The great Matt Holliday Experiment

Posted By on January 25, 2009 1:26 am

I had this theory about Coors Field. Everyone knows the players who play there don’t do as well on the road as at home, but it’s not just because of what happens in Colorado after you hit the ball. It’s also because of what happens after the pitcher throws the ball. Curve balls and sliders don’t break as much.

That means that Rockies hitters are not only going to be helped at home, but they’ll be hurt on the road more than other players who are used to seeing the ball break normally.

The point to all this is that you can’t just take Matt Holliday’s career splits (.357 at Coors Field and .281 on the road) and say: “Well, he’s really a .281 hitter.” That .281 average is the sum of a lot of games in which Holliday was trying to get acclimated to sea-level pitching. In theory, if you took Holliday (or any Colorado hitter) and put him at sea level all the time, he’d be a much better hitter than he was wearing the Rockies’ road grays.

So if my theory was accurate, I could look at Holliday’s road games with the Rockies and see that his performance would improve the longer the team was on the road, because there would be more time to adjust.

With the magic of baseballmusings.com and Excel, I bring you my entry for the Nobel Prize…

Matt Holliday’s career road numbers…

First 2 games of a trip: .277 BA/.472 SLG
3rd game on: .281/.446
4th game on: .281/.458
5th game on: .291/.483
6th game on: .305/.522
7th game on: .321/.567
8th game on: .356/.683

There’s not much point in going beyond that, because Holliday and the Rockies rarely had trips of more than nine games. Sadly for him and his Rockies teammates, just when he was getting used to the conditions on the road, the Rockies would return home to the junk food atmosphere of Coors Field (nice in the short term, but not good for you in the long-term).

Given that Holliday is going to be playing all of his games at sea level this year, I’m expecting he’ll be acclimated from the start, and he should produce good numbers (not Coors Field good, but good nonetheless).

Memo to Scott Boras: Feel free to use this information when negotiating Holliday’s next contract. I’ll just take about 0.5 percent of the deal.

If anyone out there has the time or inclination to replicate this for the entire Rockies team, please post the results here or fire me a link. I’d be interested to see them.

Comments

31 Responses to “The great Matt Holliday Experiment”

  1. wildfrontear says:

    can you give us an idea of what the sample size is? i’m presuming there aren’t that many nine game road trips. still, if this is statistically significant, encouraging

  2. Ryan Lewis says:

    Very interesting breakdown. Nice work.

  3. Anonymous says:

    i want to see this using OBP and SLG

  4. Anonymous says:

    Coming from a huge A’s fan, this is great work.

    Thanks for plugging this on AN :)BR/Hope this proves to be true!

  5. Jeff Fletcher says:

    For 6+ games, he’s got 314 at-bats

    For 7+, 171 ABs

    For 8+, 104

    That’s why I didn’t go further because it really would not have been significant

    I may go back and look up SLG and OBP.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Here’s another factor in the big difference with the Coors effect. When the rockies do go out on the road they spend the majority of their time in NL west ball parks. We are talking about homes of the Giants, Padres and Dodgers. All heavy heavy pitcher ball parks, people are quick to ajust for coors field but how about a little adjusting for the road splits that take place in these parks where HR’s go to die. Then you throw in Arizona that has a solid pitching staff and road games become bad for stats. As a rocky fan I would take a look at splits for road games outside the NL West, those are probably a better indicator of performance outside of Coors field.

    On a personal note it seems to me since the addition of the humidor that Coors field has lost a lot of offensive spark. It’s still a hitters ball park but a lot less then people think. I’m willing to bet that higher HR rates can be found in the band boxes that are Citizen Bank, Great American and Minute Maid. Yet somehow those players offensive stats are not challenged and the Rockies are, I’m a little confused by that.

