A's get huge offensive boost from Holliday

November, 11, 2008
What the A's are actually getting in Matt Holliday is a subject for a lot of debate. He's leaving one of the best hitting environments in the game for one of the worst, and he's leaving the weak league for the strong league. How much these changes will affect his performance is the question; he's not a .330 BA/.400 OBP/.560 SLG hitter at sea level, but just looking at his road stats unfairly penalizes him in a number of ways.

Holliday is strong. A star quarterback in high school who developed very late as a baseball player, he slugged just .393 across two full seasons in AA at ages 22 and 23. He now has plus power and will crush mistakes, but he has trouble with better fastballs, as the Red Sox demonstrated in the 2007 World Series. He's an above-average runner and has become a good base stealer over time, but he's an adventure as a left fielder, taking awful routes to balls and just managing to cover his bad reads with his speed.

His power is big enough to play even in a tougher hitting environment like Oakland's home park, but he's likely to strike out more often and see his average drop. Even if he drops to something like .310/.370/.520, Holliday will be an enormous upgrade in Oakland's lineup, worth probably an extra five wins over the motley crew of corner outfielders he would be replacing.

The Rockies' end is in flux, as there's a good chance that they trade at least one (Huston Street) of the three pieces they're receiving, and perhaps more than one. They could also end up with different players if anyone involved fails a physical. As it stands now, here's what the Rockies are getting: a capable middle reliever with closer experience and a recent history of elbow trouble (Street); a fifth starter with good deception, control issues and possibly the best pickoff move in the majors, and who is coming off minor elbow surgery of his own (Greg Smith); and a 23-year-old outfielder with big tools but very poor pitch recognition and some questions about his work ethic (Carlos Gonzalez).

For one year of Holliday, it's a fair return, with a chance to be a great return if Gonzalez converts his tools into performance. A move to Colorado, where breaking balls don't break so well, could easily help him at the plate, and he'd be a plus defender in Holliday's spot in left. This isn't a home-run return like Texas' haul for a year and a third of Mark Teixeira at the 2007 trade deadline, but it's also far more than what Houston got for one year of Brad Lidge last November. If Colorado flips Street, a fly-ball pitcher whose fastball has lost life over the past few years, for two more young players, the deal will look even better.

For Oakland, it's a huge strategic shift toward contention in 2008, unless the A's suddenly reverse course and flip Holliday this offseason. Smith was going to end up squeezed out by superior arms coming through Oakland's system, and his 2008 ERA (4.16) wasn't repeatable unless his control improved (or he could pick off about five times more baserunners every year). Street is limited to middle-relief work until his health returns, and Oakland has plenty of middle-relief options. Gonzalez is the big loss for the A's, as he has a chance to be a star. But they're trading his uncertainty and years of control for Holliday's greater certainty over a shorter time frame.


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