Closers are, in general, considered fungible commodities. Teams such as the Atlanta Braves during the Bobby Cox era and the Tampa Bay Rays during Joe Maddon‘s tenure have been able to get solid production from their closers despite rarely having the same closer in consecutive seasons. With so many pitchers seemingly able to handle the role of the closer, how valuable are closers to a ballclub?
With Greg Holland and Joakim Soria before him, the Royals have had two of the best closers of their time in the past few years. Soria, from 2008 through 2010, was arguably one of the top two or three closers in the American League, putting together a 1.84 ERA and 115 saves over that span. Holland, in his one full season as a closer, put together a better season than Soria ever did. He emerged as perhaps the best closer in the American League last season, striking out almost fourteen batters per nine innings and finishing third in baseball in ERA+ of any pitcher who pitched 50 or more innings. On top of that, Holland recorded the save in 47 of 50 attempts and allowed only one inherited runner to score all last year.
Given the replaceable nature of closers, it is naturally thought that the Royals should trade Holland while he is likely at the peak of his value. The Oakland A’s have done a great job of moving their closers for pieces that would be able to help them in the future, so why not attempt the same approach? With the Royals seemingly having other candidates that could fill the closer role, they could hypothetically move on from Holland without a dramatic dropoff in performance.
At least, that is the theory. While closers typically have a short shelf life and a team can get by with a Kerry Ligtenberg or even Kyle Farnsworth for a season or two, it certainly helps to have a closer that can come in and shut down the opposition without any issues. That is what Greg Holland has been able to provide since taking over the closer’s role – a pitcher that can enter the game and record the final three outs without drama. The last thing that a manager, or a team, needs in that situation is for someone to napalm the surroundings. You know, like Farnsworth.
Last year, the Royals bullpen was not only the biggest strength of the team, but one of the best in baseball. The Royals had the second lowest bullpen ERA and the second lowest batting average against in all of baseball, trailing only the Braves and the Reds respectively. Greg Holland was a major part of that dominance, as he held opponents to a .170/.228/.251 batting line.
Yes, the Royals have a surplus of options in the bullpen, so it would make sense to trade from that area. However, they would be better suited by looking to trade Aaron Crow or Tim Collins instead of trading one of the dominant closers in the game. For as much as the modern closer can be overvalued at times, it is also easy to forget how valuable they truly are until a team have to rely upon a handful of options that just do not work. Ask the Tigers how that worked out for them last season before Joaquin Benoit proved to be a viable option.
With the Royals harboring playoff aspirations this season, it does not make sense to part ways with one of the more valuable pieces of the pitching staff. It just would not make sense for the Royals to trade Greg Holland.