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.