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In the offseason there are normally multiple free agents available at a single position. Most years it’s easy to tell who the best player is and therefore, who should be receiving the biggest contract. You can always count on there being a player who stands out above the rest.
This offseason is a bit atypical as it’s led by two free agents, Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, who both play left field.
It’s inevitable that major league teams with a vacancy in left field are going to be debating in the coming weeks on who necessitates the biggest chunk of change from their wallet.
Quite frankly, the answer isn’t an easy one; both players are relatively similar in what they do on the field. Bay had a roller coaster of a season: he started out the first two months of the season with a bang, only to struggle in the next two, and finish up his 2009 campaign on a very high note.
Holliday struggled out of the gate, but was traded to the Cardinals and saw his production increase exponentially.
Let’s take a look at what each player did this year, and then break down the aspects of their game in order to figure out should be higher on draft boards for next year in fantasy leagues (fair warning: it’s fairly comprehensive):
.313 Batting Average (182 Hits)
24 Home Runs
14 Stolen Bases
.394 On Base Percentage
.515 Slugging Percentage
.346 Batting Average on Balls in Play
.267 Batting Average (142 Hits)
36 Home Runs
13 Stolen Bases
.374 On Base Percentage
.537 Slugging Percentage
.318 Batting Average on Balls in Play
Taking into account Holliday playing in Coors Field for five seasons, he’s a career .318 hitter. Even though the BABIP seems high, his career average is a .354 mark, so this year’s BABIP isn’t all that outlandish.
As a matter of fact, the last time Holliday had a rate that low was his sophomore season with the Rockies. The solid batting average also came courtesy of Holliday hitting less line drives: 16.4 percent (19.7 percent for his career), than he had ever hit in his career.
His fly-ball rate spiked this season to a career high 39.2 percent (34.7 career average), but he converted on less of those fly balls than ever before, which we will get into when we discuss his power.
The reason I point this out is that generally line drives are a good way to pad a batting average, and even though he saw his LD percentage dip, he still managed a very solid batting average this year.
Holliday is a guy who will strikeout more than 100 times a season; his 17.4 percent mark was right on track with his 18.7 percent strikeout rage. Still, another season of .315 batting average should be expected regardless of where he lands.
Bay is a more all-or-nothing type hitter, as evidenced through his .267 BA. Although it came courtesy of a .318 BABIP, Bay has a career BABIP of .332, so we shouldn’t really expect too much regression in his batting average for next season based on that.
Don’t forget, most players’ BABIP hovers around their career norms, as opposed to pitchers’ whose stay close to .300.
The most alarming aspect of Bay’s rates has to be his strikeouts: he had 162 this season and hasn’t had a year less than 129 in his career. He struck out at a 30.5 percent clip this year, which compared to his 27.0 career average, is a bit on the high side.
Regardless, the strikeouts are a huge detriment to his batting average. He took a step back this year, but any slight improvement next season should help aid that mediocre average.
Furthermore, his fly ball rate jumped to 49.1 percent (five percent higher than his career), but so did his home run per fly ball rate, so we can’t say that the increased fly balls hurt his batting average because he did hit more longballs this season. Bay is a career .280 hitter and I’d expect his average to improve closer to that level next season.
This one is a pretty easy one: in 3,237 AB, Holliday has 152 HR compared to 3,313 AB for Bay and 185 HR. Again, Holliday played most of his career in the friendly confines of Coors Field and hasn’t hit more than 30 HR in three years.
Bay, on the other hand, has hit 30-plus HR in four of his past five seasons, so it doesn’t exactly matter where he plays, he’ll naturally go yard more than Holliday. His career 44.4 percent fly ball rate is 10 percent higher than Holliday’s mark and even though their HR/FB rates are nearly the same, Bay will obviously hit more home runs than Holliday just because he hits more balls in the air.
Holliday isn’t as much of a slugger as Bay is. I’d liken him to more of a complete hitter, though. It’s obvious that Holliday has more of a level swing than Bay: 227 doubles to 193 would attest to that.
What you get with Holliday in average, you make up with Bay’s power. I’d expect Bay to hit 30 HR, with Holliday only slightly behind that amount for next season.
Even though their RBI production is quite even (Bay: 610 to Holliday: 592), Holliday has been the much more consistent force. Sure, he has three seasons (one of them his rookie year) of less than 90 RBI, but those were due to injury shortened seasons.
When he plays a full season, he’s a lock for 110-plus RBI. Hopefully this injury-free season is a sign of more durable Holliday for next year.
Bay is an interesting case because he played so much of his career with the Pirates, yet he was able to eclipse the 100 RBI threshold twice with them. The past two years that he’s spent with the Red Sox he’s also had seasons of 101 and 119 RBI, so it’s fairly obvious that Bay excels when he’s in a better lineup. A 100 RBI campaign is easily attainable for Bay next year.
While I’m not going to declare Bay or Holliday as the new speed demons of baseball, their stolen base totals can’t be overlooked. Bay had 13 this year, while Holliday had 14. Continuing the trend in most of statistics, Bay had a season of 21 steals and then one of four, so he’s very much up-and-down.
Holliday, is again the more consistent of the two. He had a season of 28 steals, but he’s been in the 15 range during every other season. Either way, both guys should swipe 10-15 bags next season.
You can’t do yourself wrong if you (or your favorite team) lands Bay or Holliday for next season. Both will produce, but each of them does it differently. Bay is more erratic (with more power potential) and Holliday is steadier, but there hasn’t been enough of a sample size outside of Coors Field to fully predict his capability (or drop-off).
The team that signs each LF free agent will go a long way in determining their value for next season. I like the more consistent, balanced Holliday but I’ll leave you with some career averages and see what you guys think:
Bay: 33 HR, 107 RBI, 102 R, 12 SB, .280 AVG
Holliday: 29 HR, 112 RBI, 109 R, 15 SB, .318 AVG
Who will you take first in next year’s draft? Who has more value on the free agent market?