  7. Jeff Fletcher says:

    Gary, the numbers are only for Holliday’s first game. If you want more details on how I calcuated everything with Excel, email me at jfletcher@pacbell.net

    Anonymous, I’m sure you are right about the pitchers parks in LA, SF and SD, and that also hurts the Rockies road stats.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I take that back, and i am so wrong

  9. Jeff Fletcher says:

    Just did the numbers for Helton, and they don’t work out quite as neatly as for Holliday…

    Gms 1-2: .289 BA/.405 SLG
    3+: .296/.509
    4+: .296/.521
    5+: .284/.498
    6+: .288/.498
    7+: .270/.462
    8+: .276/.455

    Maybe Todd Helton just got more homesick than Holliday.

  10. Jeff Fletcher says:

    OK, SLG was pretty easy to add. OBP would take some work because I already deleted some of those numbers (BBs, HBPs) out of the spreadsheet to make it easier to handle. I’d have to start over. I’ve got to assume if his BA and SLG both go up that the OBP goes up at around the same rate.

  11. Ryan Lewis says:

    I wanted to see how this turns out for another good hitter with a solid season of stats. So I looked at Todd Helton in 2000, though I only looked at BA and excluded slg% (why? because I am lazy).

    Game—-Away Avg.—-Home Avg.
    1———–0.349———-0.479
    2———–0.375———-0.298
    3———–0.422———-0.349
    4———–0.405———-0.409
    5———–0.382———-0.406

    I was hoping for a similar pattern and the away games and 1-3 does show that similarity.

  12. Jeff Fletcher says:

    Looks like Baseball Prospectus examined this very phenomenon back in 2000, and determined it was a bunch of baloney.

  13. LBDG says:

    Very interesting analysis even if it ends up being coincidental, and very big of you to call out BP disputing the theory on your own once you discovered that to be the case.

  14. Gary from Chapel Hill says:

    This is very good work. One question: If Holliday sits out the first game of a trip, do your stats show his stats for “his” first two games played on a trip or his stats for the team’s first two games of a trip?

    Again, nice work.

    I write for WEEI radio in Boston and am going to put something like this together for the Sox.

  15. obsessivegiantscompulsive says:

    About AT&T, it hasn’t been a pitchers park for a number of years now. Apparently the league has figured out how to play there, it has been pretty neutral (league average) for a number of years now, and according to Bill James methodology, nearing (in my opinion) a hitters park, with a 105 for runs scored and only 5 NL parks rank higher (out of 16 teams; which means 10 teams have lower). Rockies are still #1 in HR with a 127 index, but the D-backs edge out the Rockies, but both with 113 index for runs scored.

    Baseball-Reference shows a similar difference, AT&T had its’ highest pitching factor ever in 2008 with 104 and 2004 was the year things totally changed from pitching to neutral for the ballpark, according to BP data.

    And, to concur with LBDG, yes, very big of you to point out that contradiction.

  16. Jeff Fletcher says:

    As for the BP study, I will point out that used the whole Rockies team, and it was a different methodology. I think it’s still possible that my numbers for Holliday are legitimate. Maybe he really does adjust better as a trip goes on, even if some of his Rockies teammates didn’t. The sample for Holliday is over five years, so it’s not insignificant, I don’t think.

  17. mo_positive says:

    If the theory is correct, wouldn’t Holliday go through a similar adjustment period after returning home from a road trip? You might want to weigh in how long the Rockies are home before they hit the road, too. If you have enough data, it might be interesting to look at how opposing teams adjust to Coors field over the course of a 3 or 4 game series.

  18. Jeff Fletcher says:

    Mo, I’m no major league hitter, but I wouldn’t think it would take much adjustment at all if the ball was breaking less. I’d be just like batting practice if suddenly everything was coming straight. Theoretically.

  19. Jeff Fletcher says:

    Here you can read what they think of my work at Baseballmusings.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I looked at Helton during the same period. Like the overall Helton numbers above, it was a bit more all over the map.

    Game AVG OBP SLG
    1 0.291 0.422 0.432
    2 0.275 0.392 0.400
    3 0.286 0.402 0.422
    4 0.350 0.462 0.583
    5 0.265 0.353 0.401
    6 0.288 0.414 0.518
    7+ 0.299 0.396 0.457
    Total 0.293 0.406 0.454

  21. Roel Torres says:

    I would like to point out that while Holliday and Helton were selected because of their level of excellence, they are hitters with very different approaches to an at-bat. I’ll introduce the numbers first, then we can examine the conclusions.

