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Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, and the Junior Circuit

Dec 29, 2009, 3:15 PM EDT

In response to my article earlier this afternoon comparing Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, several commenters focused on the fact that Bay out-performed Holliday in their respective time as American Leaguers. In fact, one commenter went so far as to say that Holliday “stunk” during his brief AL stint.
For several years now there’s been a clear talent gap between the two leagues, but it’s still important to put things in some context rather than just latching onto whatever theory seems to fit the conventional wisdom.
In this case Holliday has played a grand total of 93 games in the American League, which is hardly a large enough sample to form any sort of meaningful, wide-ranging conclusions. After all, how many mediocre players make All-Star teams based on one great half-season, only to fall right back into mediocrity? Beyond that, Holliday hit .286/.378/.454 in those 93 games with the A’s, which is an .831 OPS in a pitcher’s ballpark.
That works out to an adjusted OPS+ of 120, which a) isn’t that far off from Holliday’s career mark of 133, b) would rank 40th among all active players sandwiched in between Derek Jeter and Victor Martinez, and c) is nowhere near the performance of someone who “stunk.” Or put another way, guys with a career OPS+ of 133 have an OPS+ of 120 over 93-game stretches all the time without it meaning anything whatsoever.
Bay has played 200 games in the AL while hitting .274/.380/.534 in a much better ballpark for hitters, which is good for a 132 OPS+. So yes, based solely on their performances in the AL–which represents only a small fraction of their careers–Bay was better than Holliday. But is a 132 OPS+ in 200 games so superior to a 120 OPS+ in 93 games to conclude that one guy is great in the AL and one guy stinks in the AL? Of course not.
Both guys have played a lot of games in the majors and have plenty of data from which to evaluate their ability, so focusing on 93 games seems kind of silly. While general manager Omar Minaya and the Mets may disagree, Holliday is simply a better player than Bay. It’ll be interesting to see if he rightfully ends up with a bigger contract.

  1. Pitchers Hit Eighth - Dec 29, 2009 at 3:23 PM

    Unfortunately, I don’t think the Red Sox and Yankees are out of the Holliday sweepstakes just yet.

  2. nasheagles - Dec 29, 2009 at 4:23 PM

    problem is playing in Boston inflates those numbers for a Right Handed Hitter…Citi field isn’t a short porch… maybe the Mets can make Bay their everyday Catcher.. his original position in the bigs

  3. Matt - Dec 29, 2009 at 5:38 PM

    As I stated in a previous post, Matt Holliday has compiled slightly better stats than Jason Bay. Very slightly. But Matt is thirty years old now. And Matt is listed at 6ft 4 inches tall, 235 pounds. Most guys that size end up at first base. Outfielders knees and backs take a lot of wear. First the legs go, then the knees, then the back.

  4. willmose - Dec 29, 2009 at 6:57 PM

    The clear talent gap between the league exists only in the mind of the bloggers.

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