Fantasy fallout: Matt Holliday to A’s (Part 1)

There is still a bit of speculation at this point and it isn’t official yet, but it looks as though Matt Holliday has been traded to the Oakland A’s for Huston Street, Carlos Gonzalez, and Greg Smith. This could end up being the biggest trade we see all off-season, and it has significant fantasy ramifications for a number of players. In part one, we’ll look at how this affects the Athletics as a team and the player who they are acquiring, Holliday.

Fallout: The A’s

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of this trade is Joey Devine with Huston Street heading out of town.

After a rough 2008 in which he lost hold of the closer’s role, I had originally speculated that Street would be kept until the mid-point of the 2009 season (to build his trade value) and then dealt around the deadline, but apparently his value wasn’t too low if the A’s are acquiring Holliday for him.

This bodes extremely well for Devine, who had a tremendous season and looks to be the closer of the future in Oakland. To the delight of fantasy owners, that future could begin as soon as April. Check out his stats from this year:

+------+-----+----+------+------+----------+-----------+------+------+------+-------+
| YEAR | AGE | G  | IP   | ERA  | LIPS_ERA | DIPS_WHIP | K_9  | BB_9 | xGB% | BABIP |
+------+-----+----+------+------+----------+-----------+------+------+------+-------+
| 2008 |  24 | 42 | 45.7 | 0.59 |     3.24 |      1.05 | 9.66 | 2.96 |   39 | 0.221 |
+------+-----+----+------+------+----------+-----------+------+------+------+-------+

He’ll have to worry about Brad Ziegler, but Ziegler really doesn’t profile as a closer and would be better suited for a setup role. The hype around this trade means Devine could go overlooked in the media for a while longer, so those in keeper leagues might want to consider picking him up or trading for him before he starts to get attention.

Ziegler also gets a bump in value as he’ll have one less reliever to worry about if the A’s do consider him a legitimate ninth inning option.

Justin Duchscherer is the only A’s starter who can be 100 percent confident he has a rotation spot next spring, but the departure of Smith means that Sean Gallagher, Dana Eveland, and — even more so — fringy guys like Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden, and Josh Outman are that much more likely to earn a rotation spot. It also potentially opens up a spot for a younger guy like Brett Anderson or Trevor Cahill at some point in 2009.

Gio has a great chance of claiming a spot, and he will be a very interesting guy to watch this year. He posted an MLE of a 8.2 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 at Triple-A this year and has a career 45 percent ground ball rate.

The last thing we must consider is what this moves tells us about Oakland’s future plans. Very rarely will Oakland acquire a big name (especially one in a contract year); usually they’re dealing them off. Does this move signal that Oakland thinks they can win in 2009, or was it simply a value trade? Some see Carlos Gonzalez as overrated, Smith was a pretty clear sell-high candidate this off-season, and a Street deal was quite likely if the return was adequate.

If it’s the former (Holliday could add three or four wins, so it very well could be), we could see Oakland add another couple solid, major league talents, meaning younger guys who have yet to establish themselves as regulars or have struggled (think Daric Barton, Travis Buck, Eric Patterson, maybe Ryan Sweeney) could potentially be pushed into a bench role.

Or, Oakland could very well see this as a move that could help them this season, but if it doesn’t pan out they’ll be able to get something at the trade deadline as good (if not better) than what they just gave up (meaning they wouldn’t necessarily add more players during the off-season).

A third option would be Oakland immediately spinning Holliday off, though I think that’s a little less likely.

Fallout: Matt Holliday

Following this trade, some analysts might tell you that Holliday’s production will suffer because of his extreme home/road split. They’ll double his road line and call it a day. This is shoddy analysis, though, and the correct way to measure his “Oakland talent” is to use his full set of data (home and road) and adjust it according to park effects. Luckily for us, we have a very intricate park-adjusted metric in True Home Runs, so let’s check out how Holliday’s power figures to play in Oakland.

If you’re new to THT Fantasy Focus and are unfamiliar with True Home Runs (tHR) or any of the other stats I’m using, check out our quick reference guide. These stats provide a much clearer picture of a player’s talent, so it’s well worth a couple of minutes to learn them.

