Is Matt Holliday’s run of Consistency Over?

Ever since Matt Holliday came into the league in 2004, he has been a model of consistency. His WAR increased after each of his first two seasons before peaking at 7.2 WAR in his fourth MLB season. Since reaching 7.2 WAR, Holliday has yet to fall below 4.5 WAR. While Holliday has yet to experience any significant declines in production, he has seen a few areas of his game begin to decline, especially in his power production. For a 34-year-old player, this is not incredibly surprising, but as a power hitter, it is a little concerning. With Holliday heading into his age-34 season, it is important to question whether he is still the model of consistency that he has been since reaching the MLB. For the 2014 campaign, the ZiPS Projection System sees Holliday declining a career high 1.4 wins all the way down to 3.1 WAR. This is still a very respectable total, but it is a quick drop for such a steady performer and could indicate further drops in production.

As I mentioned above, Holliday’s power production has been on a steady decline. His SLG% has declined for 3 straight seasons and settled in at .490 in 2013, which is his lowest SLG% since his rookie campaign in 2004. Holliday’s Isolated Power has dipped each of the past two seasons and even reached a career low of .190 in 2013. Both these numbers are very impressive, especially since they are at or near his career lows; however, they still represent an alarming trend with his power production. As would be expected with a lower SLG% and ISO, Holliday’s HR/FB% has declined for two straight seasons falling to 15%. While Holliday has never been considered a plus fielder, his UZR/150 has declined each of the last 3 seasons all the way down to -7.0. With all these statistics declining, Holliday’s WAR has dropped each of the past three seasons.

While Holliday has seen some dip in his power production, many other areas of his game have improved or stayed relatively constant. Also, despite his SLG and ISO declining, Holliday has still topped 20 homers in each of the past 8 seasons. He has also had a very healthy BB% since 2008, as it has remained above 10% each season and reached 11.5% in 2013, just under his career high of 11.9%. Even more impressive than his steady walk rate is that he lowered his K% to 14.3% in 2013, which was just above his career best K% of 13.8%. Altogether, Holliday was able to set a career best BB/K ratio of .80 in 2013. In recent years Holliday has maintained both a high Batting Average and a high On-Base Percentage. Holliday has remained such a strong contributor at the plate, despite his worsening power, in large part because his OBP has remained extremely high. OBP is something that usually ages very well, which is encouraging for Holliday because so much of his offensive value hinges on his ability to reach base. In each of the last 7 seasons, Holliday’s wRC+ has been over 140 and was even 148 in 2013. For reference, 100 wRC+ is considered average, so 140 is excellent. There is no doubt that Holliday has remained an outstanding hitter over the past few years, but the real question is whether he will see a significant drop in production as he enters his age-34 season.

While his overall production has remained impressive, it is important to look at his contact rates and balls in play data in order to determine if this production is likely to continue. Throughout his career, Holliday has had an incredibly high Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP), with his career BABIP at .343. However, his BABIP dropped to a career low of .322 in 2013. Despite his BABIP falling from the previous season, he was still able to increase his batting average, which suggests he can continue to hit for a strong average even if his BABIP falls a little more. While his SLG and BABIP were down last year, Holliday actually increased his LD% above his career average, but also saw his Infield Flyball% (IFFB%) spike to 13.6%. Another encouraging sign with his LD% increasing was the fact that he also increased his Contact% to 81%, which marked a career high. His high contact rate no doubt helped him cut his K%, which will be important moving forward.

As Holliday continues to age into his mid-30’s, it will be interesting if he can remain the model of consistency that he has been for his entire career. It is clear that Holliday cannot sustain his current level of success for the remainder of his career, but little evidence suggests that 2014 will be the first year he experiences a significant drop in production. His lessening power is not a major concern to his overall game as long as he is able to maintain his high OBP skills and low K%. Turning back to the ZiPS projection of a 3.1 WAR, I do not see Holliday’s production taking that big of a hit, as their projection also calls for a .029 drop in OBP, which seems unlikely given his consistency in being able to get on base and the fact that OBP tends to age well. I expect Holliday to continue his slow decline, but I still see him posting a WAR above 4.0 and an OBP north of .375, especially if he can maintain a BB% in the double digits.

