There’s two things inspiring this post: a comment over at Painting the Black on Edgar Martinez’s chances at the HoF, and Rob’s note that the A’s are struggling offensively this year. To mash them together: I’m suspicious regarding the greatness of any Colorado Rockie hitter.
Rob highlighted how the A’s offense has been less than stellar this year, noting how pitcher Dallas Braden has a sub .500 record despite pitching quite well. I commented that the A’s actually made a bid at winning the division this year, acquiring Matt Holliday and rolling the dice on Giambi. Whatever you might say of the latter, the former was considered one of the better hitters available last season. But a cursory look behind his numbers suggests that the buyer should have been a bit more “bewared.”
Let’s look at what the A’s saw: a 28 year old hitter in the prime of his career who had amassed three straight .900+ OPS seasons while growing increasingly patient every year. Truly, Holliday’s brief career numbers are impressive: .314-.384.-.538, with 136 HRs (a 28 HR/162 avg), 75 stolen bases, and 205 doubles.
However, I am surprised that a sabermetric-oriented general manager such as Beane didn’t hesitate after looking at Holliday’s home/away splits.
- Home: .348-.417-.624, 115 2B, 88 HR, 933 TB
- Away: .280-.351-.449, 90 2B, 48 HR, 659 TB
There are times when, planning a post, I expect the numbers to show me something before I actually look at them. This was one of those times (“I bet Holliday’s home splits are much better than his road ones”). I just rarely expect the numbers to be this definitive. Again, I am surprised that Beane would pay 10 million a season for an .800 OPS player.
The situation is the same with Todd Helton, who at age 35 has played his entire career at Coors Field (and given his contract, is likely to finish there). Historically, Helton’s shadow is fairly large; he is 3rd among active leaders in BA and OPS (37th and 10th all-time respectively). But his splits are just as dramatic as Holliday:
- Home: .360-.458.-647, 196 HR, 2035 TB
- Away:.295-.394-.493, 124 HR, 1536 TB
Its one thing to say “Coors inflates numbers,” its another thing to see the difference between a 1.106 and a .888 OPS.
For those unfamiliar with Neutralized stats, this is a good introduction. Neutralized stats attempt to adjust park, league, and era factors. Neutralized, Holliday and Helton’s career lines look like this:
- Holliday: .302-.372-.515, 128 HR, 467 RBI
- Helton: .303-.401.-527, 283 HR, 949 RBI
My suspicion here is that, after looking at their home/road splits, the neutralization process is a bit too conservative when it comes to a fringe case like Coors Field. Holliday’s career outside of Coors will support or betray this hypothesis. But the numbers suggest that the buyer should certainly beware.
Combined, Helton and Holliday provided the Rockies one of the best 3-4 punches of the decade. Viewed in isolation, their numbers are staggering. But are either Hall worthy? Holliday got out of Coors at age 28, so his stay there will likely not factor into any Hall of Fame decision. But Helton will have played his prime there. His neutralized .928 career OPS puts him in good company, but not necessarily HoF company. His OPS+, an adjusted measurement, ranks him 67th all-time, around players such as Kevin Mitchell, Jack Clark, Pedro Guerrero and Edgar Martinez, and also players such as Duke Snider, Reggie Jackson, Mike Piazza, Harmon Killebrew, and Larry Walker. Wait, Larry Walker? Isn’t that another Rockie?