exact numbers every year.
In the five seasons since the hulking outfielder left the numbers-inflating air of Colorado, he has hit between .295 and .313, blasted 22 to 28 home runs, scored 83 to 103 runs and put up an OPS between .877 and .922 every year.
In four of those seasons, he drove in between 94 and 109 runs. The only year in that stretch in which he failed to do that was 2011, when he played just 124 games and had 75 RBI. The machine's parts must have been a little worn out that season.
When it looked as though Holliday wouldn't reach his usual range of statistics in 2013 -- he was hitting .265 with 11 home runs and a .778 OPS on July 6 -- he put together a 62-game span to close out the season in which he batted .347 with 11 round-trippers, 52 RBI and a 1.013 OPS.
The 34-year-old's bat speed is showing no signs of diminishing. In fact, he had the best contact rate of his career at 80.9 percent even though he swung at his highest rate of pitches (50.6 percent) since 2008.
And Holliday's batting eye remains just as sharp, as he has drawn a free pass in 10.2 percent to 11.9 percent of his plate appearances in each of the last six seasons. He also struck out in just 14.3 percent of his plate appearances last season, down from 19.2 percent in 2012 and 18 percent in 2011.
Of course, Holliday owes a tip of his seven-and-five-eighths-sized cap to St. Louis' deep lineup.
Leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter reached base at a .392 clip in 2013 and No. 2 hitter Carlos Beltran got on 33.9 percent of the time, allowing Holliday to come to the plate with at least one man on base in 47 percent of his appearances.
The Cardinals replaced Beltran with Peter Bourjos after Beltran signed with the New York Yankees and he only has a .306 on-base percentage in his career, but having him in the two-hole shouldn't hurt Holliday. The light-hitting Bourjos will clear the bases in front of Holliday far less often than Beltran did last season.
Once Holliday reaches base, he has the benefit of having clutch-hitting extraordinaire Allen Craig backing him up. Craig has lived up to his job title of cleanup hitter with a career .394 batting average with runners in scoring position. Behind Craig come Matt Adams (17 home runs in 296 at-bats last season), Yadier Molina and newly signed shortstop Jhonny Peralta, so Holliday should once again challenge the 100-run mark, which just eight other players in all of baseball reached in 2013.
Despite the cyborg-like consistency, Holliday's average draft position (ADP) in cbssports.com leagues is 64, 31 picks behind Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce.
Bruce is eight years younger than Holliday and has hit 30-plus home runs in three straight seasons, but he's also slashed .257/.330/.482 in his career, never scored more than 89 runs and just had his first 100-RBI season in 2013.
There is a perceived higher level that Bruce hasn't reached yet, but I think he proved in 2013 that he's close to his ceiling. His strikeout rate has increased in three straight years and was up to 26.5 percent in 2013 while his walk rate dipped to 9.0 percent.
He also had the lowest contact rate of his career at 70.3 percent, a mark that ranked in the bottom 10 among qualified batters. Bruce's chase rate wasn't even particularly high last season (29.7 percent), he just missed a lot of pitches in the zone (.791 Z-contact percent).
Bruce's fly ball rate has decreased in two straight seasons, but his HR/FB also went backward last year to 17.1 percent.
Bruce definitely will hit more homers than Holliday in 2014, but 10 more home runs and comparable to worse production in every other category is not worth a 30-pick gap.
Holliday won't win any leagues singlehandedly, but his predictable production is a tremendous asset in such an unpredictable game.
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