Power

+------+-----+---------+-----+----+-----+-------+----------------+--------+-----+--------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM    | AB  | HR | tHR | HR/FB | COL/OAK tHR/FB | nHR/FB | RAW | OF FB% |
+------+-----+---------+-----+----+-----+-------+----------------+--------+-----+--------+
| 2006 |  26 | Rockies | 602 | 34 |  29 |    21 |        18 / 14 |     16 | 5.7 |     32 |
| 2007 |  27 | Rockies | 636 | 36 |  25 |    20 |        14 / 12 |     12 | 3.4 |     35 |
| 2008 |  28 | Rockies | 539 | 25 |  17 |    19 |        13 / 12 |     13 | 0.0 |     30 |
+------+-----+---------+-----+----+-----+-------+----------------+--------+-----+--------+

I have a very hard time advising against a player as good as Holliday, but True Home Runs just doesn’t seem to like him all that much. He seems to be on a bit of a decline in the years most players are hitting their peak. I have two potential explanations for why this is happening.

The first is a loss of Raw Power (the number of fly balls per 100 that are hit 420 feet or further in neutral weather conditions). Back in 2006, his furthest ball was hit 465 feet, and he hit six past 440 feet. In 2007 his longest was 460 and he hit two past 440. In 2008, however, his longest was just 417, a monster drop-off. It could be sample size-related, random fluctuation, or he could have been playing through an injury. I don’t have an absolute answer for you (no one does), but a bounceback is possible.

The second thing I wanted to note is that Holliday’s home run power used to be to all fields. In 2006, he was blasting 440-450 foot shots to left field. In 2007, he still hit them out there, but not at that distance. In 2008, almost all of his homers were to center (check out his HitTracker page to see what I’m talking about). Because the centerfield fence is deeper than left and right field, it is more difficult to put up such high quantities of home runs (especially if your raw power is in decline). I don’t know if this was a change in approach or just chance variation, but it certainly isn’t a positive sign.

As far as Oakland goes, there was a four point difference in tHR/FB in 2006, but over the past two years there hasn’t been much of a difference. They are still well below his actual HR/FB, though, so fantasy owners should be very cautious with Holliday.

Contact

+------+-----+---------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM    | AB  | BA    | tBA   | CT% | BABIP | mBABIP | LD% | BIP/HR | BIP/tHR |
+------+-----+---------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| 2006 |  26 | Rockies | 602 | 0.326 | 0.313 |  82 | 0.354 |  0.348 |  21 |     14 |      17 |
| 2007 |  27 | Rockies | 636 | 0.340 | 0.306 |  80 | 0.380 |  0.358 |  20 |     14 |      20 |
| 2008 |  28 | Rockies | 539 | 0.321 | 0.293 |  81 | 0.361 |  0.344 |  22 |     17 |      26 |
+------+-----+---------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+

Holliday is clearly a great contact hitter, mostly as a result of his extraordinary BABIPs. Even with the expected power drop, Holliday’s True Batting Averages are still quite good. They aren’t, however, likely to be as good as most will assume. Marcels expects some regression in his BABIP, and the move to the AL and Oakland should certainly affect it further. This means that his final batting average next year should probably be expected to be around .285, assuming his power doesn’t bounce back. There’s certainly upside there (with the BABIP and home runs), but it’s not the most likely scenario.

Speed

+------+-----+---------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM    | AB  | SB | SBA | SBO%  | SBA% | SB% |
+------+-----+---------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+
| 2004 |  24 | Rockies | 400 |  3 |   6 | 0.239 |    6 |  50 |
| 2005 |  25 | Rockies | 479 | 14 |  17 | 0.264 |   12 |  82 |
| 2006 |  26 | Rockies | 602 | 10 |  15 | 0.256 |    9 |  67 |
| 2007 |  27 | Rockies | 636 | 11 |  15 | 0.266 |    8 |  73 |
| 2008 |  28 | Rockies | 539 | 28 |  30 | 0.295 |   16 |  93 |
+------+-----+---------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+

Holliday exploded in the steals department in 2008, but it would be a mistake to bet on bet on a repeat in 2009. It was driven by all three of our stats, the first being Stolen Base Opportunity rate (SBO%). He reached first base more often due to an increase in walk rate, which is very possible to sustain. The Stolen Base Success rate (SB%), though, was a career best and well above what he’s done in recent years. That should regress.

Perhaps the biggest regression could be in Stolen Base Attempt rate, though. The A’s don’t like to steal bases, and unless they think Holliday’s 2008 success rate is for real, he’ll get caught too often for Oakland to let him run much. Oakland was 19th in baseball this year in steal attempts (but that was boosted by speed demon Rajai Davis), and they were dead last in 2007 and 4th to last in 2006.

Overall
Overall, Holliday is a guy I’ll be staying away from in 2009. His market value will drop as he moves away from Coors, but it likely won’t fall far enough for me to warrant taking him. I have a hard time betting against a guy who has enjoyed so much success, but I’d also have a hard time taking him over a guy who’s indicators are more solid.

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Next: Fantasy fallout: Matt Holliday to A’s (Part 2) »

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