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

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