Matt Holliday: The Model of Consistency

Fantasy owners often cite the mantra “you can’t win your league in the first round, but you could lose it”. It reinforces the notion of sticking with the safety of an established veteran, rather than reaching for the sky with a youngster that possesses tons of upside. While Matt Holliday is no longer worthy of first round consideration, he’s exactly the type of player that helps you avoid losing your league. He was once again a strong contributor, earning nearly $26 and ranking 10th in value among outfielders.

While it is true that winning fantasy team rosters typically include their fair share of breakouts, a consistent bat that you know will produce is plenty valuable as well. And there are few players who have been consistently excellent like Holliday has. Check out his historical wOBA marks.

Source: FanGraphsMatt Holliday

Holliday enjoyed peak production during his days in Colorado and predictably tapered off since leaving in 2008. But in Oakland and St. Louis, he has posted wOBA marks in a very narrow range between .378 and .397. That’s quite impressive. Of course, wOBA isn’t typically a fantasy category, but Holliday has also contributed positive value in batting average every single year. His career low came during his rookie year in 2004, and that was still a beneficial .290 mark.

Oddly, Holliday may have broken the xBABIP calculator. He sports a career .343 mark, some of which could be chalked up to Coors Field’s BABIP inflation abilities, but since leaving, he’s still managed to post marks ranging between .322 and .341. However, his xBABIPs the last three seasons have all sat between .300 and .310. Looking at his batted ball type distribution, that isn’t all that surprising. He’s very close to the league average in every single one of them and has only decent speed.

Fortunately, his 2013 batted ball direction distribution (pulled, center, opposite) may hold the answer. Holliday hit the most balls to the center of the field, which I found had the highest positive correlation with BABIP. That is likely a consistent skill and over his career, he has hit nearly as many balls to center as he has to the pull field. Considering how long he has managed to sustain an inflated BABIP mark, it is clear that it hasn’t just been good fortune all these years. He has a hitting skill not captured by xBABIP that leads to more balls falling in for hits.

Aside from his overall production, Holliday has also been rather consistent with his power output. Here is his isolated slugging percentage history in visual form.

Source: FanGraphsMatt Holliday

Aside from the power spike in 2006 and 2007 with the Rockies, Holliday has been extremely consistent, notching ISO marks between .190 and .229 in every other season. The one negative worth pointing out is that his average fly ball and home run distance dropped to its lowest mark this season since the data has been available. His 289 foot distance is still very good and paired with a 15% HR/FB rate doesn’t raise any eyebrows, but it could be the first sign of impending decline.

And that leads me to the biggest problem with Holliday — his age. He will be 34 next season and that’s typically an age in which players are well past their primes. If you look hard enough, you could see that there has been the slightest of gradual declines here — after all, his wOBA the last two years were his lowest since his debut. But players don’t always age gracefully and falling off a cliff happens. There’s absolutely nothing under the hood that suggests that this is the case, but age itself is enough of a concern to stop from going the extra dollar for the supposed safety of his consistency.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

9 Responses to “Matt Holliday: The Model of Consistency”

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  1. His high BABIP passes the eye test. He hits the ball really hard, even if it’s on the ground. It leads to a lot of GIDP but allows balls to get through.

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  2. Nick says:

    Anybody who had him in a head-to-head league in 2013 knows he went absolutely nuts in the second half including a 205 wRC+ in Sept. The guy flat-out rakes.

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  3. Zach says:

    As a Cards fan, happy to have this guy on my team. Not too worried about Holliday falling off a cliff, the guy can just flat out rake

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    • SeanTronX says:

      If he falls off a cliff it’s because he wants to punch the ground. Matty H is a beast. Go Cards!

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  4. shibboleth says:

    So for better context, would you draft him in the second round of a 12-team league? That has 5 OF?

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  5. Ben says:

    His 2013 line pretty exactly mirrors his 2011 line, when he was definitely still a first round pick, or near first round pick.

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  6. Cory says:

    Also, the man chews gum with ferocity. Even his jaw muscles bulge.

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  7. Lanidrac says:

    Could that skill possibly be a high line-drive rate? It’s amazing how many people give too much credit to BABIP when looking for possible sample size errors for both hitters and pitchers, completely ignoring the obvious facts that line drives result in more hits, while ground balls result in much fewer extra-base hits.

    Anyway, you’ve gotta love those line drive hitters with power like Holliday, Pujols, Berkman, Cabrera, Braun, and Votto. These guys consitently hit for high averages, avoid prolonged slumps as long as they’re healthy, have reasonable strikeout rates and healthy walk rates, while still hitting a lot of homers and doubles.

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Holliday’s career line drive rate is right around the league average. As is Pujols’ and Berkman’s. Ryan Braun’s has actually been below the league average. Cabrera has a slightly higher than league average career line drive rate. Only Votto has a high line drive rate that explains his inflated BABIP.

      But that’s all factored into xBABIP, which is befuddled by Holliday.

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