Following an MVP-caliber season, a dramatic performance in the 2007 National League Wild Card play-in game and helping to lead his team to a World Series appearance, Colorado Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday (hamstring) was a prime target in the first round for fantasy drafters heading into the 2008 season. Now, his slumping team has to work without him for approximately the next two weeks.
Holliday strained his left hamstring while running to first base Saturday, May 24, and the team placed him on the disabled list the following day. This was an unwelcome development as the Rockies are already trudging their way through the early part of this season with a 20-32 record while struggling both offensively and on the bump.
Holliday recently indicated he plans to be ready for game action Tuesday, June 10, but until then, fantasy owners have a large hole to fill.
Source of stability
Holliday displayed a slight World Series hangover by hitting .192 (5-for-26) through his first seven games of the season, but since April 11 his batting average hasn't been lower than .292 (May 2). He is currently tied for 10th in the NL with a .321 average and is eighth in on-base percentage at .407. Last year's NL batting average leader (.340) was hitting .346 in May (27-for-78) and was in the midst of a 10-game hitting streak before he ended up on the disabled list. He also registered a hit in 17 of his last 19 games and ran off eight multi-hit games this month.
His moderate contribution in the stolen base category has become another draw for the top-10 pick. He stole double-digit bases in his previous three seasons and is ahead of that pace for 2008 after swiping eight bags, including three in May.
Despite being a complete hitter, Holliday has felt the offensive withdrawal away from Coors Field this season, hitting .283 with two home runs and seven RBIs compared to his .358-6-19 string at home. His career .274 road average has not reflected his success there in recent seasons; he posted a .301-11-55 line in 2007, an improvement from his .280-12-36 production during the previous campaign.
The Rockies have to endure the loss of one of the few offensive positives in their struggling lineup. They rank 20th in the majors in batting average (.255), 22nd in runs scored (219) and 23rd in home runs (38) through 52 games. Outfielder Brad Hawpe (hamstring) is currently on the 15-day DL with his own strained hamstring. Manager Clint Hurdle stripped playing time from outfielder Willy Taveras earlier in the season, and a recent knee injury kept Taveras out for several games. These factors brought outfielders Ryan Spilborghs, Scott Podsednik, Seth Smith and Cory Sullivan into the mix.
Before his injury, Hawpe was a bane to fantasy owners, providing a miniscule .231-3-17 line through his first 42 contests. Hawpe continues to hover around his career average against left-handed hitters - the main hindrance to his growth - with a .200 mark this season, while his .237 average against righties is a primary reason for his slump.
Taveras was benched earlier in the season because Hurdle wanted to see more fire out of him, causing him to lose at-bats to Podsednik and Spilborghs. The 26-year-old speedster does have 20 steals this season, including nine in May, but the career .288 hitter has disappointed with a .241 figure this year. Adding to their overall offensive woes, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (quadriceps) was hitting just .152-1-11 before landing on the DL retroactive to April 30.
The other outfielders don't necessarily sound enticing, but they have been surprisingly effective to varying degrees. Spilborghs has been plucking at-bats from Holliday, Taveras and especially the struggling Hawpe throughout the season, posting a .298 average on the year with 12 RBIs in May. He has homered in each of his last two games while totaling five RBIs and shown discipline at the plate, walking 12 times with only seven strikeouts this month.
Podsednik went 0-for-7 while subbing for Taveras this past weekend, who missed two games because of a bruised right knee. Podsednik has been one of the team's most effective pinch-hitters this season (6-for-24 with five RBIs in 30 appearances) while still chipping in with stolen bases (three this month and seven on the season).
Smith also found success as a pinch-hitter last season as a September call-up by going 5-for-7 (.714) in that role down the stretch. He has gone 4-for-15 this season with one home run and three RBIs while starting the last four games for Colorado.
Sullivan was also called up as roster filler and has gone 1-for-3 with an RBI, with two of those at-bats coming as a pinch-hitter.
Fantasy baseball outlook
This is Holliday's first known hamstring injury, so there isn't much of a history to account for here. He appeared in at least 155 games in his last two seasons, so with proper rehab he should return as a fantasy anchor and a contender for the NL's Triple Crown.
The Rockies' replacements could translate into justifiable fantasy substitutes depending on your needs.
Taveras is already a starter with Colorado and could provide a temporary but significant upgrade in the speed dimension. He offers almost no power but could be available in some shallow leagues. He should be owned in virtually all mixed leagues because of his impact in the speed category.
Spilborghs has already been a valuable contributor to NL-only squads in RBIs with a sprinkling of steals, and an increase in playing time should help him. With Hawpe also injured, he could still find at-bats even after Holliday returns; Spilborghs could be worth a flier in deep mixed formats.
As for the others, Podsednik is a substitute speed option and a last resort for those who miss out on the more well-rounded Spilborghs; however, Pods is still serviceable in NL-only setups. Smith doesn't appear to be a long-term option; he was recalled to fill Hawpe's roster spot, and he became a factor when Holliday went down. Consider him in NL-only leagues that employ five outfielders, although he may already be gone. Sullivan is a non-factor in fantasy games because he isn't starting, and his stay is also dependent on the health of Hawpe and Holliday.
Some possible waiver wire replacements could be Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. (.217-6-28 with three stolen bases), Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Mike Cameron (.248-6-18 with three swipes) and Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. (.249-5-23). Some folks still haven't jumped on the Jay Bruce bandwagon yet. The Cincinnati Reds outfielder, arguably baseball's top prospect, went 3-for-3 in his debut; he was hitting .364 with 10 homers, 37 RBIs and eight steals for Triple-A Louisville.
Fantasy owners may need to play their reserves and pick up a streaking player to back them up in order to make up a patchwork fantasy outfield until Holliday comes back.
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.