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Big Man, Big Contract, Big Production

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Matt Holliday took a lot of slack at the start of this season for his poor hitting in RISP situations. While it wasn't predictive of anything, I can empathize with a fan base that struggles to reconcile a contract that's the largest in Cardinals' history and the player who can't drive in runs after receiving it.  Whatever those concerns might have been, I'm here to put them to rest. You may have missed it but Matt Holliday is putting together exactly the season that he was expected to.  Barring anything unforeseen, it's also the first season that should help give us a good indication that he will be worth his contract.

Offense (+37 runs)

Prior to the season, the projection systems pegged Mr. Holliday at a near .400 wOBA. There wasn't much variation between ZiPS, CHONE or Marcel with the three systems projecting .399, .390, .398.  Matt Holliday has produced right in line with those expectations posting a .391 wOBA. Offense around the league is down a touch resulting in a .325 wOBA being the benchmark. Matt Holliday has posted 359 plate appearances over 84 games this season. Assuming he reaches 650, which seems conservative, and he holds at this offensive level relative to league average, Holliday would amass 37.3 batting runs.

Defense (+5 runs)

(Let me preface this by saying I've recently -- in the last 3 months -- become increasingly skeptical of defensive metrics. Not a non-believer but just far more cautious in my level of trust. This thread all but solidified that. If you don't read anything else -- and I wouldn't blame you -- read comment #49 by Mike Fast.)

So far this season, UZR has Matt Holliday at +9.2 runs. Matt Holliday, to my eye, has looked considerably better in the field this year than in the past. That said, 9.2 runs seems exorbitant at mid-season. Dewan's defensive system has him a more moderate 5 runs at mid-season.  So in terms of what he's actually done this season, I think it's fair to say he's been above average.

To get a better feel for what we should look for in end of season numbers, we'll take a quick and dirty look at the last three seasons. UZR, beginning with 2007, has him at +5, +3, +4. Dewan's +/- has him at 3, 5, 14.  There are two things I want to observe here. 1) Matt Holliday is a good defender in left field relative to his peers. 2) It's possible that Matt Holliday actually has been +9 runs this season. Looking at the numbers over the last three years, that's not an outrageous number especially if you consider that he may be having an outlier of a defensive season. Still, +5 seems like a reasonably close assignment for what his end-of-season numbers could/should be.

Baserunning (-1 runs)

Matt Holliday has been worth -.3 runs this year according to Dan Fox's baserunning metric at Baseball Prospectus. Most players will show variance in their year-to-year baserunning stats but the numbers hover around neutral. Only the true outliers will be consistently positive or negative on the bases.  (Colby Rasmus was worth 4.3 runs in 2009 on the bases -- best on the team. Sorry, back to Matt Holliday.) In 2009, Holliday accumulated -.8 runs on the bases. In 2008, he was worth 8.1 runs. In 2007, he was worth 3.1 runs. In 2006, -2.2 runs. So you'll see that there's a large swing in year to year performance but Matt Holliday is probably near neutral on the bases.

Position (-7.5 runs)

Replacement (+20 runs)

2010 Total Performance = 37 + 5 - 1 -7.5 + 20 = 53.5 runs

So based on the season Holliday is having, he's roughly a 5.3 win type season. At $4M/win, that puts Matt Holliday at a $20M player. Holliday is actually a bit of a surplus value given that he's making $17M.

Now in the long term, we can make some crude assumptions about Holliday's production. He's entering his decline phase so it's likely that he'll decline around 5 runs per season.  If we hold inflation flat for two years (economic difficulties) and then assume the traditional 10% inflation of salaries, that produces the following numbers:

Year WAR $/Win Produced $ Salary Difference
2010 5.3 4.0 21.2 17 +4.2
2011 4.8 4.0 19.2 17 +2.2
2012 4.3 4.0 17.2 17 +0.2
2013 3.8 4.4 16.7 17 -0.3
2014 3.3 4.9 16.2 17 -0.8
2015 2.8 5.4 15.1 17 -1.9
2016 2.3 6.0 13.8 17 -3.2


That table puts the Cardinals at about $400k in the plus over the life of Matt Holliday's contract with me making some nasty economic assumptions and somewhat standard aging.  Matt Holliday is having a really great season.  Traditionally, he's a second half hitter with a OPS that's 74 points higher based on career numbers. It's possible that this season looks even better at the end of the year than it does now -- of course the opposite is also possible, if less likely.  If you want to be on the Matt Holliday bandwagon, now seems like a good time to hop on; it's likely to pick up speed.

The other item, with an eye to the long term, is that the good start to 2010 portends well for Matt Holliday's contract in its totality. Despite the odd nature of the 2010 clubs offensive woes, Matt Holliday isn't part of the problem. He's one of the few offensive bright spots and I hope that's a little clearer now.