2013 Fantasy BaseballFantasy BaseballFront OfficeJosh Kay

Matt Holliday: Mr Consistent No More?

I’m currently in the middle of a massive mid-season rankings project. However, I had to take a break and write an article about the findings I unearthed about Matt Holliday’s curiously woeful and uncharacteristic first half. Here we go.

BABIP Monologues Episode 3: Matt Holliday

[am4show have=’p4;p7;p3;’ guest_error=’Front Office’ ]St. Louis Cardinals slugger Matt Holiday has always been a consistent year-to-year performer in fantasy baseball. He is one of the few hitters in fantasy baseball that rarely seems to slump. Except for his 2011 season (when he injured his appendectomy), Holliday has recorded 620 plate appearances or more in every season since 2006. He has hit between 24 and 28 home runs since 2008 (he hit 34 and 36 respectively in 2006 and 2007 with the Rockies), and has batted lower than .295 just once (his rookie year in 2004). All of that makes Holliday’s 22 homer pace and current .268 batting average so puzzling.

Much of Holliday’s surface split stats (before dissecting the pitch f/x data) suggest that he’s been uncharacteristically horrible against left handers in 2013. Holliday lacks a career platoon split, as he’s hit .297 against lefties and .315 against righties over his entire career. In addition, he sports a 8.5 percent infield fly ball against lefties and an 8.7 percent infield fly ball percentage against righties.

Holliday has hit just .206/.329/.286 against left handed pitching in the 2013 season. This is absolutely stunning, as Holliday hit .316/.408/.613 (1.021 OPS!) against them in 2012. That was accompanied by a .375 batting average on balls in play, whilst his BABIP in 2013 against lefties has been just .265. Lazy analysis says BABIP correction; thankfully, our readers know better than that thanks to this series.

Holliday has been bad across the board, with just a .490 slugging percentage against righties, but with a .283 batting average and a .357 on base, those numbers obviously pale in comparison to his struggles against left handers.

So what has been the problem? Surely one can say bad luck, or perhaps an injury, but looking deeper into pitch f/x data from Brooksbaseball.net (powered by Baseball Info Solutions and Baseball Prospectus), we see that there are some problems with Holliday’s plate approach. I

Intrepid sabermetricians will argue however, that Holliday is just having a fluky season though. His swinging strike rate has declined down from 10.8 percent in 2011, down to 8.9 percent this season. In addition, his strikeout rate is way down to 14 percent (19 percent last year). The point that is missed by those statistics is the bad contact that Holliday is making.

The Real Reasons

It goes without saying that a hitter does better when the count starts in their favor. Throughout the past three years, (coincidentally, Holliday’s age 31, 32, and 33 seasons) Holliday’s stats have declined, including his patience.

Year Pitches per P/A First Pitch Swinging % Percentage of times the count starts 0-1
2011 3.92 33% 52%
2012 3.89 35% 50%
2013 3.74 41% 58%

 

While it is clear that he’s taking fewer pitches and being more aggressive, 2013 is quite certainly an exaggerated or outlier season. Since he’s at his oldest right now, we are more inclined to believe it’s an exaggerated start of his decline.

Since 2007, Holliday hits .376 with a .844 slugging percentage against the four-seam fastball on the first pitch. His batted ball rates are: 26 percent ground balls, 21 percent line drives, 38 percent fly balls and 14 percent pop-ups, all accompanied by a .302 batting average on balls in play. In 2013 he has an 18 percent ground ball rate, nine percent line drive rate, 63 percent fly ball rate and 10 percent pop-up rate against the first pitch four-seam fastball, and is only hitting .273 on those pitches.

Additionally, since 2007 Holliday has a .365 batting average and a .685 slugging percentage on all first pitches put into play. That’s a .302 ISO (a measure of raw power). In 2013, Holliday is hitting .396 with a .583 slugging percentage on first pitches (just a .187 ISO)

Let’s have some fun shall we? For comparison’s sake, Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis is hitting .468 with a 1.051 slugging percentage on first pitches put into play this season. That’s a .583 ISO. He also has a big sample (79 at-bats).

So it’s clear Holliday is either not seeing the ball well and or not gearing up for the fastball to hit home runs on first pitches (like sluggers are supposed to).

The biggest problem though is Holliday’s increase in percentage of counts that start 0-1. Through 1-0 counts, Holliday has batted .300 (.298 in 2012). Through 0-1 counts however, Holliday is hitting .218 (.283 in 2012). The gamblers fallacy is to assume Holliday will continue to be “Mr. Consistent” even at his now age 33 season and “a sure thing to bounce back in the second half”. He hasn’t been unlucky; his plate approach has been bad. If Holliday doesn’t start taking more first pitch strikes he is certain to record his first lower than .295 season. In fact, I wouldn’t bet on more than .285. And if only supplies you with his paced number of 22 home runs, he’s not a Top-20 outfielder the rest of the season.

Remember, 14 percent more infield fly balls against left handers, and slugging .350 points lower against them this season than last. [/am4show]

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