The Yankees took a $13 million flyer on Matt Holliday this winter. That seems like a lot of cash for a "risky" player. However, if you fed the Yankees' brass truth serum, they might admit they weren't completely certain what they would get out of Holliday.
The Yankees couldn't be happier with the results.
Holliday enters Wednesday's game with a .271 batting average, .359 on-base percentage, .525 slugging percentage, 10 doubles, 12 home runs and 37 RBIs in 209 plate appearances. That equates to a 136 wRC+ (100 is average, with each point above being one percentage point better than average).
The last time Holliday finished a season with a wRC+ near that measure was in 2014 when he registered a 132 mark.
Any reason for trepidation in signing Holliday came from diminishing overall production, and what some viewed, as an increasing injury history. Holliday did suffer from a quad strain, which put him on the disabled list twice in 2015, causing him in part to miss 89 games.
He missed another 52 games in 2016. However, all but nine of those games were due to getting hit by a pitch, which broke his right thumb.
The Yankees were able to look past the games he missed in 2016, and saw the power was still in his bat (he hit 20 doubles, one triple and 20 homers in 426 plate appearances). They figured if he was not placed in the field, he might be able to stay healthy and produce.
To this point, the club has been correct in their assessment. The Yanks have been rewarded by Holliday's performance, and he's become another veteran presence that the Yankees youth can lean on.
"'What's your hitting approach?'" Yankees right-fielder Aaron Judgehe often asks Holliday. "'What are you doing in a situation, with a certain pitcher? What are you doing with this guy? He's a sinkerball pitcher, what do you try to do with those guys?' I've picked up a couple little things."
Holliday has hit in two prominent and strategic spots in the Yankees lineup this season (mainly third and fourth), each time with the hope that he would protect the hitter ahead of him, who has mostly been Judge. It has tended to work, and as long as Holliday continues to perform, the Yankees will employ the tactic, and thus, disallowing the opposition from avoiding Judge.
The Yankees deserve some credit for sticking with the playing time plan for Holliday. The club has received terrible production from first basemen all season, which could have enticed them to use Holliday more than the five games they have this season.
Three of those games came when the Yankees were visiting a National League park. The team will only have to bench Holliday two more times this season as they have that many contests left against an NL team.
Holliday is using the rest he receives during the game to his advantage. Holliday has customarily hit the ball hard, and he's maintained that this season generating a 37.4 hard hit rate (his career rate is 35.7 percent). Holliday has benefitted from an elevated fly ball to home run rate this season (25.5 percent), which might not be sustainable. However, a decrease in fly ball rate with similar hard hit rates might simply mean that some of the barreled balls will become gap shots instead of home runs.
Holliday's strikeout percentage is a concern (28.7 percent), but he is managing an 11.5 percent walk rate this season, up from a disappointing 8.2 percent in 2016. Holliday's career strikeout rate is 16.8 percent, while his rate of free passes sits at 10.0 percent.
Knocking down the strikeout rate could aid Holliday as the season wears on.
Despite the whiffs, Holliday maintains an approach to hit everything up the middle and he's managed to spray his 12 home runs mainly from the gaps to center field. Similarly, many of Holliday's line drives are spread across the middle of the field this season.
The good news for the Yankees is that the 37-year-old Holliday doesn't have to change a thing going forward. He's healthy, strong as ever, confident in his abilities and comfortable in his surroundings.
The Yankees winter "flyer" on Holliday has paid off, maybe even more than they imagined it could.