Anthony Cacchione

Top 5 General Managers

1. Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay Rays
Friedman’s true position with the Rays is Vice President of Baseball Operations, but Friedman performs all the tasks of a General Manager. Since assuming the role in 2005, Friedman has transformed the Rays from the worst organization in baseball to consistent contenders in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. He has also done this with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball because the Rays play in a small market with one of the worst stadiums in the Majors. Since Friedman took over in 2005, the Rays have averaged a meager $48 Million and peaked at approximately $72 Million. This has not stopped Andrew Friedman from building a contender year in and year out as the Rays have topped 90 wins in 5 of the last six seasons. Friedman has been able to maintain a low payroll, while fielding a quality team by strengthening the farm system through trades and making savvy business decisions (e.g. Extending his young stars). In his time with the Rays, Friedman has taken the Rays to the postseason four times including one World Series. His first, and possibly best, move was hiring Joe Maddon as the Rays’ manager. This may seem insignificant, but Maddon’s unconventional style fit very well with the Front Office’s approach, as he has embraced sabermetrics and helped change the culture of the previous management. Friedman’s top move related to players was drafting and extending Evan Longoria. The Rays took Evan Longoria in the first round of the 2006 season and then in 2008, just six games into his Major League career, Longoria signed a 6-year $17.5 million extension that has since led to another extension of 6-years, $100 Million. Friedman has also been able to continually replenish the Rays’ farm system by trading his top Major Leaguers, who are nearing free agency. Such trades have netted the Rays Wil Myers and Chris Archer, among others. Both Archer and Myers competed for the AL Rookie of the Year award last year, with Myers eventually taking the award home.

2. Billy Beane, Oakland Athletics
Maybe the most well-known GM in the game following the movie Moneyball, Beane has certainly earned his spot on this list by sustaining success with a small market team for 16 years. Beane revolutionized the game of baseball by implementing sabermetrics and finding attributes that other teams undervalue. The Athletics have made the playoffs six times under Beane, but have not reached the World Series since 1990. While he has not experienced great success in the Postseason, Beane has been at the helm for 10 winning seasons among his 16 as GM, including two 100+ win seasons. He is best known for being able to make smart trades and key free agent signings at low prices. The greatest example of this is in 2006 when Beane signed Frank Thomas for a mere $500,000 plus incentives and Thomas rewarded him with 39 hrs, 114 RBI and a .381 OBP. This signing propelled the A’s into the postseason eventually reaching the ALCS. Many of Beane’s top trades came prior to the 2012 season when Beane traded away two of his top, young starting pitchers – Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez – and his young closer – Andrew Bailey. After failing to reach the Playoffs for 5 seasons, many people viewed these trades as Beane giving up on the 2012 season and committing to a rebuild. However, the returns that Beane received in these deals carried the A’s to become champions of the AL West. In return for his young pitchers, Beane received starting pitcher, Jarrod Parker; reliever, Ryan Cook; starting pitcher, Tommy Milone; catcher, Derek Norris; and Right Fielder, Josh Reddick. All of whom made great contributions to the team’s success last season and are all under 29 years old, which means they are likely in the midst of their primes. Heading into this season, Beane has utilized his surplus resources to improve the team’s bullpen, trading for Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson.

3. John Mozeliak, St. Louis Cardinals
While John Mozeliak has the shortest tenure of any GM on this list, as he took over in 2007, he has had some of the most success of anyone on this list. When Mozeliak assumed the role of GM, the Cardinals had the worst Farm System in baseball. Since then, Mozeliak has turned the Cardinals farm system into one of the most productive in baseball. As 23 players Mozeliak drafted appeared in the Majors last season. Although much of this success is due to former Scouting Director, Jeff Luhnow, Mozeliak was still very influential for many of the drafts. The Cardinals have made the playoffs four times under Mozeliak including a World Series Championship in 2011 and WS appearance in 2013. Mozeliak’s first big move was trading an aging star in Jim Edmonds for David Freese. At the time this trade seemed insignificant, but Freese has developed into a tremendous third baseman and was the World Series MVP in 2011. Before Freese became too expensive, Mozeliak traded him to the Angels. In 2009, making a play for the postseason, he traded top prospect Brett Wallace among other minor leaguers to the Athletics for Matt Holliday, who was approaching Free Agency. The Cardinals went on the make the postseason and then Mozeliak signed Holliday to a 7-year extension. Through the first 4 seasons of his extension, Holliday has been very successful, averaging over 5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Mozeliak may have made his best move when he traded Colby Rasmus and others to the Blue Jays for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski and Corey Patterson. This trade propelled the Cardinals to the postseason and eventually to their 11th World Series Championship in team history. While only Marc Rzepczynski remained with the team beyond 2011, the Cardinals received supplemental draft picks for Jackson and Dotel signing elsewhere. Mozeliak has been very conservative on the Free Agent market, only signing four players not already on the Cardinals’ roster to multi-year deals. However, Mozeliak did sign Lance Berkman to a one-year deal when many others thought he was done and Berkman helped the Cardinals win the World Series in 2011. Following their 2011 championship season, Mozeliak made the bold decision to not pay superstar Albert Pujols, who went on to sign a 10-year, $240 Million with the Los Angeles Angels. This choice set a precedent of allowing a team’s superstar to sign elsewhere. The Rangers’ GM, Jon Daniels, followed this precedent following the 2012 season, when he refused to match the Angels’ offer to Josh Hamilton. Following a return to the World Series, Mozeliak swiftly addressed his team’s needs this offseason by trading for Peter Bourjos and signing Jhonny Peralta within two days of each other. Mozeliak’s greatest attribute has been his ability to build through a young core of homegrown players, while making filling out the remainder of the roster with quality outside additions.

4) Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers
By the time Dombrowski took over as the General Manager of the Tigers in 2002, he had already served as the GM of two other organizations. Dombrowski began his General Managerial career with a four-year stint with the Montreal Expos. After enjoying moderate success for the Expos, Dombrowski was recruited to serve as the GM of the newly formed Florida Marlins. In his fifth season as the GM of the Marlins, they won the World Series over the Cleveland Indians, which marked the pinnacle of his tenure with the Marlins. In 2002, Dombrowski then joined the Detroit Tigers as their President and CEO, but after just six games, Dombrowski fired the incumbent GM and assumed his familiar role as GM. After seeing the Tigers through a difficult rebuilding process, the Tigers reached the World Series in 2006 and have had 6 winning seasons among their last 8 seasons. The Tigers have reached the Postseason 4 times under his guidance, including two World Series appearances. Dombrowski has built a powerhouse with the Tigers, with 3 straight 1st place finishes in the AL Central. Dombroswki’s greatest trade, and one of the largest steals in recent history, happened in 2005, when he traded Burke Badenhop, Andrew Miller, and Cameron Maybin, among others to the Florida Marlins in exchange for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. While Willis never amounted to much for the Tigers, Cabrera has slashed .329/.407/.588 in his first 6 seasons with the Tigers. Cabrera has also won a Triple Crown and 2 straight MVP awards. Dombrowski has also done an incredible job of building the Tigers’ rotation. Of the Tigers’ 5 starters in 2013, Dombrowski acquired 3 of them via trade and the 2 remaining starters with 1st round picks in the Amateur Draft. Those two picks were Justin Verlander, one of the best pitchers in the game, and Rick Porcello, who began his MLB career at just 20 years of age. Dombrowski traded for last year’s AL Cy Young award winner, Max Scherzer, in 2009. Along with Scherzer, he also landed Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth in exchange for Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson. Dombrowski also acquired Anibal Sanchez near the 2012 Trade Deadline from the Marlins in exchange for top prospect Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly and Brian Flynn. One of his best trades was acquiring Doug Fister from the Mariners along with David Pauley in exchange for Casper Wells and Charlie Furbush among others. While Dombrowski traded Fister to the Nationals this offseason, he still received incredible value from this trade. Dombrowski’s success as a General Manager has been marked by his consistent ability to pull off savvy trades.

5. Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers
When Jon Daniels took over as GM of the Rangers in 2005, he became the youngest GM in baseball history at the age of 28. The Rangers have made the postseason three of the past four seasons under Jon Daniels including two World Series appearances. Jon Daniels is most known for his aggressiveness on the trade market, where he has had his most success. Jon Daniels’s biggest move was trading superstar Mark Teixeira to the Braves for Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Beau Jones. Every player from the trade has appeared in the Major Leagues with the Rangers except for Beau Jones. Andrus, Harrison and Neftali Feliz are all still with the Rangers and a huge part of the Rangers’ young core of players. That same year, 2007, Daniels traded top pitching prospect Edison Volquez and Daniel Ray Herrera to the Reds for Josh Hamilton. Hamilton had just posted a strong rookie campaign, following his return from drug abuse. Hamilton went on to become the face of the franchise until he signed with the Angels this past offseason. Daniels’s biggest free agent signing was Adrian Beltre, who has put together three outstanding seasons for the Rangers. Following the Rangers’ failure to reach the Postseason in 2013, Daniels was very aggressive this offseason. In order to improve the Rangers’ offensive production, he traded Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder and then proceeded to sign Shin-Soo Choo to a 7-year, $130 Million deal.