Players fortunate enough to have a long major league career often develop reputations, and that’s no different for 13-year veteran Matt Holiday. A player worth at least 3.5 fWAR for an outstanding nine straight seasons, Holliday is well-known around the league as a reliable and excellent batter, one always good for at least 20 home runs and a batting average around .290.
Naturally, after making a name for himself as this type of borderline-elite hitter, Holliday has strayed from his usual production over the past two seasons…drastically, in fact. He also had a slightly down season in 2014, and, given these inconsistent performances, it’s anybody’s guess as to what this normally steady player will do next season for the Yankees.
Holliday has shown signs of aging, beginning three years ago when his wRC+ was lower than it has been since the former Rockies’ sophomore season. Holliday did still put up a 132 wRC+ with a .272/.370/.441 line and 20 home runs, and some bad luck (in the form of BABIP) may have dragged down the batting average from its career .303. The season could’ve been written off as being a result of just bad luck—as little else from his batted ball profile changed—but may be more of a red flag given the two seasons he followed with.
Holliday’s power completely evaporated in 2015, when the righty homered just four times in an injury-shortened 73 games. He also saw his contact skills decline, as the veteran only hit .279 despite a high .335 BABIP. While the eye at the plate remained excellent, and Holliday even bumped his walk rate up to an easily career-high 14.1%, he also struck out a solid deal. Holliday completely altered his profile, making more contact, staying up the middle, and hitting less fly balls than usual. These changes, and some good batted ball luck, should have helped his batting average rebound back into the .290+ area, and the fact that it remained under .280 and came with little power was incredibly worrisome.
Of course, the outfielder-turned-first-baseman threw everyone for a loop again last season. Holliday’s power shot back up, and his 20 home runs came with an isolated power mark that was his highest since 2011. His exit velocity was also incredibly impressive, ranking fourth best in the big leagues at 95.3 mph, showing that the power outage from the previous season was likely an injury-fueled fluke.
Normally a high-BABIP player, Holliday saw that mark fall all the way to a career-low .253, which was a big reason for his batting average dropping to .246. While it would be foolish to say age didn’t play a part in his overall offensive regression, peripheral marks show little change from seasons past. His production at the plate was disappointing, but bad luck had to have played a substantial role considering little change in other areas of his game.
With that in mind, there’s reason to think that Holliday can continue his 20+ home run tendencies while seeing his batting average bounce back. There’s almost no chance the 37-year-old can get back to his old .300 ways, but a .270 batting average and excellent walk rate to go with that power is very achievable and would be more than the Yankees could ask for. Of course, Holliday’s power could also slip back into near-2015 levels with age, and his batting average may not improve. Regardless, more decline next season could result in an average hitter, far better than what the Yankees got at DH/1B last season, as last year’s disappointing performance somehow still resulted a solid 109 wRC+. We’re looking at a high-floor and solid-ceiling player, with a high probability to succeed in the Yankees’ lineup, and that’s a great bet for the Yankees at $13 million for one year.