A’s Grab Holliday

The off-season is officially underway, as thanks to the always entertaining and somewhat unpredictable Billy Beane, we’ve got our first big trade of the winter. While all the details aren’t known as of yet, pretty much every big media outlet is reporting that the Oakland A’s have acquired Matt Holliday for a potpourri of young players whose identities we will eventually learn.

Holliday is an interesting player. Thanks to the Rockies miracle run in 2007, he got all kinds of media attention, even finishing 2nd place in the MVP balloting last year, but because he plays half his games in Coors Field, there’s an underlying skepticism about his real abilities that hangs over his head.

His detractors will instantly point to his enormous career splits between his performance at home and on the road – .357/.423/.645 in Coors, .280/.348/.455 everywhere else. He has almost twice as many home runs in Colorado as he does away from the thin air, and given what we know about park effects and the offensive environment a mile high, we shouldn’t be surprised that Holliday has benefited significantly from his home environment.

However, when you see people pointing to his road numbers as a proxy for his true talent level, you should immediately reject the rest of their conclusions, because despite the ease of that kind of analysis, it simply isn’t accurate. You cannot just throw out Holliday’s performance in Colorado and pretend that it didn’t happen simply because the park is hitter friendly. Instead, the correct way to project his future performance is to adjust his past results to account for the park effects, and use the entire sample of data that we have.

Thankfully, the offensive metric of choice around here is WPA/LI, which expresses offensive wins (without the context leverage that WPA includes) and is park adjusted. By using a linear weights metric like WPA/LI, we can evaluate Holliday’s past offensive value, adjusted down for the Coors effects. Here’s his WPA/LI for each of the last three years.

2006: 3.37 WPA/LI
2007: 5.05 WPA/LI
2008: 3.98 WPA/LI

His WPA/LI boost in 2007 was more about the extra playing time (he cracked 700 PA for the first time in his career) than it was about a huge improvement in his abilities. For the last three years, he’s been a pretty consistent excellent hitter.

Even with the move out of Coors Field and into pitcher friendly Oakland Coliseum, Holiday should be expected to be something like a .300/.380/.500 hitter. Considering he’s been both durable and a quality defensive outfielder, that makes him something like a +4 win player for 2009.

Is he the best player in baseball? No, definitely not, but he’s definitely one of the better outfielders around, and if the A’s think that they’re within four wins of contending next year, he could be the piece that puts them over the top.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

17 Responses to “A’s Grab Holliday”

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  1. Jason T says:

    I was hoping the Rockies would’ve signed Holliday to a long term deal. Not only is he an excellent player, he’s very athletic so his aging curve wouldn’t be as harsh as say…Todd Helton’s. It’s too bad, this town wants to really root for the Rockies, but the team is either unwilling or unable to pony up the cash for a player that’ll actually be worth it.

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  2. Dave Cameron says:

    Let’s not call this a loser for the Rockies just yet – if the current rumored package of Gonzalez/Smith/Street comes to light as the actual haul, than Colorado made the right move in trading Holliday.

    We’ll evaluate the Rockies side of the trade once the trade is official.

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    • Ousy says:

      While I still debate whether it was a smart trade for the Rockies, it definitely worked out well for the them.

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  3. Jason T says:

    You’re right, of course. I’m excited to see the final package.

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  4. Clicky says:

    The real losers are anyone who owns Holliday in a keeper league.

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  5. Jason T says:

    The real losers are anyone who owns Holliday in a keeper league.

    Ugh, anyone who plays in AL/NL only keeper leagues are asking for trouble anyways.

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  6. Darius says:

    I think he means the huge production dropoff, not the switching leagues thingy.

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  7. Rich J says:

    Clicky said,
    “The real losers are anyone who owns Holliday in a keeper league.”

    Not if Matty has already won me wads of cash with keeper league championships in 2006 and 2007 followed by a 3rd place finish in 2008.

