A Holliday Surprise

“It takes a big man to admit he was wrong, but takes an even bigger man to make fun of that man”.

-Unknown, but I’d guess that it would have to be Jack Handey.

I was wrong. I said the price – Brett Wallace – was too much for the Cardinals to pay for a two month rental of Matt Holliday. Factoring salary and production I reckoned Holliday was worth about $8 million of surplus value. According to studies, a top fifty hitting prospect is worth on average $25 million dollars in surplus value. Including Wallace, the Cardinals also gave up two solid prospects (Clayton Mortensen, Shane Peterson) for an additional $3 million worth of surplus value. The math, I figured was simple enough: $28 million is better than $8 million.

I underestimated how much Matt Holliday would enjoy his return to the National League. I mean, he is really, really enjoying it. Holliday is hitting like a man possessed, to the tune of a .459/.490/.776 line in 85 at-bats, something I don’t think anyone could have predicted. Coincidentally, the Cardinals have distanced themselves from the Cubs and are sitting atop the NL Central with a 5 game lead. According to coolstandings.com, their playoff odds have more than doubled from 40% on July 24th (the day they acquired Holliday) to 83% today, and the Cardinals are now on pace to win 91 games. Holliday can’t be credited for doing this single-handedly, obviously, but his performance has been worth +2.01 in win probability added; quite a boost. Obviously he’s been playing over his head, and I still feel good about my expected value figures, but I think I neglected to see how much the deals increased the Cardinals’ playoff odds.

The Cardinals paid a high cost for all their wheeling and dealing, trading six of their top prospects to get Holliday and Mark DeRosa, but the cost looks to be worth the reward, as the difference between an 87 win team to a 91 win team can mean a lot. In the book Baseball Between the Numbers, Nate Silver calculated that reaching the playoffs is worth about an extra $30 million dollars to a club’s bottom line. Flags fly forever, and thanks to Mozeliak’s dealings, the Cardinals are in line for their 23rd postseason appearance in franchise history, barring an unforeseen meltdown.




Print This Post



Erik Manning is the founder of Future Redbirds and covers the Cardinals for Heater Magazine. You can get more of his analysis and rantings in bite-sized bits by following him on twitter.


34 Responses to “A Holliday Surprise”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. someguy132 says:

    but from an expected value standpoint, werent you right? i suppose you didnt include the EV of a playoff spot, but to make up the 20MM you would have to say holliday increased their playoff odds by ~67%, which seems ridiculous. isnt this effectively the same thing as saying the raul ibanez signing was a good one?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Erik Manning says:

      From the expected value, I was right. In a sense. Holliday probably increased their odds of reaching the playoffs by up to 10% (if you look at PECOTA’s adjusted odds, I think that’s right).

      Figure another 4-6% from DeRosa in expected (not in actual) and that’s another $5 million worth in value coming to St. Louis from both deals. Neither deal made it a slam dunk that the Cardinals were going to beat out the Cubs, and it’s still not with several weeks to go. It was a gamble, but it’s proven to be a worthy one.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Sam says:

        Erik, I believe I mentioned this before, but the expected value criterion does not appropriately adjust for risk involved in a prospect. In fact, the author himself (Victor Wang) said that issues about risk aversion leading to risk premium calculations are absent in the prospect evaluation. That alone should go a long way towards making a relatively sure thing like Holliday a much more attractive proposition than the study claims he is.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • B says:

        Other things can be factored in too – getting into the playoffs certainly has value, after all what good does $25M in value do you if you get it in years you aren’t competetive, whereas the Cardinals are competetive this year and Holliday may be a huge factor to get them into the playoffs. How much does it factor in? I don’t have the slightest clue…

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • WY says:

      “but from an expected value standpoint, werent you right? i suppose you didnt include the EV of a playoff spot, but to make up the 20MM you would have to say holliday increased their playoff odds by ~67%, which seems ridiculous. isnt this effectively the same thing as saying the raul ibanez signing was a good one?”

      Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s perfectly fine to wait and see what happens before making these sorts of declarations. A lot of people seem to want to jump in and declare such and such trade or signing as a win, a loss, a success, a failure, etc. Yes, hindsight is 20/20, but so what? Why the rush to judgment?

      If Ibanez winds up having three great seasons, who is to say the signing was a bad one just because many people (myself included) thought it was a bad idea at the time?

      Likewise, if Holliday helps the Cardinals win a World Series and the three prospects that Oakland got all flop and are out of baseball by 2012 (not that I’m not saying this is likely), then why call it a bad trade for the Cardinals? Can’t we admit that our projections are sometimes inaccurate? “The proof is in the pudding” — that’s the cliche that I think applies here.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Nick says:

    Eh, I still say it was a bad trade. We all knew that Holliday was gonna rake. Even if, based on the time we got him up until the season ended, he added 4 WAR, that would improve our odds by about 40%, based on my numbers back then. .40*30 + however, much he improves our world series odds* revenue gained from reaching the world series, probably equals about 20 -25 million.

    Wallace is still likely worth more than that.

