Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Was Matt Holliday Worth $60 Million More Than Jason Bay?

Since free agency began in November, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay have been the consensus two best hitters on the free agent market. The general thought seems to be that while Bay is a great hitter, Holliday was the more desirable free agent for several reasons:

-age (almost 30 years old...should be entering prime years)

  • By contrast, Jason Bay will be 32 years old this season

-defensive ability (6.9 UZR for career...only one season with negative UZR)

  • By contrast, Jason Bay's career UZR is -7.9 and he has routinely put up statistically terrible defensive seasons

And yes, Holliday is generally thought of as the superior offensive player, even though Bay is a pretty darn good hitter in his own right. Admittedly, it seems that there are roughly a gazillion angles that you could take to examine the offensive ability and production of Jason Bay and Matt Holliday throughout their respective careers.

Matt Holliday:

  • Matt Holliday played a majority of his career at the very hitter friendly Coors Field. How much did that help him?
  • Matt Holliday struggled during his brief tenure with the Oakland Athletics. How should that performance be taken into account?
  • Matt Holliday's offensive numbers exploded once he was traded to the Cardinals. Was his statistical spike simple because of hitting behind Albert Pujols or did Holliday finally find his stroke?

Jason Bay:

  • For years, Jason Bay performed very well offensively for the Pirates (with the exception of 2007) even though the Pirates offense routinely stunk and Bay was surrounded with sub-par talent. How would Bay's stats be different if he played in a hitter's ballpark with great talent around him?
  • Over the past year and a half, Jason Bay has been of the Red Sox best hitters and consistently put up big numbers when he was surrounded by great offensive talent. How much did that effect his stats? Does this prove that Bay can hit in both the National and American League?

No matter how you slice it, the point is this: both Jason Bay and Matt Holliday are excellent hitters. In fact, over the past two seasons, Hollday's wRAA (which judges the number of runs over replacement) was 46 and 33.9 (average 39.9) while Bay's wRAA was 32.4 and 36 (average 34.2). So while it's clear that Holliday has been the superior offensive talent, the numbers suggest that Jason Bay is not that far behind Matt Holliday and there is a good chance that Holliday's numbers will decline now that he is away from Coors Field (as evidenced by the drop from 46 (2008 with the Rockies) to 33.9 (2009 with A's/Cardinals).

So I think it's safe to say that Matt Holliday was the more attractive free agent because he was younger than Jason Bay and the superior hitter and defensive player of the two.

But does that justify why Jason Bay only landed a 4 year/$66 million dollar contract with the Mets and why Matt Holliday got a 7 year/$120 million dollar contract with the Cardinals? Is there anyway to justify that Holliday should have landed a contract that is almost $60 million dollars richer than that signed by the second best hitter on the free agent market? I don't think so.

Here's what I think happened: Holliday and Bay both struggled to find teams that were willing to meet their asking price. Bay wanted five years at $16 million annually; Holliday wanted at least seven years at $18 million annually and hoped for a Teixeira-like contract. Why did Holliday come so much closer to his desired contract? Blame it on Boras.

The main suitor for Bay-the Mets-were willing to go four years maximum with Bay and refused to go any higher given how little competition there was for Bay and the risk involved with giving a 32 year old a five year contract. Sure Bay still has the possibility of landing a five year deal, but only four seasons are actually guaranteed with the Mets.

The main suitor for Holliday-the Cardinals-strangely gave into Holliday's contract demands even though there was no other real competition for his services. Hell, Holliday's contract even includes an option for an eighth season! Was that really necessary? The only offer that we know of for Holliday was the five year/$82.5 million dollar offer from the Red Sox (a few weeks back) and the Cardinals simply blew that offer away even though the Red Sox were no longer in the picture. It sure looks like the Cardinals wound up bidding against themselves, even though they eventually landed their guy.

I think the Cardinals could have landed Holliday without guaranteeing a seventh season and including anything about an eighth. Something in the six year/$96 million dollar range would have worked. Maybe the Cardinals got anxious and wanted to have Holliday in the fold ASAP. Maybe the Cardinals wanted to act quickly, fearing that a big market club would swoop in and sign Holliday. Or maybe the Cardinals just really, really like Holliday and they feel comfortable giving him such a large contract.

For my money, I'd take Jason Bay at $66 million over Matt Holliday at $120 anyday.


Unknown said...

i believe the Cardinals wanted to give Holliday a long contract as evidence of their committment to putting a winning team on the field.

This is the criteria Albert Pujols has set for him to make a similar committment to the Cards.

Presumably the team is paying Holliday more in the fist two years, so they can average out more reasonably when they have to give Pujols a signing bonus in 2012.

I expect Pujols to sign for a 10 year $250,000,000 contract which will be giving Saint Louis an extreme hometown discount.

Unknown said...

Jorge, what was your original prediction for the Holliday contract? I can't find your links. I ask because Jon Heyman is tooting his horn for hitting the $120/7yr figure on the head back in September. I wonder what little bird told him that?

Jorge Says No! said...

7/110 million

Not too shabby for a Sept. prediction

obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

I think the Cards were driven by what they gave up to get Holliday (though as many knows, that is sunk costs). That's human nature.

Plus, knowing Boras, he probably threatened to cut off negotiations with the Cards and go seek a one year contract somewhere and go after a big contract next off-season, much like what he did with Beltre, taking the $10M one year.

That plus, as you note, the 2 year age difference, probably contributed to the Cards meeting Holliday's demands.

It will be interesting who they can afford to put on the team after they sign Pujols to his contract.