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Matt Holliday is gracefully heading into his decline phase

The Cardinals probably made the right bet.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

I was pretty confused when I saw Matt Holliday's age. I really didn't think he was 35. It didn't seem like that long ago that Holliday was freshly inked by the Cardinals to a long-term contract instead of Albert Pujols. Holliday has rewarded the Cardinals for their choice. As he has aged, it doesn't exactly seem like he has declined very much. I'm not really here to explain why, though; that's been addressed. Given that Holliday is aging gracefully, how does he compare to his peers?

I decided to grab numbers for those "qualified" players like Holliday whose age 32 season was 2012. I also grabbed age 33 for 2013 and age 34 for 2014. I gathered a list of players who appeared on all three lists. It's pretty short.

Name Age 32-34 fWAR
Matt Holliday 12.7
Coco Crisp 7.3
Adam LaRoche 5.4
Adam Dunn 1.7

Holliday outpaces the field quite a bit. Crisp is a bit of a surprise given his seemingly constant injury issues. He's had a decent run with the Athletics when he's been on the field, but last year his defensive numbers took a nosedive. Injuries, I assume. Crisp's projections predict a little bounceback by expecting a bit better offense and defense. Crisp had been better in 2013 and 2012, so those are driving his projections up just a hair.

LaRoche had a nice offensive season last year, but it wasn't as good as Holliday's. It was also among his best seasons ever in terms of wRC+. It's easily possible that 2014 was a bit of an aberration. LaRoche's wRC+ is projected to decrease about 10 points.

Adam Dunn, sadly, has retired. Dunn didn't quite age gracefully; he had a negative three fWAR season in 2011. That's incredible, but it doesn't factor in to the numbers above. He also was a DH, so the defensive component of fWAR does not treat him well. Dunn has a ZiPS projection that has further decline, if he were to play.

Holliday's projections don't really have him doing anything different in 2015. They're all remarkably even and remarkably similar to his 2014 performance. It's rather fun that the projections see his definite 2014 outcome as his probably 2015 outcome.

All this isn't to say that Holliday is aging in the best way ever. I expanded the years to the max on FanGraphs and looked at age 32-34 seasons in aggregate on the leaderboards. Holliday ranked 107th on that list; however, he was right between Robin Yount and Eddie Murray. Check out the striking similarities in these three guys.

Robin Yount 2069 51 9.9% 10.8% 0.162 0.306 0.291 0.364 0.453 0.362 128 69.7 -19 12.8
Matt Holliday 1957 69 11.1% 16.2% 0.187 0.319 0.289 0.379 0.476 0.374 140 90.4 -31.5 12.7
Eddie Murray 2016 74 12.1% 11.3% 0.178 0.292 0.286 0.372 0.464 0.367 133 76.9 -23.9 12.6

The offensive profiles are all about the same. Good plate discipline, good power, relatively poorer defense. Similar amounts of playing time. Holliday is the best of these three on offense, but he's lacking on defense compared to the other two.

Murray's age 32-34 seasons were 1988-1990. Murray's 1990 season was actually his career best by wRC+. A confluence of a high walk rate, a low strikeout rate, and a high BABIP all occurred in one season to produce that. Unfortunately, Murray declined to merely average for the three seasons after, and three of his last four seasons were below replacement level by fWAR.

Yount's age 32-34 seasons were also 1988-1990. Yount had two 5 fWAR seasons there, but his age 34 season was only average. Yount declined very quickly after age 34.

This doesn't bode very well for Holliday. Both of his comparables declined quite a bit after their age 34 season, and Holliday doesn't really have any contemporaries on which to lean for positive evidence. Despite that, Holliday showed something the others didn't: consistency. Holliday's three seasons have been 4.5, 4.4, and 3.8 fWAR. Perhaps that's decline, or perhaps that's statistical error. Either way, Holliday has a good chance at breaking the trend.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Kevin Ruprecht is an Assistant Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royals Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinRuprecht.