The Superstar Who Tread Arenado’s Path Before Him (www.baseball-reference.com)

If the Cardinals are able to complete their acquisition of star third baseman

– under the terms as we know them now – they’ll be getting the best defensive third baseman of his generation. Kyle Newman of the Denver Post pegs the Arenado deal as the biggest trade in Rockies’ franchise history. Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong certainly sounds pleased, saying on MLB Network Radio today (via Twitter), “…having a guy like Arenado in our lineup is going to completely change the way pitchers look at us.”

Sure enough, Arenado’s mantle-place is full: five All-Star nominations, four Silver Slugger awards, and a Gold Glove for every season he’s been in the Majors (eight). He’s a career .293/.349/.541 hitter who’s been worth 32.3 fWAR in his career with a solid 7.9 percent career walk rate and excellent 15.0 percent career strikeout rate.

Even so, he heads to Busch Stadium III with the usual caveats of a player leaving Coors Field. He is a career 128 wRC+ hitter at home and 108 wRC+ hitter away from Coors. The first question with Rockies players always seems to be: can he hit outside of Coors?

Paul Goldschmidt can walk Arenado through the process of going from face-of-the-franchise in the west to being just “one of the guys” in Yadi Molina’s orbit. For an even preview of what Arenado may face, we can go a little further back to another Rockies’ superstar who went east for the latter half of his career: Matt Holliday.

Holliday averaged a 154 wRC+ per season during his first five years at Coors Field, his age-24 to age-28 seasons (2004 to 2008. Over that same time span he posted a 105 wRC+ on the road – an even more drastic split that Arenado’s. It’s worth noting, however, that Holliday’s road numbers got better each year: 68, 90, 107, 122, and 137 in 2008, his last full season on the Rockies. Similarly, Arenado’s worst road seasons were his first couple, but beyond that, his road splits haven’t progressed quite as linearly as Holliday’s.

Visual learners can check this Fangraphs chart for his home/road splits by age, then do the same for Holliday. Holidays’ splits converge at the point in his career that Arenado is facing now: age 30-32, moving from Colorado to St. Louis. Holliday’s gray line, or his overall wOBA follows a fairly traditional aging curve. But playing at Coors can change the shape of that production.

There’s also this: Holliday’s age-29 season was anomalous for his career in terms of the playing conditions – just like Arenado. Whereas Arenado had to deal with a 60-game season in a pandemic-wracked world, Holliday faced the equally jarring reality of moving from Coors Field to the Coliseum in Oakland for home games. Perhaps Holiday’s trials weren’t quite equal to what players are facing in the present, but it still stands out as a singularly odd year on Holliday’s resume in terms of the conditions relative to the rest of his career to that point.

Also, Arenado, like Holiday, will play his first full season with the Cardinals at age-30. We have mature projection systems these days that can do the fancy work for us, so we don’t need an analog from ten years ago to project the future. But until ZiPS, THE BAT X, Steamer and others update their projections on Arenado, we can take a couple minutes to further explore this old-fashioned player comparison.

If Arenado stays in St. Louis the length of his contract, he’ll be in Cardinal red for seven seasons from age 30 to 36. That just so happens to be the exact length of stay Holliday enjoyed in St. Louis. The similarities in their career paths line up so well in this way that one has to wonder whether Holliday’s success in St. Louis emboldened the Cardinals to make this move for Arenado, even if just the slightest bit.

Over his seven years in St. Louis, Holliday’s home/road splits would stabilize. He would average a 133 wRC+ on the road and a 142 wRC+ per season at home. On the whole, he arguably became a better hitter with a 133 wRC+ during his five seasons in Colorado compared to 139 wRC+ in his seven full seasons in St. Louis. Does that mean Arenado will do the same? Of course not. Just because Holliday stayed largely healthy and productive past his prime years doesn’t mean that Arenado will do the same.

They aren’t the exact same type of hitter either. While both are right-handed sluggers, Holliday generally burned more worms than Arenado – though everyone back then did. As a Rockie, Holliday logged a 1.38 groundball-to-flyball rate, whereas Arenado’s 0.87 GB/FB reflects the fact that he hits the ball in the air more than Holliday ever did.

Holliday sprayed the ball to all fields a little more than Arenado, who leans pull side with 41.8 percent pull percentage to 23.1 percent opposite field for his career. Theoretically, that could hurt Arenado, as Busch tends to be a good singles and triples park for righties while repressing offense in most other regards, per Park Factors at Swish Analytics, though Arenado will have a shorter porch in left to target. Goldschmidt, by comparison, wasn’t quite as pull heavy with his power in Arizona, but he’s become more that way in St. Louis if you look at his spray charts. Goldy, like Holliday, was more of a line drive hitter than Arenado as well.

Arenado glove should should also be a continued asset. While age may diminish his abilities at the hot corner somewhat, he has a lot of wiggle room before even entering the stratosphere of any other third baseman outside, maybe, Matt Chapman. With DeJong on his left, he shouldn’t even face much of an adjustment there. DeJong may be one of the few defensive shortstops who can rival Trevor Story’s competence on that end.

Arenado is heading from an organization that’s never won their division to one of the game’s premier, trademark franchises. He’s leaving the NL West, where the Dodgers and Padres are readying for what could be a divisional race for the ages – and he’s joining the NL Central, where contenders are being broken down and sold for parts. It might be a jarring move for Arenado, but he can always look back and take comfort in the fact that this path has been tread before – and that worked out quite well. Remember, it was only their second full season together that Holliday and the Cardinals won the World Series.



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