    Besides, I love Holliday, but guys like Josh Willingham, or CHAD FUCKING GAUDIN AND HIS ~3.50 FIP, were likely availabe for much less (definitely the case with Gaudin) and would improve our odds similiarly.

    – viva

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Nick says:

    I do like the quote though :)

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. MU789 says:

    If Wallace can only play 1st base then his value to the Cardinals was about the same as Chris Duncan. If he is not going to play 3rd base his greatest value to the Cardinals was always his trade value.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Nick says:

      Bullshit. I hate when people use that argument. Even as a -15 run defender at third, he would only have to hit something like .280/.350/.450, to be a league average player. That’s incredibly valuable over 6 cost controlled years. Not to mention that most people think he has the ability to hit, and field, better than those numbers. Of course, there is a chance that he busts, but that’s included in Victor Wangs prospect valuation, which has him at about 25 million.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • aweb says:

        That’s very true…it seems to be overstated sometimes how players need to be moved off challenging defensive positions. Someone has to be below average fielding at each position, and if you avoid being a disaster at a key position like third, that’s just fine. C. Jones was never a great 3B defensively (or so I recall), and Jeter was often terrible at SS (seems to have improved?), but both provided huge value to their teams by playing an important defensive position reasonably, if not well. And hitting. Lots of hitting.

        Also, defense can be improved by good coaching and practice, just like anything else. He’s almost 23, it’s hardly a given he can’t ever be a better defender than his reputation as of now.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • MU789 says:

        The Cardinals used to be willing to put a weak glove at third (Shannon, Torre, van Slyke) but that wasn’t under LaRussa. Hell, this year LaRussa had to play Thurston at third and it wasn’t for his bat. For better or worse Wallace wasn’t going to play 3rd as long as LaRussa is the manager and getting Holliday made Tony very happy. The Cardinal owners are very concerned with keeping Tony happy.

        For better or worse, it was more than just the numbers with Wallace and Mo used the chip he had to get the Cardinals in the WS this year. Wallace can go on to be Mike Schmidt but if the Cardinals win the WS this year with Holliday there won’t be any regrets.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • someguy132 says:

        Nick,

        i dont think you’ve disproven MU789’s contention that his greatest value was as a trade chip. if wallace has more value at 1b than 3b, then just because he was a viable option at 3b doesn’t meant they couldn’t have gotten more value by trading him. they could get extra value from a team who could play him at 1b and would be willing to pay more than what the cardinals could get from him at 3b.

        that being said, it doesnt seem they were able to get extra value through trading him.. or rather, they werent supposed to, but holliday got hot and they got lucky.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Nick says:

        I don’t think that Wallace neccesarily has more value as a first baseman. He would have to be at least 15 runs better defensively at first for that to happen – and I doubt that is the case.

        Even if Wallace has more value as a first baseman, he still has a lot of value as a third baseman to the Cardinals- moreso than Holliday does.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • rizzo says:

        I’m not sure why people would expect him to field 3B appreciably better than he currently is. It’s not as if his weakness is an inaccurate throwing arm or booting balls hit right to him. He’s a big man that doesn’t possess much range or lateral quickness, it seems you’re better off accepting his defensive play at 3B as is as opposed to forecasting much improvement.

        He also hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in AA-AAA this year in terms of power or patience. Hard to say with any certainty that he’s really going to hit with the power required to be a + player at a corner spot

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • BX says:

        rizzo:

        I might be wrong on this, but it appears as if Wallace has slimmed down a little since being drafted. I saw some recent pics of him with the Rivercats and he looked notably slimmer than some pics from last year.

        That could possibly have a bearing on his defense.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • B says:

      “If he is not going to play 3rd base his greatest value to the Cardinals was always his trade value.”

      If we assume this is true, let’s just keep in mind the GM should still try to trade him for fair market value. Just because you’re looking to trade a guy doesn’t mean you should take less than he’s worth.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Felix says:

        OTOH, what’s to say that Wallace’s value doesn’t plummet when/if the other GMs realize he’s strictly a 1B? They never promoted him despite the suckitude at 3B this season prior to the DeRo trade so perhaps they saw something we (as outsiders) didn’t?

        Maybe Wallace turns into an All-Star 3B in Oakland and wins a few batting titles. Maybe not. I feel it’s a worthwhile risk when the acquisition of Holliday improves the playoff odds so much for the Cardinals.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • BX says:

        They never promoted him despite the suckitude at 3B this season prior to the DeRo trade so perhaps they saw something we (as outsiders) didn’t?

        or because promoting top prospects when they have had about 1/2 a professional season in their career, really isn’t an intelligent idea.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Brian says:

    You allude to this, but reality tells us this is too good to be true. Holliday cannot maintain this for the remainder of the season. This won’t even be a debate when that happens.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Joe R says:

    Hindsight is 20/20, no one thought Holliday would tear it up this much.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Teej says:

    I believe the original Jack Handy quote was “It takes a big man to cry, but it takes a bigger man to make fun of that man.” But the idea still works.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. astrostl says:

    As a Cardinal fan I root for Holliday every day and I’m beyond pleased with our current position in the standings, but I still very much disagree with the notion that good results necessarily indicate good decisions. Decisions (to acquire) are made before the results (baseball performance) are known, and I think the only fair way to evaluate them is to continue asking, “is/was it a good idea based on the available information/information being used?”

