High Flying Cardinals

January 19, 2010

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Matt Holliday

Matt Holliday recently finalized his contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.  This definitely solidifies Holliday in the #2 spot on my baseball preference rankings.  I was extremely pleased to see Holliday stay with the Cardinals rather than ending up in Boston or New York (especially New York).

If Holliday puts up strong numbers with the Cardinals, it should tear down a bit of the stigma Coors Field.  While Holliday always put up strong very strong home numbers compared to his road numbers, his home/road splits were not in line with other Rockies hitters – they were much more dramatic.  This would indicate that some other factor was coming into play.  My personal thought is that he simply was more comfortable at home than on the road.  While hitters typically produce an OPS 31 points higher at home that on the road, this varies greatly.  Some hitters thrive at home while others wilt under the pressure of playing in front of the home crowd.  Holliday is a home thriver – as evidenced by his 2009 home/road split of .982/.830.  That’s a monstrous split – and clearly had nothing to do with Coors Field.

Holliday’s contract has an eighth year (at $17 million) that would vest if he finishes in the top 10 in National League MVP voting in 2016 (if it doesn’t vest, it becomes a team option).  While vesting options aren’t unprecedented, they usually vest based on some statistic such as plate appearances (hitters) or innings pitched (pitchers).  In this case, Holliday’s option is in the hands of the Baseball Writers of America, who vote on the awards.  He could have a great year in 2016 and still not crack the top 10.  On the flip side, this is a great deal far the Cardinals.  It’s hard to imagine a situation where Holliday would finish in the top 10 and not be worthy of the $17 million option.

Kurt Warner

The Arizona Cardinals were bounced out of the playoff by the top NFC seed, the New Orleans Saints, on Saturday.  Warner suffered a hard hit while trying to track down a defender who intercepted one of his passes and finished with lackluster numbers (17-26, 205, 0 TD, 1 INT).

After the game, the discussion about a potential retirement began again.  If the Saints game ends up the career finale for Warner, it would be a shame.  The prior week’s game against the Green Bay Packers would have been a more fitting end to a Hall of Fame career.  In that game, Warner completed 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards and 5 TDs without being intercepted.  That performance corresponded to a rating of 154.1.  The NFL’s convoluted rating formula (which takes into account completion percentages, yards per attempt, touchdown percentage and interception percentage) tops out at 158.33, making that performance nearly perfect.

I’m a big fan of Warner’s.  Most fans know his story.  He started for only one season at division 1-AA Northern Iowa, wasn’t drafted by and NFL team, and ended up stocking shelves in a grocery store at one point (for a grand wage of $5.50 per hour).  After lighting up the Arena League and NFL Europe, before getting a chance to be a backup quarterback for the St. Louis Rams.  When started Trent Green went down to an injury during the 1999 pre-season, Warner stepped up and led the Rams to a spectacular season, capped off with a Super Bowl victory.  Two years later, the Rams lost a heartbreaker in another Super Bowl.  Injuries eventually forced Warner out of St. Louis.  He landed with the New York Giants as the tutor for Eli Manning.  He then signed with the hapless Arizona Cardinals – before leading them also to a Super Bowl (alas, another heartbreaking defeat).  Now, at age 38, he seems to be a lock for the Hall of Fame.

Off the field, Warner is a devout Christian and is heavily involved in many charities.

I have a few more reasons to like Kurt Warner.  First of all, I have met the man, and he definitely appears to be the genuine article.  My wife is a Rams fan, and we attended a few training camps.  Warner would sit at a table for hours signing autographs and posing for pictures.  Very cool.

Second, Warner is a native Iowan, and we stick together.  He’s on my Mt. Rushmore.

Finally, Warner led me to a title in the first fantasy football league title in 1999.  In the first game of that season, one of my quarterbacks got hurt.  On a lark, I picked up Warner.  I grew up about 50 miles from the campus of Northern Iowa, so I was familiar with him.  When Warner exploded into a flurry of mind-blowing statistics, I went along for the ride.

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