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Matt Holliday was worth so much more than his 0.1 WAR

Some contributions really don’t show up in the box score.

You’re reading the 2018 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the season had by every player to play for the Rockies in 2018. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the least amount of rWAR and end up with the player with the most.

★ ★ ★

No. 22, Matt Holliday (0.1 rWAR)

If you’re expecting an even-keeled statistical evaluation of Matt Holliday’s contributions to the 2018 Rockies then you didn’t check the byline.

I have only owned one Rockies jersey in my entire life. It’s a black #5 Matt Holliday batting practice jersey that I was given for Christmas 2007. A year later he was traded to the Oakland A’s, but the jersey lived on. I was already 5’8” when I got the jersey, so it still fit me as I grew over the years. In 2010 the “Holliday” on the back was briefly covered with duct tape and the name “Gonzalez” written in sharpie as I expressed support for my new favorite Rockie (who had come to the team in the deal for my old favorite Rockie). But as the jersey became a “throwback” I took the duct tape off and continued to wear it to the ballpark once or twice a year, even as buttons started to fall off and the fit became a little tight. When I moved to Los Angeles last year, the jersey came with me — mostly for sentimental reasons.

Sentimental reasons were why many speculated the Rockies signed Holliday to a minor league contract this July after he had spent the first several months of the season unsigned. But the possibility existed that he could still hit. After all, despite low batting averages in his last two seasons, he still seemed to have some pop in his bat. As he was set to play Triple-A games, one thought kept comping back: wouldn’t it be great if he still had it...

After three weeks in the minors, it was clear that Matt still had it. He OPS’d 1.048 in Albuquerque and drove in 14 runs in 15 games. Then, on August 23rd, he made his triumphant return to Denver, sporting the same cleats he had worn in the 2007 World Series. He started in left field and went 0-for-3 in a Thursday day game against, of all teams, the Padres. But his real coming out party came over the weekend against his old St. Louis team.

On that Friday night, he pinch-hit in the bottom of the sixth and received a huge standing ovation before singling for his first hit in a Rockies uniform in ten years. What happened the following night was even more special. With two outs in the seventh inning of a scoreless game, Holliday jacked a monster home run to give the Rockies the lead in a game they would go on to win 9-1. It was one of those moments that you couldn’t have drawn up any better if you tried; except for the fact that the teams were wearing Players’ Weekend jerseys.

Two nights later, I took my #5 Holliday jersey out of my closet and drove down to Anaheim with my dad, who was visiting from Colorado. We got to the park early to watch batting practice, and I was filled with glee watching that huge bald head and that familiar swing send rockets into the bullpens in left field. Holliday singled in that game — one in which I will discuss in more detail when I write about DJ LeMahieu in a few weeks.

This all makes for a very nice reunion story, but here’s the thing about Holliday’s 2018: he was a legitimate offensive asset for the Rockies down the stretch in a playoff push. While he only hit one more home run after his blast against the Cardinals (it was off Clayton Kershaw, by the way), he was an on-base machine — getting on at a .415 clip. Over the final month of the season, he was the most reliable bet to reach base in a lineup that had more than its share of struggles. All-told Matt put up 0.4 offensive WAR in just 65 plate appearances over 25 games, which was the most productive he’s been offensively since the 2015 season (albeit in a relatively small sample size).

He was a defensive liability, as he always has been, but that didn’t stop him from getting 13 starts in left field, plus two in the playoffs. While he made a few truly regrettable plays, he also made some nice throws to hold runners on or throw them out.

In the postseason (his ninth) Holliday hit a double in the Wild Card game, and he singled in the top of the ninth in game 1 of the NLDS before being replaced by pinch runner Garrett Hampson, who would come around to score the tying run later in the inning. Matt also struck out twice in big moments with runners on base — once in the sixth inning of the Wild Card game and once in the seventh inning of game 2 of the NLDS, but he was far from the biggest playoff disappointment in a lineup full of them.

If there’s one thing I can say about Matt Holliday’s 2018 season it’s that he absolutely looked like he still belongs on a big league roster. This wasn’t some farewell tour for a guy barely hanging on. This was a guy who looks like he still has gas in the tank and was auditioning for a roster spot next season. I would love to see him stay with the Rockies in a Jason Giambi-type role next year, but if he moves on I’ll be thankful that I got to see him one more time in a Rockies uniform. Should he come back for another year in Colorado, my old jersey will be ready for another day in the sun.