Monday, November 10, 2008

The Bizzaro A's

The Oakland Athletics have reportedly agreed to acquire Matt Holliday from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Carlos Gonzalez, Houston Street, and Greg Smith. The deal has yet to be finalized, and there certainly could be changes, but for now the Athletics are the winners in this deal. The Rockies themselves are not necessarily 'losers', this is simply because they did not accept the rumored trade with the Cardinals-the trade where Ryan Ludwick would have been the center-piece.

Matt Holliday surprised me a lot this season, by removing the stigma that his stats were artificially inflated by Coors Field. While it is poor analysis to simply look at his home and away splits, as 71% of Holliday's road games are played in the pitcher friendly environments of PETCO, AT&T, and Dodger's Stadium, one can guage the type of hitter that Holliday is away from Coors Field.

At least one could.

Entering this season Holliday had a Coors Field OPS of 1.074 and a road OPS of .793. However, Holliday had an EQA of just under .300 (league average being .260). Thus, while the OPS shows that Holliday's offensive statistics were inflated by Coors Field, his road OPS was unjustly deflated.

This is where I see Billy Beane out-analyzing his peers. Where everyone sees a major statistical deviation, Beane sees the results of a poor sample size.

That is, Holliday's EQA shows that he is a solid, to strong all around hitter.

Another area to take note of is the fact that Holliday is improving as a hitter. While he has always been a spectacular hitter at Coors Field, Holliday has begun to turn into a solid hitter on the road-not even taking into account park adjusted factors which see the majority of Holliday's road games in pitcher friendly environments.

Taking a look at the last two seasons away from Coors Field, we see that Holliday has posted the following lines:
  • 2007 - .301/.374/.485
  • 2008 - .308/.405/.486
While a sub-.900 OPS is not going to get anyone tabbed as World Class Superstar, it certainly is nothing to scoff at. Especially when one considers that the Major League average left fielder posted the following line:
  • 2007 - .276/.346/.452
  • 2008 - .269/.343/.442
Also, keep in mind that those stats are inflated by having Holliday's Coor's Field numbers involved. Taking that away would drop that .798 OPS a few points.

Furthermore, consider that on average players are worse away from their home ballpark. For whatever reason, hitters simply do not perform at the same level on the road as they do at home.

All that being said, this appears to be a fairly ingenious move by Beane. Consider first, the prospects and contract commitments that Miguel Cabrera cost the Detroit Tigers around this time last year. The Tigers sent Florida two very highly regarded prospects in Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin-both of whom have All-Star written all over them. Emptying their prospect cupboard to bring aboard a player of Cabrera's talent is not a terrible idea, but being forced into the addition of Dontrelle Willis does begin to sting a little.

While Holliday did not come to the A's for free, his cost is a fraction of what Cabrera cost the Tigers. Which is saying a lot, because the three players the Athletics gave up are all nice players, but not one can hold a candle to Miller or Maybin.

The key to the trade looks to be Carlos Gonzalez. Many are looking at Gonzalez as a failed prospect, an outfielder who needs more time in the minors. To this, I must disagree. While Gonzalez did not tear the cover off the ball in his half season with the A's, he also was not terribly over-matched, despite being 22 years old and having fewer then 250 at bats above double-A.

Gonzalez is a fine player, and an interesting piece for the Rockies to plop in their outfield for the foreseeable future. While he has a long way to go before becoming what the A's expected of him when they acquired him last off-season, hitting in Coors Field, in the weaker National League will not hurt.

Moving Houston Street was a very impressive move by Billy Beane. Many will say that Street tilts the scale in the Rockies favor. However, I must question the merits of said remark. Consider that Street is arbitration eligible and presumably will make more then the $3.3M he earned in 2008. I'm thinking at least $4M. While this is not to be considered an overpriced amount, Street was likely to be the third or forth best reliever on the A's team (behind Devine, Casilla, and Ziegler), despite being the highest paid.

Another factor to consider is the value of relievers on the trade market. The first example is with the Rockies Brian Fuentes, whom the Rockies saw more value in keeping around as a likely type-A free agent, then moving for prospects. The second example, current Diamondbacks reliever Jon Rauch, who was acquired for Emilio Bonifacio.

In other words, that the A's are free from Street's salary was enough value for the club. That is not to say the Rockies did not do well in acquiring Street, rather, it is to suggest that the A's weren't going to get much for Street anyways. If one were to exchange Street's name for Emilio Bonifacio in this trade, doesn't it suddenly look much more attractive?

The last player proposed in this deal is left handed soft-tosser Gregory Smith. Smith was dependable for the Athletics during the 2008 season, however, Smith performed over his head and there was a good chance he wouldn't make it out of Spring Training with the big league club anyways.

As a fly ball pitcher that allows a lot of free passes, it is beyond me why the Rockies included Smith in this trade. But as a far as cheap and relatively durable left handed starter go, he is a fine option-just fine though, nothing more, nothing less.

It is the trades that Beane has made over the last year that has allowed him to make a move like this. Those trades, which brought aboard predominantly 'OK' prospects, made it easy for Beane to make this deal. Because the players Beane moved are simply 'OK', it wasn't as if he was hurting the short, nor long term value of his team.

What he did do, however, is yet to be seen. That is to say, Beane is not handcuffed to Holliday in any way, shape, or form. Holliday, however, is a bat that a team can build around-although presumably out of the A's price range. The true value of Holliday would never be achieved at Coors Field as GM's would constantly assert that his value is inflated by the ballpark.

What Beane did, however, is speed up that assessment. If his hunch is correct, and Holliday was not as much of a product of his home park as most would suggest, he increased the already high value of the slugger.

Because of this, I believe Beane will flip Holliday by the 2009 trade deadline and turn a profit. That is, he will net more then what he gave up.

BallHype: hype it up!

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