Matt Holliday will eat your appendix for lunch and then hit a homerun


St. Louis is 16-11 on the season. We're winning 59.3% of our games. That translates to a 96-66 record on the season. The Reds are currently two games back. Prior to looking that up, I would not have guessed the season was going that well. My liver certainly doesn't think the season is going that well. Given the bullpen meltdowns and injuries to key players the Cardinals have suffered to start the season, it felt like we were closer to . . . say Seattle's record than the Rangers' or Yankees' record.

When a team is performing this well there's usually a lot of reasons that play into it. The starting pitching has been mostly quite good. Kyle Lohse is pitching as well as he ever has. Kyle McClellan seems better equipped to handle 6 innings than I would have wagered. Chris Carpenter, at 36, remains an elite pitcher. Jaime Garcia has increased his strikeout rate and decreased his walk rate building off of a legitimate ROY campaign. Jake Westbrook has scuffled early but turned in an impressive outing last time. Suffice to say the rotation is better than average.

The position players are nothing to scoff at either. Colby Rasmus, while in something of a cool streak right now, is hitting over .300 for the season and getting on base nearly 40% of the time. Lance Berkman has been an absolute revelation on offense. Berkman has, in some ways, stolen the offensive narrative from the team during the early parts of the season. David Freese continues his trek down the path of unsustainable numbers with a 4.4% walk rate, .468 BABIP, 25% K rate and a .365 batting average. How that all balances out in the end . . . well don't think about that. Yadier Molina has rebounded back to league average offense. Ryan Theriot continues the bizarre OBP>SLG trend doing an admirable job out of the leadoff position.

 

The player I really want to talk about today though is Matt Holliday. Lego is rapidly becoming my favorite player on this team. The jolly Cardinal giant is having an incredible year as well.  But let's go back a bit first. . .

The Cardinals acquired Matt Holliday by shipping over Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson to the Oakland Athletics one weekend as I drove to Springfield, MO to watch the AA team. (I still remember thinking Fritz was trolling me with the text message about the trade.)  It was a heady collection of prospects including our top 2008 draft selection and second pick in the 2007 draft. The trade ultimately revolved around what you thought of Brett Wallace at the time and many people thought that he was worth far more than a half season of Matt Holliday. (Reaction Threads 1 & 2)

Holliday hit .353/.419/.604 for the Cardinals in 2009 and was a significant part of their playoff push before an unfortunate missed catch in the playoffs erased everyone's memory of his regular season heroics. Needless to say, Cardinal fans were a little disgruntled with the early offseason in 2009.

Then the Cardinals began the process of re-signing Matt Holliday and this is where history gets quite interesting to me. Let's take a quick look at two players:

Player 1 Player 2
.336   wOBA   .396
-1.2   UZR 6.6
1.4   WAR 6.7

 

The player on the left is Jason Bay's 2010 season. The player on the right is Matt Holliday's 2010 season. Bay signed a 4 year, $66M deal with a $17M club option. Matt Holliday signed a 7 year, $120M deal with the Cardinals. If we set the market rate at $4M/year and accept these WAR numbers at face value for true talent, Bay's contract is worth about -$55M in surplus value. Yes, you read that right. Bay, using the specious assumption of his 2010 season, is worth about $11M between 2010-2013. Matt Holliday by the same calculations would be worth about $190M or $70M more than what we will be paying him for the life of his contract.

Now, those are specious assumptions. We should use some kind of weighted Marcel projection at a minimum to get a true talent derivation and go from there. That said, the disparity in those contracts is appalling. Surely the reactions at the time were equally disparate? Right. Here's the thread with my favorite cherry picked excerpt:

Makes the Bay contract look really good

I don’t dislike Holliday, but we definately negotiated as if he had all the leverage. I’m sure other teams wanted Holliday, but for 7 years? I doubt it.

Just like the Lohse contract, Mo was way to quick with the trigger. You have to play a little hardball as a gm.

by The Birds

Don't worry though because elsewhere the Bay signing was touted as one of the best of the season and the Holliday signing wasn't even a blip on the meter. We were all busy complaining about the length of the Holliday deal as well without acknowledging that he was an elite player getting paid what looked like market value for his effort. (More reactions here.)

Now, there were obviously some mixed opinions on both sides of these signings when they occurred but one year later, would ANYONE take Jason Bay's contract over Matt Holliday? Does anyone think it looks like we overpaid for Matt Holliday? At the time I argued that the contract was something at or very near his market value. A year later, there's a strong case to be made that the Cardinals have a chance to significantly underpay Holliday during the life of his contract. They certainly underpaid him last year . . .

. . . and it looks like they will again this year. Holliday is a notoriously slow starter but this April he's been nothing shy of amazing sans appendix and all. Holliday is currently hitting .408/.511/.618 and has accumulated nearly 2 WAR in a month's time. That's astounding. While he has a BABIP that even Freese is envious of, Holliday's walk rate is up to 14% and his isolated power remains at a heady .200+.  ZiPS projects him to end the season with a wOBA over .401 -- a feat matched only by Lance Berkman with Pujols clocking in at a .397 end of year projection.

The Cardinals took some heat for this contract. They were "bidding against themselves" and giving "too many years on an average value contract" but this contract looks solid with the benefit of a year's hindsight. More importantly, Matt Holliday continues to power the Cardinals to wins in the present season and is a big part of why the Cardinals are playing like a 96 win team right now. So when the talk turns to Lance Berkman's incredible rebound, Albert Pujols long time heroics, the starting rotation's impressive ability or any other of a myriad of stories, don't forget Matt Holliday. He's pretty freakin' good in his own right.

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