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Checking back in on the Holliday contract

Yup, still a bargain.

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

This past January I took a look at Matt Holliday's contract, the largest in franchise history, signed for seven years/$120 million heading into the 2010 season. Prior to 2016, Holliday had totaled 23.7 fWAR under the contract which is to say it's been a huge bargain for the Cardinals. So much so that even if he had a dismal season this year -€” the last remaining year on the contract (with a team option for 2017 for $17 million) - it would still be worth every penny. The main crux of the column was this:

For perspective, and I'm not sure if there's a perfect science to this calculation, but it seems understood that the cost per win on the free agent market in 2016 is around $7.5 to $8 million.  Even adjusting for inflation (opening day payroll in MLB in 2010 was $2,717,766,875 and ballooned to around $3.6 billion in 2015), Holliday has easily been worth every penny.  In 2016, Steamer projects Holliday to be worth 1.9 wins while ZiPS gives him a zWAR of 1.6.  That's not unfair, he'll be in his age-36 season.  And if he performs to the slightly more conservative ZiPS projection, he'll still finish out the contract (excluding the team option in 2017) costing just under $5 million per win.  On the whole, it would still be regarded as a great contract from the Cardinals' perspective.

Basically, had Holliday equaled the worst season for an outfielder by fWAR since 1901 (that would be Jose Guillen, -3.1 for the Pirates in 1999), the Cardinals would still have gotten their money's worth. Not that that would have been any consolation for a team who can't afford that type of season from a pivotal player if they're going to compete for a playoff spot, but the important thing is it's a moot point because Holliday is producing.

His third inning 2-run homer to centerfield on Tuesday ended up being the difference in the Cardinals' 4-3 victory in the middle game of their series with the Cubs. It was his 13th of the year -€” second on the team to Brandon Moss -€” which is only a welcome surprise given Holliday hit just four home runs in 16 more plate appearances in an injury-plagued 2015. (Yesterday his bat was able to comfortably rest on the bench while the Cardinals disposed of the Cub 7-2 to complete the fist-pumping sweep.)

With nearly 45% of the 2016 season in the books, here are Holliday's numbers thus far compared to MLB as a whole:























MLB Average











Holliday's walk-rate is at its lowest since 2007, which helps explain his lowest on-base rate for his entire career and a major drop from his .394 OBP in limited time last year. But, he's still getting on base above league average, and, as alluded to above, his slugging percentage is up over 70 points from 2015 and at its highest level in three years. A mere cursory glance at his stats show that Holliday, in his age-36 season, is still easily an above-average player. A pretty nice luxury for a guy in the last year of his contract, and a likely guarantee that his option will be picked up for 2017.

ZiPS sees him worth another 1.1 wins the rest of the season, Steamer has him at 1.5. Let's split the difference and stipulate that Holliday will be worth 2.3 wins for the entire year. That would bring him to an even 26 WAR over the course of the contract, not including the option, or the cost of about $4.62 million per win. That's great value.

Jason Heyward would have to be worth about 40 wins over the duration of his contract with the Cubs, assuming the opt-outs aren't exercised, for them to see a similar return. (And that's not picking on Heyward, I would have been fine with the Cardinals giving him a comparable-to-better contract even as his slow start extends into summer.) Albert Pujols would have to be worth around 52 wins with the Angels for his contract to compare well with Holliday's. Currently, in his fifth year in Anaheim, Pujols has been worth 8.8 fWAR.

It's perfectly fine to be dubious of how much a "win" is actually worth on the free agency market (especially when there's currently several ways to measure said wins), or to note that a seven-year/$120 million contract in 2010 has different meaning in 2016. But even the most conservative estimates would likely show that the richest contract in franchise history has been a good one for the Cardinals.