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Erik Manning says:

      I think he was. Three extra wins (DeRo, Holliday…I’m lumping them together). A three win player means has vastly different values to a non-contending team, a relative lock for the playoffs (Like NYY) or a team that’s on the bubble, like the Cardinals were.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. And Also says:

    Just speculating here, but wouldn’t the market rate for wins account for some of the increase in the odds of making the playoffs? The dollars/wins figure that fangraphs uses isn’t based on the increase in profit strictly from an increase in wins. It’s their calculation for the market value of a win on the open market, and it’s not like teams aren’t factoring increased odds of making the playoffs when they sign free agents.

    This is why it’s important to make a standardized, methodical calculation of the bottom-line value of players. Sabermetrics can’t just wing it on the money stuff. Unfortunately I haven’t seen many good definitions, forget estimates, of player value from a profit perspective.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Wally says:

      That is definitely a good point, but the non-linear nature of value/wins still presents a big problem. Either you get in the playoffs or you don’t. You don’t make it to the play offs 80% of the time in a single baseball season. So the estimations are great for determining average value and what not, but when it comes to making trades that are very context specific, we have to think about the non-linearity of player value/win, and team specific value. To take the extreme, obviously Holliday is not worth this much the Royals, or even the Yankees (who have pretty much sealed up their playoff birth), where the extra 1-2 wins is problem worth less than the WAR based calculation. But to a team on the fringe, like the Cards were, just an extra 1-2 wins, is going to be worth a lot more. As such, using expected values, as done at the top of the comments, seems the appropriate way to handle this. If you can reason that adding 2 wins (the rough expected value of Holliday from the time of the trade to the end of the season), increases your playoff odds by 10%, and the playoffs are worth 30 million, then there’s some 3 million of additional value to think off here. Obviously, the averages account for that playoff chance to some extent, but it can not be any where near this strong of a weighting. So maybe that 3 million is really just 2.5 or 2 million. I don’t know, because I don’t know the specifics on how WAR is translated to dollar values. But some one does, and someone could surely minus out the playoff related value already accounted for by WAR’s dollar figures from those increased playoff odd value.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Tim says:

    The final verdict on this trade boils down to the following…

    a) will the Cardinals make/win the World Series in 2009?
    b) can they lock Holliday up to a long term contract?
    c) does Albert Pujols sign a contract extension?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Fan59 says:

    Holliday was pretty much a bust in oakland until july came around and got ho tand has continued that in STL. They invested 9mill in that guy over those 4 months. Supposedly he was “miserable”, rarely showed any emotions. The holliday they traded at the time, is not the player they expected back in preseason. Wallace has somewhat struggled in AAA, buit check out same 08 draftee Justin Smoak in also. Its foolish to judge them in their 1st full seasons when their progression has been accelerated

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Senior Circuit says:

    It has less to do with his “enjoying” his return to the NL than it does to do with his regaining his original stance. He sought help from Mark McGuire at the start of this season and he was advised to drop the motion where he lifts his leg up to time the pitch. After sucking for a couple months in Oakland, he decided to go back to it, and was RED hot even in the mighty AL prior to being traded. He’s simply continuing that hot streak in the NL.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Kincaid says:

    Where exactly is the $25 million figure for Wallace coming from? Victor’s article has hitters ranked 25-40 in preseason BA rankings (where Wallace was slotted) as averaging just under $20 million in surplus value. The average for top-50 hitting prospects is close to $25 million based on Wang’s numbers in that article once you throw in the top-10 and 11-25 prospects to that group, but that would defeat the purpose of splitting prospects into groups as he has done. It seems in your original evaluation, you used the estimated mid-season rankings, but that is not appropriate given the rankings Wang’s research was based on were only preseason rankings. The midseason rankings exclude all the prospects who have graduated to the Majors in the meantime but don’t include any of the new prospects coming in from the draft, so a prospect’s ranking can be inflated in those rankings relative to the bracketing preseason rankings. Here you say top-50, so I’m not sure what you are going by. Perhaps you can clarify?

    Beyond that, it would seem that Victor has since decided that he was overvaluing future win value by using an inflation rate higher than his discount rate and has since changed that (from the THT article describing the Guttridge-Wang model for trade evaluation). In a recent article on the same site, Adam Guttridge wrote an evaluation of this trade using that model, which uses Victor Wang’s prospect valuation system, and assigned Wallace a surplus value of $14.67 million.

    Ignoring the improved playoff odds for St. Louis is a significant omission (Guttridge values that at $6.55 million), but the $25 million value for Wallace seems out of left field, and I think that is throwing off the initial evaluation just as much.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Newton Lyda says:

    I can¡¯t remember the last time I enjoyed an article as much as this one. You have gone beyond my expectations on this topic and I agree with your points. You¡¯ve done well with this.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>