    In 2007, Helton saw 2917 pitches, while Holliday saw 2580. Helton saw more pitches, while Holliday saw 88% of the pitches that Helton saw.

    Helton took 60% (1738) of those pitches, while Holliday only took 46% (1193). Naturally, Helton swung at 40% (1179) of his pitches, while Holliday swung at 54% (1387) The fundamental difference between whether to swing or not between the two is 14%.

    Helton was also more willing to take a strike than Holliday. 31% (547) of the pitches Helton took were strikes, while only 20% (243) of the pitches Holliday took were strikes. The difference in willingness to take a strike or not is 11%.

    Why introduce this data into the discussion? Because it demonstrates that Matt Holliday is more aggressive and Todd Helton is more selective. While correlation does not equal causality, I would hypothesize that the different approaches require different adjustment levels.

    Holliday adjusts later because he sees fewer pitches, and Helton see more of them. Holliday adjusts later because he wants to swing when Helton wants to take. Holliday adjusts later because he will take fewer strikes, while Helton will take more.

    In the case of seeing more pitches, there is a 12% difference. In the case of swinging at a pitch, there is a 14% difference. In the case of taking a strike, there is a 11% difference. When all these partial differences are summed up — it can result in a substantial separation.

    Again, I don’t offer this up to be conclusive, but rather to try and further the discussion.

    (All stats courtesy of Bill James Online.)

  22. Anonymous says:

    All I’ve got to say is that this is the web at it’s finest. A good point worth investigating, a little research, (thanks Jeff) and then some very intelligent friendly responses from the community that read it.

    I have to add that it would be nice to see Holliday KILL IT for the A’s.

    connie mack on AN

  23. RotoJeff says:

    Very interesting research.

    I think there are some other variables at play here, too:

    - How does Holliday’s road performance compare with the league as a whole?
    - Is there a stark difference between 2008 and other years on this example?

    One of the things that I’m digging at is that home teams seemed to perform especially well last year. One theory postulated was that the ban on amphetamines has made a pretty big difference. That is, players are having a more difficult time getting amped up after traveling, so their road performance, particularly after arriving at a venue, suffered. It’s not really my theory – and really, there’s no way to properly test it, since there’s no “control” group vs. a known using group. But it’s nonetheless interesting to me.

  24. [...] since last week’s note about Matt Holliday’s road performance as a Rockie, I’ve been getting a lot feedback about whether his stats prove my theory or are [...]

  25. Oh, lord. I was trying to do this by hand with PI data from baseball-reference.com

    Very nice.

    Another thing to note is that Holliday’s road OPS has improve (usually significantly) each year in his career – indicating that he is getting better at adjusting.

  26. Clarification … not “by hand” but with more cluttered initial data.

  27. [...] solid left fielder. The issue for Holliday this year will be to prove that he’s not simply a product of Coors Field. Holliday is in the final year of his contract, so there is no chance he’s with the A’s [...]

  28. [...] career in Colorado. Just to refresh your memory, I found that Holliday’s numbers steadily improved the longer he was on a road trip. My theory was that he adjusted to the sea-level conditions (sharper breaking balls) the longer he [...]

  29. [...] you are a Holliday owner, read this very interesting article. It cancels out every negative article that you will read on Holliday’s production this [...]

  30. LosoloNus says:

    I watch this guy for year, yea he do a lot of crazy stuff, but I know he is a really good and nice person. My boyfriend got his all best fights and we probably going to pray today and watch his in ring – so sad love you Mike.

  31. ZoopReows says:

    I lost my job right on my birthday with a greeting card. I heard about people loosingt they jobs – but I didn’t think it’s going to happened with me. I start looking for a new job. I got some money for now and I pretty good worker so I don’t think that going to be a big problem. I got couple offers so I think Life come back in shape.

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