Greg Holland is supposed to be the fireman for this (knock on..."/> Greg Holland is supposed to be the fireman for this (knock on..."/>

Closer Catastrophe?


Greg Holland is supposed to be the fireman for this (knock on wood) much improved Royals team…so far it seems he’s starting more fires than he’s putting out. Given the team’s desire to win in 2013 – and the exclamation point put on that goal, with a red hot spring and a fast start in the regular season – how long can Ned Yost afford to keep trotting Holland out there in the ninth inning? What’s going wrong with Holland thus far? It’s a small sample size, obviously, but let’s take a quick peek anyway.

Apr 6, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Greg Holland (56) delivers to the plate during the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Royals 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

First, the obvious (and not very good) numbers: Holland has a 12 ERA in 4 appearances this year (just 3 innings – like I said – small sample size). He’s yet to give up a home run (which can often inflate a relief pitcher’s stats very easily, given the small amount of innings they throw), but has given up a troubling amount of hits with 5 (averaging 15 hits per 9 IP). Needless to say…that’s less than ideal. Against 20 batters so far this year, Holland has allowed 5 hits and 6 walks, while also striking out 5. That accounts for 16 of the batters faced, meaning so far this year, it’s been feast or famine…if a batter doesn’t strike out, he’s probably getting on base. So what gives?

Jumping over to Fangraphs to look at Holland’s PitchFX, Holland has basically used two pitches this year, the fastball and slider – which is to be expected, as those are his best pitches. The heater is a little off from the past couple of seasons. In 2010 it maxed out at 98.1 MPH before jumping up to 99.7 in 2012. This year his fastest has been 97.2. Not throwing close to 100 MPH is nothing to freak out about, though, if he can just consistently throw it pretty hard. His average velocity is off from 2012 as well, however, down from 96.1 to 94.7 – which is the lowest average velocity he’s posted in any season yet. Now…there’s plenty of time to get those numbers up…he’s probably going to toss between 60 and 70 innings, so he’s got a long way to go.

What jumps right out at me when it comes to the fastball is, for starters, the 71% line drive rate Holland has given up so far. Looking down the line at his numbers, I see major red flag, in that he’s thrown 30 strikes vs. 32 balls with that pitch this year. Not good. He’s all over the map with the fastball, and if he can’t locate that pitch, well, he’s going to be in some big trouble (duh).

I really don’t see anything alarming about his release point. It seems pretty on par with where it was in a successful 2012 campaign, and again, the small sample size doesn’t give us much to dissect. It could simply be that he’s putting too much pressure on himself, and I’m somewhat inclined to believe that the problem with Holland is between the ears. This year comes with a lot of expectations, and with that, a lot of pressure that these younger guys aren’t used to dealing with.

The situation is certainly a bit worrisome, and of course needs monitoring…I’d hate to see it become one of those things where the troubles and self doubt keep compounding and Holland doesn’t dig his way out at all (at least not this year). It happens every year with closers. I think (hope) the Royals will stop trotting him out there to finish off the opposition if he doesn’t get his head on right very soon. The good news? The bullpen is full of guys who can do the job. If Holland needs a chance to get his head on right, the team shouldn’t suffer if someone else is called upon.

Right now, it might even be the smart move to just go with the hot hand for a few games…I hesitate to use the phrase “closer by committee” (as it never seems to work), but it could be a short term answer. I don’t recommend anyone freak out just yet…but a couple of clean innings would go a long way to making me feel a lot better about Holland as the closer this year. Hopefully, in another week, this will all seem like ancient history.