Panic ensued. Last year’s closer after the Jonathan Broxton trade was bringing back bad memories of past failed Royals closers (including Broxton and his meltdown in Oakland). After three appearances, Holland had thrown two innings, given up four walks and four runs.
How about just one earned run allowed over a span of 16 innings? What about a 24 to 4 strikeout to walk ratio and a 0.875 WHIP? The only blemish came on May 6th when he was brought in to close out the last inning after James Shields had thrown eight scoreless against the White Sox. He wasn’t sharp and gave up the tying run, but was a clean Chris Getz exchange from getting out of it anyway.
He’s faced 60 batters since that second game in Philadelphia and struck out 40% of them. He saved both ends of a double-header in Boston. Ten of his appearances have been perfect innings. Another three have ended with him allowing only one baserunner.
As it stands now, he’s right back to where most expected him to be, but with better strikeout numbers. Even better, it could be said that he’s still underperformed, even with a 2.50 ERA. According to Fangraphs, his FIP is at 1.40 and his xFIP at 2.19. He’s carrying a .359 BABIP (which can happen with strikeout pitchers since there are simply less available at bats where an out is made on a ball in play) and his strand rate (68.2%) is lower than his career average (76%).
I think this points out the importance of not allowing an early season game skew perceptions of a player. If you reverse his performance so that he could have started his season with this 16 inning stretch, then toss in his Philadelphia meltdown, his ERA would have a much less dramatic increase than it did early on (when it peaked at 18.00). Also, I think it can call into question the validity of asking of someone has the “closer’s mentality” just because of a few early blown saves. Every closer blows saves. Eckersley did. Lee Smith did. Mariano Rivera has.
It happens. It’s so difficult for a pitcher to be spot on every time out, that over the course of 50 or more appearances, they’ll run into a spot where they give up a run and perhaps it happens to be in the ninth inning of a one-run game. Holland’s trial last year as closer was marked by some tight saves. This year, he’s converted nine of eleven opportunities, and eight of nine since Philadelphia. He hasn’t accumulated saves because opportunities just haven’t been there. In fact, he’s made it into a handful of games simply because he needed to get his work.
When the time comes for him to save more games, Holland is as comfortable an option you’ll find in the league (now if he can just find those opportunities). His ground ball rate and K% are both above his previous years, his BB% down from last year. He’s racking up the strikeouts and he’s rolling through innings efficiently. There are players to worry about on this Royals team. Greg Holland is not one of them.