By Dan Drake
So, what does the average sports fan not know about Matt Holliday?
First, last year he posted the 5th best average exit velocity for any batters over 30 at bats. Only behind Nelson Cruz, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Keon Broxton. What makes it more impressive of all of those batters his strikeout percentage is significantly smaller. The other group had 23.8%, 44.2%, 29.8% and 35.6% respectively while Matt came in at 16.7%. That means that Matt Holliday kept a high exit velocity while putting the ball in play over 7% more than any of the names above him. He is a contact hitter with line drive power. The projected average distance of his hits was also less than this group, meaning that his hits didn’t travel as far. The explanation is that he hit more line drive and ground balls. Specifically ground balls which he hit at a 50% clip. You would think that his high exit velocity mixed with the ground balls would produce a decent BABIP or batting average on balls in play. However, he ranked among the leagues worst in BABIP. This signals a bit of bad luck and a likely move back to the norm this year. That is good signs for the Yankees, but that 50% Ground Ball rate is nerve racking. We will see if some adjustments can be made to get more line drives as opposed to ground balls.
When we take a deeper look his spray chart shows us some insight on the above numbers. Matt Holliday uses the whole field and even goes the opposite field more often in the air. This is great news for Holliday as Yankee Stadium will likely cause an uptick in his home run numbers this year. He had 6 home runs to leftfield, 6 to center and 8 to right field in 2016. With most of his fly balls going to right field a large majority of his ground balls go to the left side of the infield. This points to him pulling over on outside pitches often. It can also point to him being out in front of the pitch, and when he stays back he drives the ball to right. These spray chart numbers are consistent over the last 5 years as well, with the exception of more home runs to right field coming in recent years.
So, for the average sports fan what does this mean for Holliday in 2017? Look for him to hit more home runs in Yankee Stadium (my prediction 25). Expect his batting average to get back closer to career norms (my prediction .275). Keep an eye on those ground balls, but we can count on him for a reasonable low strikeout rate for a guy with power and such a strong exit velocity. He is right handed so he helps balance the Yankees lineup against such teams as the Red Sox who throw out between 3 and 4 left handed starters including Price and Sale. Most importantly, just like Gary Sanchez Holliday is a right who hits to right field for power.