Matt Holliday’s Very Quiet Hall of Fame Case

Let me preface by saying that I don’t actually think Matt Holliday will get voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The fickle, bizarrely biased and counting stats-obsessed voting body will not have the emotional punch to get a guy like him through. Just as Bernie Williams, Kenny Lofton, and, saddest of all, Tim Raines, never really stood a chance. And at this moment, I don’t know that Holliday actually is Hall of Fame worthy, but his continuing career is creeping closer and closer to a territory where more people – at least a few more – will have to take him seriously.

Two years ago I was leading a minor charge for Carlos Beltran’s Hall case. My argument hinged upon Beltran – who was and still is a borderline case – having three more solid to good seasons. He’s since joined the New York Yankees and been abysmal, all but putting the kabosh on my argument. Holliday endures a similar tragedy. Like Beltran, Holliday’s counting stats are good but nowhere near great. Over 6895 PAs, he’s accumulating 272 homers, 1070 RBIs and 1046 Runs. That’s about where most voters will stop looking and move on to the next guy, sealing Holliday’s fate as a first or second ballot castaway. Hopefully, voters will dig a little bit more and at least look at some of his averages, because that’s where things get really interesting.

Holliday carries a lifetime .308 Batting Average, .387 OBP and .522 SLG. In the history of baseball only 31 players with over 5000 PAs have averaged .300/.380/.500. Of those, 20 are in the Hall of Fame, seven are not yet eligible but will make it – or should if not for steroid allegations (including Holliday), one is a DH named Edgar, one is a Coors Field disciple named Larry Walker and the last two are Ken Williams and Babe Herman, two obscure greats who deserve pieces all their own. Those last two aside, it’s safe to say that Holliday is in rarified air here. Whittle that list down to just left fielders and you get a mildly successful group of five: Teddy Ballgame, Al Simmons, Goose Goslin, Holliday and that Ken Williams guy again (who I should add has over 1000 less PAs than Holliday). That’s three Hall of Famers, one of whom falls short of Holliday’s overall numbers. Using Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, things don’t look great for Holliday as he carries a 39.2 against the average left field Hall of Famer’s 53.3. Additionally, his 44.1 career WAR is far off pace to get him to the typical left field Hall of Famer’s 65.1. Getting closer to those numbers is possible, but it will take a lot of work. It doesn’t help that while he’s been a solid everyday left fielder, he’s been nothing special out there. If he was even 50% better than his -10.2 dWAR, his overall numbers would look a lot sexier.

Now for the people who like to look at things like awards, Holliday falls far short, having finished in the top ten of MVP voting only once, in 2007 when he finished second to Jimmy Rollins only because that Coors Field bias got him again. That year, Holliday posted an OPS 1.012 while batting .340, slugging .607 and getting on base 40% of the time. He bested Rollins in virtually every category besides runs and stolen bases. Of course, a dynamic shortstop is always going to get a push past an average-fielding outfielder, but also keep in mind that Holliday led his Rockies to the World Series that season. Something that is next to impossible to do. All that said, his best finish outside of 2007 was 11th in 2012 with a Cardinals team that also went far into the postseason, coming one win away from the World Series. I don’t put too much stock in All Star appearances when defining careers, seeing as players like Dan Haren have been to multiple and 10 All Star Game appearances could theoretically add up to a total of five good seasons (half seasons, get it?), but Holliday has gone to six in 11 seasons and he’s headed for a seventh trip this year. If you are into that sort of thing.

This brings me to Holliday’s penchant for playing on winners. In his 11 full seasons he’s been on a winning team 7 times, good for three trips to the World Series, one championship and five total trips to the pennant. This is skewed heavily by playing for juggernaut Cardinals teams, though since his acquisition in 2009, he and Yadier Molina have arguably been the most integral parts of the winning tradition. As the two best players on the best all-around team of their era, both players deserve to be considered for the Hall. However, Holliday wasn’t always a Cardinal and this is perhaps where his case takes the biggest turn for the worse. He came up with the Rockies.

There’s some who believe that anybody who contributed a significant body of work in a Rockies uniform should never be thought of for the Hall. Without getting into how preposterous a thought that is, let’s for a second figure out what separates Holliday from the likes of Todd Helton and Larry Walker. For one thing, three of Holliday’s best five seasons came after he left Coors Field. In 2010, 2011, and 2012 he posted above 3.9 WAR while with the Cards. He never quite came close to that 2007 year again, but 2010 wasn’t extremely far off as he posted a .312/.359/.532 line, good for a 5.9 WAR, just one tenth behind 2007’s 6.0. This is partly because unlike Helton and Walker, Holliday did most of his damage after the bubble burst on oversized offensive production around baseball. In fact, taken together, Holliday has stayed almost even since he went to St. Louis, posting .301/.388/.503 in seven seasons against .319/.386/.552 in two less years. Compare that to Walker and Helton’s splits and you see a guy genuinely unaffected by where he plays. Add to all this that Holliday is still just 35 years old and has been a 4 win or close to 4 win player for the past four seasons. Going into play this week, he’s hovering around 1.0 WAR already, and it’s not even mid-May.

As I said about Beltran, Holliday is three solid to good seasons away from Hall of Fame status to me. Even providing he accomplishes that, I think he has a long way to go to get into the voters’ heart and minds. In fact, I’d bet Beltran, an inferior player, will still garner more attention because he’s more dynamic and seen as more “clutch.” One can only hope that if Holliday does keep producing, a mini wave gets him some attention. For now, this is my best stab at his quiet little case.

Featured Image: Via Hardball Talk

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