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Trade Fallout: Holliday to the A’s

While the paperwork is not yet finalized and physicals still need to be taken, all indications are that slugging left fielder Matt Holliday is headed to Oakland for outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, left-handed starter Greg Smith and reliever Huston Street.

With a couple of outstanding young starting prospects on the way in Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson, as well as several other well-regarded arms (Gio Gonzalez, James Simmons and Vince Mazzaro) close to contributing, the Athletics are seemingly gearing up for a run at contention in the AL West. While that might seem overly optimistic at first glance, it is important to keep in mind that the Angels significantly outperformed their Pythagorean Record in 2008: according to the club’s runs scored and runs allowed, the Angels “should” have finished 88-74, as opposed to 100-62. Adding Holliday’s bat to an oft-anemic offense, coupled with likely improvement from Daric Barton, the return to health of Travis Buck and perhaps something of a bounceback from Mark Ellis could be enough to push the Angels, especially if we’re talking about a post-Teixeira squad.

What exactly does Holliday’s move to the A’s mean for fantasy owners? The first, instantaneous reaction most will have is that Holliday’s numbers will plummet without a cozy, Coors-aided home ballpark. Holliday has hit a Herculean .357/.423/.645 at home, as opposed to a more tame .280/.348/.455 on the road, but I think we need to discuss the predictive value of home/road splits for a moment.

While there’s no denying that Coors Field is a significantly better hitting environment than Oakland’s McAfee Coliseum, throwing out Holliday’s home stats (i.e. half of his data sample) simply because of this is akin to throwing out the baby with the bath water. As Dave Cameron has pointed out, Holliday has been one of the better hitters in the game, even adjusting for the context of his home ballpark. From 2006-2008, Holliday has ranked 18th, 5th, and 10th, respectively, among all major league hitters in terms of WPA/LI. In terms of Equivalent Average (a Baseball Prospectus stat that also adjusts for home ballpark as well as base running prowess), Holliday has ranked 11th, 12th, and 11th, respectively, from 2006-2008. In other words, the 29 year-old is a top-15 hitter, regardless of where he plays his home games.

In addition to his patience and pop, Holliday has also shown wheels that belie his 6-4, 235 pound frame. The A’s are generally a conservative lot on the base paths (not a bad idea, considering the “break even” rate for SB’s is about 75%), but Holliday’s high-percentage thievery (28 for 30 in 2008, or 93.3%) should give him more autonomy than most.

Over the next few months, you’ll likely hear a lot about how Holliday’s numbers will fall precipitously now that he no longer has the thin Rocky Mountain air at his disposal. While his numbers may take somewhat of a downturn, do not mistake Holliday for a Coors Field creation: he’ll likely continue to rake and be a valuable commodity, both to fantasy owners and to the A’s.