    If the sky falls and the A’s sign him long term then yes I’m going to cry. Weather the storm in 2009 and then he’ll be mashing for a big market offense in 2010 and beyond.

    12 team – 12 player play-by-mail keeper league.
    Holliday drafted in 2005.

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  8. Nick says:

    This trade by itself doesn’t seem to make sense for Billy Beane to make for the A’s. Because of what your data shows, I don’t consider the A’s four wins or so from competing for a playoff spot; and I can’t believe Beane would make this trade for an improved team that still won’t contend for the playoffs. I assume there must be something more, or maybe the A’s were just really down on the players they traded away.

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  9. Watcher says:

    If I’m not mistaken, it’s generally better to buy early and sell late in a trade market. It may be that Oakland can get value for Holliday at the trade deadline that equals what they’ll give up now, or exceeds it. If he continues to produce in a non-Coors environment, his value in June could be higher than it is in January.

    This is obviously all moot until we know what Oakland will give up.

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  10. Rich J says:

    I understand Coors Field has an impact on Matt Holliday’s numbers, but before we
    condemn a 2009 season in Oakland where he’ll still get to hopefully go “Vladimir Guerrero” on the Mariners and Rangers pitchers on a regular basis let’s consider his current situation in Colorado.

    Just for fun, let’s not forget that he’ll lose plate appearances at Coors Field, but this also means he no longer has to play a chunk of games in Chavez Ravine, at Petco, at whatever they call it in San Francisco, and at Chase Field in Arizona. These parks are kind of kryptonite for Matt Holliday.

    Coor’s Field GPA
    .352 (1517 plate appearances)

    Petco Park GPA
    .211 (171 plate appearances)

    Dodger Stadium GPA
    .250 (151 plate appearances)

    Pac Bell/AT&T Park GPA
    .254 (185 plate appearances)

    Bank One/Chase Field GPA
    .272 (149 plate appearances)

    at 11 American League Parks he’s visited GPA
    approximately .287 (140 plate appearances)

    320/400/550 can’t be expected in 2009, but hopefully his slugging doesn’t turn him into Bug Holliday 311/376/448 of the 19th Century Cincinnati Reds.

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  11. Bill B. says:

    Don’t forget that Holliday won’t be in the pitching-rich NL West, with Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Derek Lowe (free agent), Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jake Peavy, Chris Young, and all of the relievers we could name as well. Now, he moves into a division where the only notable pitchers are starters John Lackey and Felix Hernandez and relievers Jose Arredondo and J.J. Putz (K-Rod is a free agent, of course).

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  12. When you say +4 wins, you mean above average, right? So (using +2 WAR since he’s been an NL guy), he’s about a 6 WAR player, at least I have him at about that…yeah, that’s better than Mark Teixeira, just barely. The As are rumored to have a bit of a budget this year. Another decent hitter or two, coupled with blogosphere-favorite Mark Ellis, a weak division outside of the aging Angels…

    Billy Beane rides again.

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  13. Jim says:

    I think this is a good deal for both teams, if the rumored package is what it turns out to be. Colorado gets some good potential out of a guy who they would lose to free agency in a year anyway and Oakland can either give the AL west a shot or turn around Holliday and deal him to a nervous competitor for a lot more talent than they gave up.

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  14. Will says:

    Don’t forget that the A’s could keep him all year, let him leave, and take the 2 first round draft picks as compensation. Depending on who they gave up, they might have just gotten a years worth of Matt Holliday for free.

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  15. James says:

    At this point it looks like it was the Gonzalez/Street/Smith deal. I trust Beane on prospects as far as Gonzalez is concerned, and then a closer near arbitration (and coming off a bad year) and a league average pitcher? Beane basically just got a year of Holliday for nearly nothing, and if the A’s aren’t competing can turn him into new young players at the deadline (or, as Will said, get himself some draft picks and some new young players)

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  16. Sky says:

    Are we calling Holliday a +4 WAA player or a +4 WAR player? Because by his WPA/LI history, the first seems more appropriate. And that matches with Justin’s stats.

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